Some Thoughts On My Recent Hospital Stay

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Four days in the hospital is approximately three days too many. The first day, you’re all, HECK YEAH, I can watch this TBS marathon of “Friends” from the comfort of this Craftmatic adjustable bed while this lovely lady from food service delivers me french toast that I neither had to prepare nor have to clean up. Then, day two arrives and everything is terrible until the minute you are discharged.

If your first IV gets kinked, a nurse will place a second IV. If your second IV is infiltrated, your hand will swell up like a baseball glove and a nurse will place a third IV. If your third IV blows within just a few hours, they will call a nurse from the intensive care unit’s special “IV Team” to place a fourth IV. When it is all over, you will be able to rattle off your IV stats like a sports analysis: four IVs placed out of six attempts.

If there are no beds in the regular recovery section of the hospital, they will place you in the cardiac care wing which, demographically, skews a little older. They will choose your roommate carefully with a nurse explaining that they found a patient for you to bunk with that was, “a little closer in age.” That patient will turn out to be… 60. Also, when your kids visit you, their glowing youth and vibrant health will ensure they are treated like Golden Retriever therapy puppies by everyone in the halls and they will, therefore, be hugged extensively by strangers.

You will discover, tragically, that narcotic pain relievers do not sit well with you thus shattering any dreams of a narcotic-fueled life of crime on the run because you would have to pause to vomit every 30 minutes and the police would surely catch up to you.

The very minute you start to think, hmm, our health care flexible spending account still has a balance in September. That’s pretty remarkable. CONTACTS FOR EVERYONE THIS YEAR! That very minute – the very minute! – when you think of all of the things you’re going to buy with your extra FSA money – NAME BRAND CHARACTER BANDAIDS – is the exact moment when your appendix will burst or your kid breaks an arm or your diverticulitis flares up.

You’ll start to resent everyone that can just… walk around on their own. Logically, you know that the person in the hall wearing regular shoes instead of non-slippy socks isn’t, like, showing off or anything but it still feels like they kind of are. You’ll start to mutter to yourself, “I bet that lady over there doesn’t have a headache.” Or, “That dude over there doesn’t look nauseated.” The ability of others to exist without crippling pain will bring a not insignificant amount of irritation. ESPECIALLY when your 60-year-old roommate gets discharged before you and she is wearing regular clothes and no amount of french toast can make up for that kind of jealousy.

You will be given so many different IV antibiotics that you begin to get to know each of them. Not by name but by how they make you feel when they’re administered. The one shrouded in brown because it shouldn’t be exposed to light is especially terrible. You suspect the one in brown is responsible for your super duper heightened sense of smell which, by the way, is just the absolute worst superpower to have. Especially in the hospital. It’s almost like you can smell the very molecules in the air around you. Your new super smell capabilities means you will accuse your husband repeatedly of having very bad breath which will give him a little bit of a complex. He does not, in fact, have very bad breath and you will apologize profusely for the false accusation once you are home and off of the IV antibiotics and no longer able to smell each atom of matter that surrounds you.

The nurses will be amazing and their kindness for your condition will make you weepy and when they finally send you home, you will be a little sad that no one brings you french toast anymore.

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A Little Light

A few weeks ago, I picked up Charlie and Millie from summer camp and surprised them with lunch in town at our favorite burger place. Charlie loves a good cheeseburger and Millie could beat grown men in a french fry eating competition and also this made for one fewer meal I had to prepare at home so we were all pretty jazzed to be there.

This restaurant happens to be super small so when we entered, we headed straight to the counter to put in our order before finding a table. We found ourselves behind a young man placing a large takeout order. He was hot and sweaty and dirty and had obviously been working outside and appeared to be taking food to the rest of his crew.

After paying for our burgers and fries, I thought it best for the kids to wash up because who knows what they do at summer camp but it probably should come off of their hands before lunch so we headed to the bathroom. Upon returning to the little dining room, we were greeted by what could only be described as a mustard explosion. We stopped in our tracks and kind of did that cartoonish double-blink with our eyes. On one side of the restaurant, mustard was everywhere. On a couple of the tables, on the walls, the chairs, the floor. Bright, yellow mustard painted all over the place. And, all over the shirt and jeans and hands of the young man with the takeout order who we were behind in line when we arrived and who was obviously the point of origin for the mustard detonation.

In the short time we were in the bathroom, this customer’s order had come up and he had obviously attempted to add some ketchup and mustard to the burgers in the bag before heading out the door. At this restaurant, both of those condiments are in big red and yellow plastic squeeze bottles. I don’t know if the lid to the mustard wasn’t on tight or maybe, since the restaurant had just opened for the day, the temperature change from the cold refrigerator storage and the super warm dining room caused some sort of volatile buildup in the bottle which led to the explosion? I’m not sure but my CSI splatter analysis suggests the latter. It must have been absolutely spectacular.

What was even more spectacular is that no one was helping the young man clean it all up. He had grabbed a couple of napkins and was futilely trying to wipe the mustard from his pants but he mostly just looked overwhelmed and embarrassed. Two of the six tables in the restaurant were occupied – one with parents and their teenage children and another larger family with a few adults and lots of young kids. It was, without a doubt, impossible to not notice what had happened which made it so surprising to me that no one was moving a muscle to assist. Everyone had witnessed it and then just… continued on. Like nothing had happened.

I assigned Charlie and Millie to an open table that wasn’t dusted in mustard and went to help, interrupting the lady at the counter to ask for some paper towels and then returning to start wiping up the tables and the chairs and the floor while the young man looked at me and tried to explain that he had no idea what had just happened. I reassured him it was all okay and after several minutes, we had made some good progress. An employee eventually emerged to help. We all worked together a little bit longer and had most of it wiped up in short order. When we went to throw the mustard-covered paper towels in the garbage, the young man looked at me, smiled, and said, “I’m going to smell like mustard all day now.” I laughed and offered to hold the door open for him as he left with his tray of drinks and paper bag filled with burgers and fries and most likely, too much mustard.

Then, our order came up and the kids and I devoured our food, talked about how crazy that mustard thing was, and left in search of ice cream.

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So much going on in this world right now makes me feel completely and utterly helpless. Not hopeless. I haven’t lost hope. But, it feels like there isn’t enough helping going on anymore. I think that’s what brings me the greatest despair. The lack of genuine compassion for one another. Sometimes, it feels like no one has the space or the patience to just be kind.

I can donate my time and I can donate my money and I can speak passionately and I can listen empathetically and I can educate myself and I can advocate for others and I can rearrange our entire November vacation to be home in time to vote at our local precinct in the mid-term elections because I’m a little leery of absentee voting and it just seems better to be there on that day to vote in person, right?

I can do all of those things. And, I can show my children how to be helpers. How to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. How to imagine a situation – a life – that is different than their own. How to see a need and then fill it. How to clean up mustard with sub-par, non-absorbent, eco-friendly paper towels.

In the tiniest, seemingly inconsequential of ways and in the biggest, most significant of ways, helping others, compassion for others, kindness for others, matters.

Snippets

We skipped straight from winter to summer this year. We were robbed of spring. It’s been hot and the air is filled with humidity and there has been a lot of rain and everything is damp.

My naturally wavy hair is reflecting the atmospheric conditions and this morning, while preparing school lunches for the kids, Charlie looked at me, tilted his head studiously and said, “Your hair is sticking up everywhere. You look like Albert Einstein.”

“If Albert Einstein were accidentally electrocuted.”

Cherish. Cherish every moment.

I was in the emergency room with Henry one evening last week. Our visit stretched into the wee hours of the morning while the staff diligently worked to determine why he was in so much pain.

At one point, in order to more comfortably perform a diagnostic test, they administered pain medication to him through an intravenous drip. Henry’s relief was almost instantaneous and he marveled aloud at how quickly the drug had worked.

“I can’t believe how much better I feel already,” Henry declared.

Having been given the same drug in the same emergency room last summer for an interminable migraine and having found the same tremendous fast-acting relief from pain, I looked at Henry and said a little too excitedly, “I KNOW, RIGHT? AREN’T DRUGS AMAZING?”

It wasn’t until the nurse looked at me a little wide-eyed that I realized I may have sounded a bit overly enthusiastic for pharmaceuticals. It was so very late and I was so very tired. I tried to course correct by launching into a brief summary for Henry of the nation’s current opioid crisis and the challenges we face in fighting the devastating effects of powerful drugs. Then, I inexplicably gave the nurse a knowing wink but somehow this just made everything tragically worse and significantly more uncomfortable.

I’m pretty sure the nurse thought the D.A.R.E. t-shirt Henry was wearing by sheer coincidence was merely a prop.

I find thunderstorms mostly delightful so on Monday afternoon, when the skies turned dark, I told the kids to put down the small screens and join me in my bedroom for a good old-fashioned storm-watchin’. When the rain began and hindered our view out the windows, Henry asked if we could go sit in the garage, with the door open, to watch the storm. I hesitated momentarily because I had definitely heard some thunder but agreed it would be fun so we relocated to a decidedly more hazardous location.

Since we’re responsible parents, we made the kids sit towards the back of the garage. You know, for safety.

Within minutes, everything went from FUN to DOOM. I remember hearing Bob slam the garage door shut and I remember thinking the big bay windows were definitely, most likely, positively going to break from the hail and I remember being in disbelief at how loud it all was and I remember hustling everyone to the basement.

Charlie, no one’s fool, was already down there. With a blanket, a book, several stuffed animals, and a flashlight.

The worst of it was over in a few minutes but our home is a mess. Shredded window screens, damaged roof, punctured siding, mangled trim, dented everything. We’re fine. It will all be fine. But, still. That was SOME storm.

While I was at the drug store late Saturday night, buying all manner of items to soothe the never-ending parade of symptoms and ailments that have descended upon our home of late, I picked up a pint of my favorite ice cream. Showing an unreasonable amount of restraint, I didn’t open it that evening. Charlie took notice of it in the freezer the next afternoon though and asked, rather slyly, what my intentions with that ice cream were. I explained I was saving it.

“For another time,” I replied.

“Oh, come on, mom,” Charlie pleaded. “It’s Mother’s Day. Doesn’t that mean you have to share?”

I chuckled and said, “Charlie. That’s not how it works.”

But then I thought, yes, that’s pretty much exactly how it works. Every time.