THERE IS NO SENSE OF TIME
The Daughter: Why don’t y’all go get some supper?
The Mama: We will after while. I want to wait till shift change so I can meet your new nurse and see about your new pain medicine, plus Dad wants to see the end of this football game.
The Daughter: Oh. It’s only 7? I thought it was 7:15.
(15 minutes to the next pain medication is an eternity.)
THERE IS NO CHANGE
It’s cold, so we raise the thermostat.
It’s hot, so we lower the thermostat.
Nothing really changes. We remain cold or hot, depending.
We decide the thermostat is just for decoration, a concession to peace of mind, an attempt to make the patient feel in control of something. The Engineer (speaking from experience) assures me this is entirely possible.
THERE ARE MEMORIES
There is a window in the room so we at least know night from day . . . something that didn’t happen in the hospital room my daddy died in. For reasons I don’t even want to think about, that hospital architect decided to put the patient rooms in a spoke-and-hub formation, with the patient rooms arranged as spokes coming off the throbbing hub of care and information. The hallway – positioned as the outer ring, encasing the hub, the patient rooms, and the anterooms for visitors – got all the windows. It was a poor, uneducated, unenlightened, uninformed design that I, in my deeply focused caregiver mode, probably would never have noticed had my brother-in-law Donn not said how much he hated those windowless patient rooms. “Patients need windows,” he said in his definitive way. It was during that same week that Donn looked at Daddy then at me and said, “Don’t ever let them treat me this way. You make sure they always bathe me, shave me, and put me in clean gowns.” If I never do another thing for that man called Donn, he will not ever, ever, ever lay in a hospital unkempt.
AND MORE MEMORIES
While looking at Baby Alison in the tiny clear nursery box mere hours after she was born, a friend of his parents put an arm around The Engineer and said, “She’s less trouble now than she will ever be.”
THERE ARE CONSTANT NOISES AND INTERRUPTIONS
Alison’s blood pressure dips during the night, necessitating hourly visits to check her vitals. Nurse Nancy thinks it’s because of one of the drugs she’s being given, and I note that my mother’s family leans towards low blood pressure. (Something I also note when people get on their high horse with me about eating salt, one of the few things a girl can do to remedy low blood pressure.)
THERE IS COMMUNICATION
We are handed a questionnaire and asked to complete and return it. It’s a little something they do – 3 quick questions every Tuesday and Saturday, an opportunity for you to tell the hospital what they are doing well and where they could make improvements today while you’re here, not after you get home. Alison gives me total authority to complete the form, so I write:
Q: Did we exceed your expectations today?
Q: What did we do today that exceeded your expectations?
A: Nurse Nancy arrived! She listens without rushing or interrupting. She takes charge without taking over. Her voice and words are reassuring – she inspires confidence by her attentiveness, her tone of voice, her willingness to listen, and by doing what she says she’s going to do.
Q: What could we have done today to improve the experience for you or your family?
A: Have a different flavor (something other than lime) Powerade on hand. [Should you think me nit-picky, I only put something on those blank lines to give contrast and credibility to my #2 answer.]
THERE IS JOB SECURITY
Since we arrived in room 741 around 11 p.m. on Friday, 8/28/15, the nurses arrive at the top of each shift to introduce themselves and put their name on the information board hanging on the wall at the foot of Alison’s bed. Their names change every 8 hours or so, but the patient’s name remains “Brett” and the date is stuck on “Thursday, August 6, 2015”. All we need is for the President to be listed as “John F. Kennedy”, and we’ll keep neurologists – the ones who ask those inane-and-desperately-in-need-of-change questions to assess cognitive function: What day is it? Where are you? When you visit a new neighborhood you’ve never been to before, do you have a tendency to get lost? Who is the President of the United States? – laughing all the way to the new car lot.
THERE IS TRADITION
Journal Entry: 11:30 p.m.
My grandmother declared that the second day after any trauma to the body is the worst, and now, as we enter the second day after, Grandmother’s Wisdom and Knowledge is once again confirmed. One step forward, three back will be how this day goes down in The History of Alison Chambers.
It’s been a day when she felt remarkably good; when she enjoyed visits from good friends; when once again I sit in awe of the resilience of the human body – especially hers.
But just now she hits the wall physically. Everything hurts. She can’t get comfortable. There’s itching and coughing. The drainage tube pulls. The IV tubes yank. She’s hot. She’s cold. More pain meds should arrive shortly, so it is with fingers crossed that I hope things will settle down enough for her to go to sleep. At least for a little while.
THERE IS EVIDENCE OF MAGICAL THINKING
We bring her new electric scent warmer and two – count them 2 – lavender (for relaxation and healing) melts. We also bring one healing and one calming mandala coloring book and a new box of pencils. We bring facial masks and wipes and moisturizers. She brings the changes of pajamas; I bring enough clean underwear and socks for three days. She brings her planner, thinking she’ll get some things done, and she looks forward to finally finishing that library book. Knowing Friday will be a very long day and figuring we’ll stay at least one day/night longer, I am quite sure I will finish stitching the background to this one piece I’m working on. With this many uninterrupted hours, how can I not?
Do you hear me laughing maniacally?
We know there will be pain and discomfort, and we know drugs will be used to alleviate it. We bring healing accoutrements, but there is no space, no time, no wherewithal for such things as reading and coloring, for skin care, for meditative stitching, for aromatherapy.
The hospital is no home away from home, no hotel, no girls-spend-the-night party.
THERE ARE STORIES COMING AND GOING
She put three boys through medical school by cleaning hospital rooms.
Her sons play in the high school band, and their game – the one she will not attend because she’s at work – is on ESPN tonight.
Her husband wanted to become a chaplain when he retired, and when he died unexpectedly some twenty years before getting the gold watch, she fulfilled his lifelong dream by becoming a chaplain.
THERE ARE ACCIDENTAL EXCLAMATION POINTS
Hospital cafeteria pickins’ are slim on Saturday, so The Engineer and I make a food run while Alison sleeps. And what to my wandering eyes should appear as we cross the road in front of the hospital but an accidental exclamation point.
Or a face with a pimple. Take your pick.