When Maggie was first diagnosed, we spent (if I recall) 14 consecutive days in the hospital. Over the next two years, we spent another 12 more days, giving me more experience there than I’d prefer. My weeks spent as an guest in a place designed for examinations, not comfort, trained me for survival in a less-than-friendly, sterile climate. I knew what my friend and my friend’s wife were in for and what would best prepare them for their time. So I packed a hospital kit, both for the patient and his wife.
The trip to the hospital was easy. The turn into the hospital parking lot was not so easy. Then autopilot took over: push the little parking ticket button, in through the emergency entrance, through the secret door to the main hospital, through the winding halls to the back elevators…. Inside the elevator I pressed ‘5.’ But I looked hard at the ‘7’ button. The 7th floor at Seton is the cancer floor, sort of. Turn left off the elevators and you head to the baby wing. Turn right, and you head to the cancer wing. Life and death sharing a floor – life’s bookends, yet again. (Back during our initial stay, I spent many an elevator ride feigning smiles and pulling punches while trying very hard not to punch at all.)
My visit with my friend was short and sweet. I remember all too clearly both how nice it was to get a visit but also how awkward an extended visit would turn. Multiple short visits were the key. And food. Always bring food. So I brought Taco Deli breakfast tacos. Everyone, including the nursing staff, was happy about Taco Deli. (Pro tip: Always bring extra flowers, candy and food for the staff. A happy staff makes for a better hospital visit.)
My friend was released after two days with a green light and a nice bill to pay.
Not that long ago while things were pretty darn bad for Maggie and me, my grandmother told me she was sad that I was learning about things I shouldn’t have to know about for a long time. I’ve often wondered if, because I’ve seen how things can end, my perspective has been negatively affected, or at least had some of the magic rubbed off. Will I ever again be able to innocently approach life with giggles and stars in my eyes? Will the mystery of love and life charm my heart again? Or will I be a “been there, done that” person who slides quickly into comfort with how quickly life can end? Or am I free now to jump in and be fully immersed in what life has to offer, knowing that I've survived the unthinkable and that my fear of death has been forever vanquished?
My friend, the one who was in the hospital a few days ago, the one for whom I was imagining the worst outcomes, is currently traveling around Italy with his wife and another couple. They left two days after he was released from the hospital. The pictures they are posting on Facebook are amazing. (The picture for this post is one of their pictures from their trip.)