Friday, June 1, 2012

Disillusionment? Or Enlightenment?

One of my best friends was admitted unexpectedly to the hospital Friday-before-last.  His mysterious symptoms were baffling a week’s worth of doctors enough to trigger admittance orders.  Over the phone (just minutes after his wife sent out the bat signal via Facebook), she described to me the symptoms.  With my medical-doctorate-degree-in-training, I immediately assessed the situation as “OH CRAP!” and cleared my schedule.  Of course my thoughts slid right down that slippery slope.  The quick slide to crisis felt comfortable, like coming home.  (And it makes me sad to realize that.)

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.)


  1. I know what you mean about being on auto pilot. I too wish for the innocence I once had, but think it is gone forever. But in some ways this makes us a better partner in the future, because we will not take our days together for granted as so many do now.

  2. I understrang the auto pilot too! So many years of being a caregiver. So many doctor's visits, hospital and lab tests, both of us trying to figure it out. My new life somehow as attracted a "healthier" man in my life...but DAMN the couple of times I had to rush him to the hospital and go through the lab tests. He has never every had to do that before...but it seems that I sort of take over autopilot when he is dizzy and throwing up.

    He has look at me from the emergency room gurney with full apologetic eyes. We have discussed my journey on why I no longer want hospitals, labs, doctors, and the like in my life. I'm trying to let go of those feelings...but autopilot does take over. When he apologizes, I just say "it's nothing, don't worry, it's something I do well". I make sure I'm at his doctor's visits...because we all need a witness, period.

    So...yes, I know where you're coming from. Those old experiences will haunt us..up to the hospice entry, to the day that my love took his last breath. Can I become detached enough to be a hospice volunteer? Not at this's still raw...even though it's been almost five years.

  3. Thank you, reading other peoples experiences helps.