Hallway 2

img_0705There we sat, at the spot labeled H2.

Had I thought of it, I would have pulled out a Sharpie and added an “O” when nobody was looking.

Which was most of the time.

My Emergency Room experience with my daughter was so different from my ER experiences with my father. He is a former physician, a former director of a department in that hospital, a long time staff member, a former trustee of the hospital. She was a 16 year old year with a bellyache.

A literal bellyache.

I was the one who felt like bellyaching, though.

When we reached the 6 hour mark, I began mentally writing a letter to the director of the hospital.

He had once given me his card and invited me to contact him anytime.

Of course, that was when I was there with my father.

On this day, though, I was there with my daughter. We were first placed in a room, then moved to the hallway (H2) because they needed the monitors in the room for another patient, then finally, near the end of our 8+ hours, moved back into a different room.

We watched/listened to the parade of other patients: the little girl who had been bitten in the face by a dog, the teenager wearing sunglasses and a hoody who was hearing voices, the diabetic who began removing his own IV, the little Captain America guy with a cough, the person who overdosed on prescription medicine, and so on. Emergency Rooms are busy places. I get that.

At high tide, lots of people were in hallway beds and chairs.

At low tide, we were the last to be moved out of the hallway.

We waited.

And waited.

And waited.

I wished someone would occasionally stop by and say, “I know you’re still here. We’re working on (fill-in-the-blank). But, of course, no one did.

And I think that was the biggest difference between when I’m at the ER with my father and when I’m there with my daughter — the communication. With him, we are always kept well-informed. With her, I had to seek out nurses for nearly everything.

When she vomited, other than handing her a cup and a tissue, no one came. No one stopped by to ask how she was feeling. No one took the cup full of vomitus. We were invisible.

I was worried about leaving my father home all day. Some days he is so unsteady. Some days he is so confused. Some days, the two walk hand-in-hand.

I spoke with my father’s pastor while I was at the ER, telling her we might need help, but sometimes she just doesn’t get it. I needed help then, but she was two days down the road.

I messaged my brother so he would check on my father. Unfortunately his schedule never allowed him to.

I messaged my 12 year old daughter who was home with him so she could fix him lunch. She did.

I kept thinking, we’ll know more soon. We’ll be heading home soon — or we’ll be heading to surgery soon.

But the waiting. The waiting seemed interminable.

Finally, I told them that I was a caregiver. I needed them to start moving.

Even then the wheels turned slowly.

Please understand, I don’t hate hospitals. This particular hospital has been intertwined with my life for nearly 50 years. My father worked there. My husband worked there. Many other family members have worked there. My children have been born there and my mother died there.

But at the crux of most problems is communication – – or lack thereof. And that was yesterday’s main issue.

I don’t mind waiting. My daughter wasn’t dying. Other people may have been.

Just let me know that we haven’t been forgotten.

We were finally sent home with a we-don’t-know-but-come-back-if-anything-changes.

She’s still not able to eat.

What are my alternatives?

Coffee With Alyssa

If we were having coffee, I would put my hand on your arm and tell you that I’m sorry.

Sorry that we didn’t spend more time together.

Sorry that I didn’t seek you out for a quiet tête-à-tête on Friday or Saturday.

Sorry that I didn’t thank you enough for giving up the concert on the first night so you could watch me eat chicken and corn-on-the-cob (which I didn’t actually eat). Or thank you enough for the beautiful gift you gave me.

I could give you all my excuses — a whole litany of them. Regarding my dad, and my husband, and my kids, and my situation, and a dozen other phrases that begin with “my”.

My litanies do not belong in any liturgy

I used to joke that my spiritual gift was worry. I am really good at it. But I won’t make that joke anymore. It’s not funny.

Worry is a thief. It robs me of the moment I am in.

It robbed me of the sweetest part of the weekend, of being fully present with people I love, people like you.

But this weekend opened my eyes to a deeper meaning of Jesus’ words — “Be not anxious for this life… but seek first his kingdom, and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:24, 33)

I’m a slow learner.

But I’m learning.

Radical Honesty

I just got back from a weekend conference that was full of encouragement and love.

Of course, the words that keep running through my mind are from a casual conversation that happened after the closing session, after the doxology and the revealing of the group art project, after more than a few hard good-byes.

In the standing around that happens as people are leaving, one person said to me, “I didn’t get a chance to really speak to you all weekend.”

Yeah, that happens when there are over 200 people present and none of them like shallow conversation. Everyone wants the deep. And deep takes time.

He continued, “Every time I saw you, you looked grumpy, and I wondered if you were mad at me about something.”

Oh, golly.

Oh. My. Goodness.

I stammered some ridiculous reassurance that I was NOT mad at him and I was sorry that I looked grumpy.

He had no idea that the weight of cares I was carrying was far beyond my strength.

To be honest, I wouldn’t have gone to the conference if I hadn’t promised to bring my daughter to it. To be radically honest, I didn’t enjoy the weekend.

Yes, that’s correct. A weekend full of encouragement and love that I didn’t enjoy.

I couldn’t enjoy.

My father had had a syncopal episode exactly one week before we were scheduled to fly out. I felt all panicky that day, running to get a chair for him because he couldn’t even make it into the kitchen. He slumped in it, staring blankly. His blood pressure dropped to 62/48 — and that was the first pressure I was able to get on him.

The next day, his doctor checked him and we talked about… um, honestly, I don’t even remember. I can’t remember a single word she said. But I remember her smiling and that I felt reassured. She gave me the business card of someone who can help me navigate the Long Term Care morass. I saved it so I could call her after I got back from my time away. It felt like a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.

My husband stayed with my father so I could go be encouraged. He used his vacation time  not for a getaway, not for something he wanted to do, but for a chance for me to get away. Self-sacrifice that I wasn’t fully appreciating.

My husband worked so hard to have everything perfect when I got home.

He even did the laundry.

I hate it when he does the laundry.

I opened the dryer this morning and found it FULL — and I mean how-did-air-even-circulate-through-this full. Sheets and towels, pants, sweatshirts, underwear, socks. Everything was jammed into one big load of laundry — because that’s how he does it.

I found myself grumbling as I took everything out. Irked. I have talked to him about this. I would have been happy to do the laundry. I AM happy to do the laundry.

It hit me as I was tugging apart pants tangled with sheets, that I am a grumpy person these days. The guy at the conference wasn’t wrong.

Yesterday I had to call a man about an order I had placed several weeks ago. He was grumpy. I could hear it in his voice, in the curtness of his words.

Finally he said, “I’m not aware of everything about this order. I just had major surgery.”

I knew his major surgery was six months ago. I wanted to tell him so, but I stopped myself.

We were like two heavy grit sandpapers rubbing against each other — each with our own hurts and burdens, each feeling we had the greater right to our irritability.

And isn’t that the way of the world?

If I was grumpy this weekend to any of you, I apologize.

Somewhere there is a balance between wet blanket and radical authenticity, between grumpy and happy, being encouraged and simply being.

Even though I didn’t enjoy everything, I was present.

My dry ground was watered — and that water will eventually seep to my roots.

Shimei

When King David came to Bahurim, there came out a man of the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera, and as he came he cursed continually. And he threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David, and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left. …

Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and take off his head.” But the king said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the Lord has said to him, ‘Curse David’, who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’… Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. It may be that the Lord will look on the wrong done to me, and that the Lord will repay me with good for his cursing today.” So David and his men went on the road, while Shimei went along on the hillside opposite him and cursed as he went and threw stones at him and flung dust.

And the king, and all the people who were with him, arrived weary at the Jordan. And there he refreshed himself.

 2 Samuel 16:5-6, 9-14 (ESV)

I have my own personal Shimei.

He walks beside me from a safe distance and throws rocks and insults at me. Some hit and hurt; some miss. The whole thing is exhausting.

He struck again the other day, a sucker punch that caught me by surprise. It knocked the wind out of me.

Whenever this happens, my emotions run the gamut of Abishai to … well, I never quite reach David. My friends similarly run the gamut of Abishai to Aaron and Hur, Moses’ companions, the ones who held up his arms.

I had wanted to put Shimei behind me.

I had wanted to reach my Jordan and find safety and refreshment.

I had wanted to focus my energies on my family.

But God, well, He had other plans.

One evening after the latest insult/rock-throwing episode, I went for a walk, griping at God — Can’t You see that I’m trying to do something good here?

Then St. Gregory spoke up (in my devotional book).

The highest, the only proof of love, is to love our adversary.

St. Gregory, quoted in Aquinas: Catena Aurea

It’s easy to love my father.

Of course, any caregiver can tell you that it’s not always easy. Sometimes he argues and is confused and doesn’t believe the things I tell him. But, at the end of the day, when I lay my weary head on my pillow, I love my dad.

Shimei, on the other hand — he’s another story. His words hurt. His stones hurt. His flung dust gets in my eyes and I can’t see.

A while ago, I began praying for my Shimei by name.  Oh, Lord, help me to love this person!

I don’t know what that love looks like because I’m not there yet.

I’m just so tired and longing for the Jordan.

How ’bout them Red Sox?

If we were having coffee, I would insist on making it.

You use those K-cups, and I know they are convenient and all, but ever since my friend, Alyssa, mistakenly sent me coffee beans — which she followed with a coffee grinder — I have found any coffee other home-ground to be lacking.

I would grind some Kona beans. Then I would use my coffee maker that I bought for $6 at the thrift store — because I figured out that the beans matter far more than the machine.

And I would prattle on and on about Kona beans and thrift store finds and this and that, anything to avoid the topic at hand — Dad.

You know, he would probably be sitting in the neighboring room, watching the Red Sox game, well within earshot of our conversation, but it doesn’t seem to matter anymore.

When the physical therapist came the other day, she was asking him questions and he just went blank. Blank stare. Blank face. No response to questions, just fidgeting with his hands. She turned to me and I answered them. I felt so uncomfortable talking about Dad, and for Dad, with him sitting right there, but I guess that’s where we are.

I’d ask about your mother-in-law. I know she doesn’t have long in this world.

No one really warned us about this stage of life, did they? No one told us that we would, one day, no longer be celebrating milestones in our lives, or our children’s lives, we would be counting down the days we have with our parents — ticking them off, like a pregnant woman waiting for labor to start, thinking we know approximately when, but not really, not actually, not definitively.

And not waiting with joyous anticipation, but with sad resignation. Not with a bang, but a whimper.

There’s nothing to be said, though. You are caring for her, and I am caring for Dad.

I’m not ticking the days off yet. I hope it’s many years before we reach that point.

And I hope it is mere days for you — because the last ones are so hard.

I listened to the terrible death rattle in Mom’s lungs when she was dying. It was the most terrible sound I have ever heard. I prayed for it to stop, knowing it would mean her end, but also knowing it would be her beginning in a whole body, with a whole mind, in a place of peace and rest.

If we were having coffee, I would change the conversation.

“How ’bout them Red Sox?” I would say, and we would both laugh.

We were raised on the Red Sox in the days of the Curse of the Bambino, the days of always losing.

“How ’bout the Sox?” you would repeat back.

And the words would settle around us like plaster dust while the coffee grew cold in our cups.

Emergency Room

The giving of thanks maketh entreaty on behalf of the feeble before God.

The Paradise of the Fathers

That was the reading in my devotion book this morning.

I read it over and over and over. My brain was feeling fuzzy. Like it needed the glasses my eyes need to bring things into focus.

Last evening, Dad complained of a headache. I gave him some ibuprofen and that helped. Before bed, he asked for another dose of ibuprofen which I gave him.

Around 11:30, I heard him rattling around downstairs and came down to check on him.

A few nights before he had gotten out of bed in the wee hours of the morning and “couldn’t find anyone.”

“We were all sleeping, Dad,” I told him.

“I suppose so,” he said dubiously. “But it was the darnedest thing. The whole house was quiet. And it was dark. And I couldn’t find my room again. So I slept on the couch.”

In a later telling, he slept on the chair. Couch .. chair.. makes no difference to me. It wasn’t his bed and that bothered me.

So last night I heard him up and came right down.

He was holding his head and grimacing. “This is terrible,” he said, obviously in a great deal of pain.

“I think we need to go to the emergency room,” I told him, and he agreed.

The ER turned out to be a wash. Blood work, CT scan, x-ray all came back with the same answer. Nothing was amiss.

The waves of pain continued. I watched him grimace and grab the rails of the bed as he rode out the pain.

The doctor came in to talk to him about discharge during one of the respites and my father said, “If you just wait a minute, it will happen again.” Like the doctor was going to see something new if he was there during the pain.

“It’s a mystery to me,” the doctor confessed. “I believe you, but I can’t find a medical cause for the pain. I think you need to call your neurosurgeon in the morning.”

My father had recently had neurosurgery. That made sense.

The ER gave him hydrocodone and sent him home.

At 2 AM.

I got him back to bed and went back to bed myself.

But morning — which is my time of day — came around much too quickly and the words of the devotion book didn’t make sense.

“‘The giving of thanks maketh entreaty?’ Are my thanks a prayer?” I asked God.

How can I thank Him for a fruitless midnight visit to the ER?

I tried.

“Thank you, Lord, that I could sit with my father in the Emergency Room last night. Thank you that I could be his eyes and ears (because he had forgotten his glasses and hearing aids). Thank you for the time to study his face while he rested, and that he has his mother’s nose (a strange observation, I know). Thank you that we live so close to the hospital. Thank you for the staff. Thank you for humor and laughter. Thank you for sickness and the opportunity to care for those we love. Thank you for my father, and my husband, and my children…”

And the thanksgiving felt like a floodgate opened.

Did it make entreaty? I don’t know.

But it answered the unspoken prayer of my heart for rest on a weary day.

Ovation

My father recently had a short stay in rehab (aka nursing home). The day before I brought him home this happened:

When I brought my father the newspaper, he was eating lunch at the table of elderly men.

“I can’t stay,” I told him because I had a million errands to run, “but I’ll be back tomorrow to take you home.”

The news fell on more ears than his.

He grabbed my arm and said, “That’s wonderful!”

Multiple voices around the table repeated the sentiment in their own words — 
“Doc! You’re going home!”
“That’s great news!”
“You are so lucky!”
“Did you hear that? Doc is going home!”

Then one man started to clap and the rest followed suit.

No standing O — but a wheelchair ovation — which seemed even sweeter.

The Beginning

My mother had Alzheimer’s. It was a long, hard road to travel.

My father visited her every day, twice a day, while she was in a nursing home. He seemed to be functioning well, although I would occasionally hear from concerned people.

  • “Your father said some things that really didn’t make sense at all. He’s such a sharp guy. How do you think he’s doing?”
  • “I stopped by the house yesterday. I hope it’s okay that I let myself in. Something was burning on the stove and your father was asleep in his chair. Just thought you should know.”
  • “Your father’s driving… um… you know, you can ask him prime care provider to revoke his license?”

After Mom died, I saw it. All of it. He was not functioning well. I couldn’t say if the problem was grief, or his own dementia, or both. I think it was both. I think he fought the fog of dementia for longer than I can imagine so that he could be there for my mom.

Now it’s his turn.

I’m doing my best to take care of him, but I won’t lie — this is hard.