Lately my life seems to be taking 90º turns without warning.
The morning after Thanksgiving, I was walking to the garbage can with a couple items since it was a delayed pickup day, and my intention was to put them in the can by the road, go back inside, finish my coffee, take a shower, have some breakfast, and decide what I was going to do with three luxurious days with very few commitments ahead of me. Maybe decorate some pots and fire up my new-used kiln for the first time. Maybe even throw some pots. I could rearrange my indoor jungle of plants rescued from early winter, the still-blooming geraniums and fuschias showing off in a huddle in the middle of the living room floor. I had been debating whether to cut down the canna lilies and prepare the tubers for wintering-over in the basement, when the one I kept alive last winter as an indoor plant sprouted a beautiful new apricot blossom, as if singing out, “Nope, I’m not done, stand back with those pruners!” My Christmas cactus had doubled in size, basking outside this summer, and was dressed out beautifully with a multitude of pink blooms.
I had also thought I might have some phone time with my brother in Dallas and my friend in Denver who had a birthday on Sunday. Do some reading and write this column. Make some turkey soup from Thursday’s carcass. Have breakfast with a friend. So many possibilities. But then the turn happened and with no warning I was down, on my back on the ice, looking at my wrist that had an impossible S-curve, sending tidal waves of pain up my arm. I moaned out loud, “Please don’t tell me it’s broken!!” which was kind of the equivalent of looking outside on Oct. 27, pleading, “Tell me it’s not snowing!” Denial would be so much more effective if it could actually change reality.
I crept back into the house, left a message with one friend and reached the second one, who came over with her visiting cousins, bundled me over to the clinic and stayed with me through the waiting time, the x-rays, more waiting time, the excellent attention of Dr. Joe Bianco, the not surprising report that it was broken and the unwelcome news that it was broken so badly, I would need to go to Duluth to get it rearranged with the addition of some hardware to keep the bones in place. The good news was that it was a slow day on the surgical ward, so I wouldn’t have to wait until the next day.
Another friend was free to take me down and help navigate through the Essentia maze, finding someone who knew where there was a bed I could lie down on…4E or 4W? She told us I was scheduled for surgery at 5 p.m., but she couldn’t say if I’d be staying overnight. The surgeon came to my room and said I could wait and see if I wanted to stay, but he recommended it since I wouldn’t be released earlier than 10 p.m. I said I was sure I would want to stay, thinking, “Are they crazy? Having a general anesthetic and somewhat complicated surgery, then a two-hour drive to an empty house? I don’t think so!” Not to mention that my friend needed to know whether to stay or head back to Ely.
Being in that medical environment makes me feel like an alien in a strange land with its own language, culture and sets of rules. Some of those rules have been drastically improved since my mom spent a lot of time in hospitals many years ago, especially in regard to food and visitors. In the bad old days, you had to eat at the prescribed time when your tray arrived on a tall, rolling cart along with 20 other meals, or make due with a snack cup of pudding, a carton of milk or some crackers. These days at Essentia/Duluth, you have a room service menu to order from with choices for special diets, and the food is prepared in one of the four restaurants and delivered with a smile while it’s still hot! Gazounds.
Through the years, the medical world has also figured out that patients feel better and heal better when they have caring, nurturing people around them, while giving them the right to keep those people out who are not so. When visiting hours were limited to three hours in the afternoon and 90 minutes at night, I became a guerrilla visitor, sneaking in at all hours, hiding in the bathroom, smuggling in favorite foods for Mom. Once I snuck in a new puppy to show Mom, sure I’d be tossed out on my ear if they caught me. A nurse told me this week that now pets are allowed to visit! I’m sure they draw the line at a horse or llama, but still! Once Mom was in the hospital over Easter, so I sewed up a giant, six-foot-tall rabbit out of sheets with crepe paper clothing and waltzed it down the halls, giving other patients something to smile about, too. Many other puppets have accompanied me on hospital visits through the years.
I can remember being told that visitors get in the way of hospital personnel doing their work, but they certainly have figured that one out. I was impressed by the cheerful professionalism of almost everyone who came into my room, and we’re talking a pretty steady stream of humans who were particularly fascinated with taking my “vitals.” Twice there were people who wheeled their cart in, cheerfully announcing they were there to collect my vitals, which somehow made me think of the turkey gizzards I harvested to make stock for the gravy (do keep in mind that I was taking a pain killer)…and I had to tell them someone beat them to it, minutes earlier. A bit confused, they left, never to be seen again, which made me wonder if they were freelance vitals-takers who cruised the hallways, swooping in to preempt the regular staff, getting paid like piecework for their accumulated temps and blood pressure readings.
All of it has a surreal air about it, given the speed of response in that high tech world; the only delay being precisely due to that rapid response when I appeared out of the blue from Ely, and they couldn’t figure out what ward I’d be sleeping (or attempting to sleep) in. While it is never easy to sleep in a busy, often noisy hospital environment, I was able to remove one irritant by speaking up. I was having trouble going to sleep after surgery, and finally when I did, an obnoxious squawking woke me up…three times. A nurse responded to my call, and said, “Oh, when you fall asleep, you breathe less deeply, so your oxygen level drops and the alarm goes off.” My oxygen levels were in the excellent range, and I pondered the inanity of this but kept my mouth shut, grateful that she was able to fiddle with the settings so it didn’t happen again. Blessings on her and the many others who offer their skills, care, explanations, and even some humor to make the hospital experience better…and a special thanks to Jen, 4E nurse…or was it 4W?