what it is

September 24, 2021

I never imagined it would be this hard. Somehow I guess I figured I’d been through death already—and in this case it was clearly time for her to leave this world. A long and well-lived life, and she the last of her generation to go. I thought I’d see the practicality of it.

Yeah right. Rather, my entire body has been, quite literally, reeling. Waves of grief roll over me periodically—at both predictable and at unexpected (inopportune) moments. Expected: when I hear comments of sympathy, or I speak of her. Unexpected: when driving home from work yesterday and a memory knots my stomach, catches my breath. I grip the steering wheel trying to hold back the tears and the effort of it is so great that I fear, for a moment, that I may faint.

But the moment passes and life carries on. I take care of a tire blowout. I go to work. I take blood pressures and update files. Then, putting a patient’s socks and shoes on for her, I turn my head away to hide the tears coming, once more. What was it this time? The feel of paper-thin skin under my gloved hands? The sound of a breathy, trembling voice?

This afternoon it was a smell—opening a bag of the lotions and soaps collected from her room. The smell of her, when I last curled up next to her on that bed . . .

Here I am, about to turn 42, feeling like a needy child.

Yes, I know this too shall pass. I know the pain will ease. But, in the meantime, dear Lord, have mercy.

Sometimes I wish I could shake my fist at the heavens but, for whatever reason, all I can say instead is, Lord, to whom shall I go . . . ?

Welcome home GramBea
Welcome home.

why should my heart be sad

September 19, 2021

Today she seems calmer, more alert. As I lay curled next to her, I hear her speak, understandably. She acknowledges, by name, the kind friend who has walked in to help carry the load of my weary family. “I’m here,” GramBea says.

I get up from where I’ve been laying, curled beside her, my hand on her chest—as much to reassure myself with the fast flutters of her heartbeat as to reassure her of my presence. Sitting up to look in her eyes, I stare into the blue. “Do you see me GramBea?” She nods. “GramBea…if you decide to go home to PaCharley before I get back, will you tell him how good looking he is? And will you tell him I’ll miss you till I get to come home too?”

I give her a spoonful of the yogurt the nurse has brought in. She takes the spoon from me and she tries to eat it; but she can’t swallow, and the yogurt sits in her mouth till I wipe away what’s dripping down her chin. I start to cry again, and turn away.

“I’m ok,” she says.

I turn back to smile at her through my tears. I reach my hand up to smooth her hair, and I rest my fingers on her cheek.

“You’re right, GramBea. You’re ok…you’re ok.”

But this? This is not ok.

Lord have mercy. Have mercy. Mercy …

rest beyond the river

September 18, 2021

During one of my recent visits with GramBea, I went for a walk around the building. The moment i stepped outside, my breath began to exhale in sharp, quick words. I inadvertently spoke the only prayer I could, over and over. “Let her go home. Let her go home . . .” It felt wrong to say such a thing—a betrayal of the natural human desire to prolong life. But somehow, I could no longer wish that for her . . . if it were me, I’d be ready to reunite with those I’ve loved the most—those who have already gone. I would be ready to leave a tired and feeble frame, and to be reunited with a strong, and healthy, one. I’d be ready to go home.

Today we are told it is time to “make preparations.” 

I don’t know how. Sure, there is planning, and there are logistics. But preparations?

How do I prepare a heart? How do I rein in the myriad of scattered thoughts and emotions swimming wildly through my head? How do I envision my life without the space she has solidly occupied for its entirety?

About a decade ago, when my life was still one of a wanderer, I would periodically come home to GramBea and PaCharley’s house. For the weeks or months I was in country, I’d breathe deeply of the comfort of my home life with them, of our home project days and our Scrabble nights. I’d sit at my computer before bed, writing stories of their antics: of PaCharley’s sneaky Scrabble word “mistakes” . . . of GramBea’s sudden comment, “Charley, you are SO good looking!”

During one of those visits, it occurred to me that they may not know that, though at the time I lived everywhere but there, I didn’t consider my life to be destined as such. I told them one night that, whenever a time may come when they needed me, I wanted to be the one to come back—to care for them. Not because I was particularly suited for it, in temperament, mind you; rather, I just drew such comfort from their presence that it suited me to be with them.

Two years ago Peter and I did, indeed, move back. We watched PaCharley go home.

I wrote the first part of this post two days ago. I had paused in the writing of it, my thoughts left hanging. I didn’t know what else to say. There was nothing else to be said. There was everything else to be said.

It’s happening so fast. Today she’s on morphine, and nothing remains of the GramBea I know. I don’t know how to do this. I manage to sing a few verses of “Near the cross,” but the words to this hymn I used to know so well are escaping me: I hum the parts I forget. Nurses come in to change the bandage where her  IV has left a wound. I move out of the way, letting go of her hand and her leg. I realize she had, for a moment, lifted her other hand to grab mine. I turn away from her and look at mom, sitting on the other end of the room. Catching her eyes, I see the red rim and begin to gasp again. “I don’t know how to do this …”

“I know,” she says. “I know.”

…but don’t you quit

September 11, 2021

Reader beware:

My rose-colored glasses have gotten all fogged up; this post may be rather more raw than my usual style.

Twelve days ago I made a few phone calls, shopping insurance prices, as I periodically worry about the precarious position we are in. The last few years, though, have made me question my old ideas of insurance and stability; when in between coverage, we realized that we had managed to keep ourselves so healthy that we weren’t sure the cost of coverage was worth it when we had no ongoing health expenses. But I work in healthcare, and part of what I do is make insurance calls on behalf of patients; so I started to poke around, clarifying that we really only needed it in case of something “catastrophic.” Too late for that, eh?

I should say “it could be worse.” 

I should be reassured by the surgeon’s report that it went well. But my mind fastens onto the word “think,” when he was predicting the success of the reattachment.

I should be relieved that Peter is now healing from the surgery. But I cannot push away the fear of the process ahead of us, and the worry that it will not work—that the finger will be lost.

I should rest in the comfort of the fact that we are together, that we are safe. But I find it easy to drift into overwhelm.

I should …

This morning I went for a long walk with a friend. As we talked, I heard the words coming out of my mouth, and I realized that this experience is bringing up the anger I feel about the systems in place. I think of the way this country approaches care for the elderly. I think of the way healthcare expenses make proper care not only difficult to get, but truly inaccessible for some. It just feels so wrong. And I don’t know what to do about it. 

When I was young, I inadvertently memorized a poem that hung on the wall in my Oma’s dining room. The author was not listed, so I would imagine it to be the anonymous doing of one of my aunts or uncles. Later in life, however, I saw the same poem in different places…though I suppose that does not necessarily preclude the penmanship possibility 😉 

It was not so much my love of the poem itself that drew me to it; even back then my literary sensibilities found it questionable. I also didn’t understand why grownups, with all their apparent ability to do it all, and take care of everything, could feel like that.

I get it now.

When things go wrong as they sometimes will.

When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill.

When the funds are low and the debts are high.

And you want to smile but you have to sigh.

When care is pressing you down a bit, rest if you must …

right

September 10, 2021

So today I was in clinic, on a happily calmer day than the past few weeks have been. I was still the only assistant, but today only one doctor was seeing patients, so my job was pleasantly focused. A few cancellations allowed me to work on the doctor’s tasks in my inbox. Two referrals. One was easy enough, to a compression consultant I’ve worked with already and knew how to contact, and how to go about the necessary paperwork. The next one, though, was rather more complicated, as I needed to call each potential E.N.T physician in the area, asking if they accept the patient’s insurance before I go about the referral process. While searching our files for previous E.N.T physicians, I found various other specialties instead. I noticed “orthopedic,” and gave myself a quick mental quiz to see if I remembered what that referred to . . .

Around noon I got a text from my husband. “Can I call?” “Just a minute, I text back. Taking advantage of the lunch hour calm, I stepped outside. “Hey, so I had an accident . . .”My heart dropped.

Turns out he was, by that point, about to be discharged from the E.R., and given a referral to an orthopedic surgeon. He was given a prescription for an antibiotic and pain meds at a nearby pharmacy. He called the orthopedic clinic, while walking to the pharmacy to buy his meds. While the clinic was trying to schedule him an appointment he asked if he could just walk in and be seen.

That is where he was when I walked in, still on the phone with him, asking “Where exactly are you?” Oh—did I mention that he was at the hospital down the road from my clinic?

I knocked on one door, recognizing the voice I’d heard in the background while on the phone with Peter. The gentleman on the exam table looked at me with come confusion, while the physician speaking to him turned to ask me, “Do you know this man?” I don’t think I even responded, in my frazzled state of mind — just turned around and closed the door behind me. 

When I did successfully enter Peter’s room, I ended up crying at the sight of him. The PA tried to reassure me and I blurted out, “I’m fine . . . just mad!” After a bit, we were joking about the irony of the fact that I am quite accustomed to wound care. He said, “You’re going to love this!” I raised my eyebrow in good librarian-turned-healthcare-worker fashion.

Soon afterwards we were walking out, surgery preparation papers in hand, to await the call from the scheduler. Tomorrow morning a surgeon will reattach the tendon on his pinkie. He has it in for his right hand, I suppose (remembering a similar ER even a few years back). Surgery scheduled for tomorrow morning. Once that call had come in, he was calm enough to lay now—if not exactly sleeping. I took another call shortly after he had done so, from the surgery billing office. With insurance company logistics, I’m not even sure if being uninsured is going to make it all that much worse than if we did still have insurance. But time will tell on that front.

For now, we sit on our couch in relative comfort. His hand wrapped and resting on his chest, periodically raised above his head, upon doctors (and nurse-wife’s) orders  🙂

lifeblood

September 4, 2021

The past few weeks have been a wild ride in my world. Our already short-staffed clinic has been hit by Covid quarantines, so that those of us who remain are covering for others in addition to our own roles. Stress levels have been through the roof, tempers short, and I’ve questioned the point of it all, when caring for others feels devoid of actual care . . . we are all so weary that our hearts can’t even break any more.

Today was supposed to be a lighter day, so I was placed as the sole assistant to the doctor seeing patients. But emergencies don’t follow appointment schedules. I found myself alone in a room, gloved hands pressed down to provide pressure for an open wound on a woman’s chest, while the doctor went to get surgical supplies. I felt the rhythm of her pulse as I watched it beat on her neck, and the only sound in the room was that of her breath. After a few minutes it occurred to me that maybe I should say something soothing, but she was so calm it didn’t seem necessary—accustomed, I suppose, to the sorts of medical trials that go along with end-stage renal disease. Her marked calm remained throughout the procedure, and, once stitched and bandaged, she started to get up on her own, hesitating a moment before accepting my outstretched arm. We were alone again, the doctor rushing on out as soon as the bandage was secure. “Have a good weekend,” I offered, questioningly. “You too,” she smiled. And with that, it was on to the next bit of the business of the day.

First though, I paused. I breathed a prayer of gratitude for the lifeblood that pulses through us all; I felt its fragile power.

*while this post is a departure from my recent series of Afgh@nistan memories, it seems fitting to use a photo from that season of my life. A vibrant red of another sort of grounding loveliness: my discovery of the roses of K@bul.

freedom

September 1, 2021

Tuesday’s tale . . . poignant to me, on this day of significance so far as news headlines go. I don’t know what to think of it, in the fog of my work weary brain; but I feel it.

freedom

Though it was done on impulse, I was aware of the irony of it as soon as I had begun shouting “Freedom!” during my mad dash through the back yard. We were playing the most normal sort of childhood games: “Capture the Flag.” Only it lost a bit of its normalcy; we were thoroughly involved in, and enjoying it, but I kept feeling the strangeness of it here, now.
At one point the children’s mother poked her head out the back door and, visibly relieved, commented, “Oh, it’s just a game.” The 2 boys had been in jail with me and were calling out for help. I had almost told them not to call out, actually, but had reconsidered. For one, I thought, this was non-teacher time: the last thing the kids needed was for their library teacher to be “Shushing” them at their own home, on a Friday night. Secondly, I had displayed my own fair share of goofiness, so it would have been a bit hypocritical for me to call them out on it. And finally, I was quite simply relishing the joy of child-like pleasures while we played.
I also braved the same slide that had re-fractured my foot back in the spring. A bit reckless of me, perhaps. But sometimes a little bit of recklessness is healthy, I think . . . necessary at certain times in any given life.
One more note of the day [no pun intended]: as she checked out her library book, one of the 2nd graders asked me if she could write a note on my stick note pad. Sure, I said. Later, as I looked at what she had written, I smiled and thought Me too. “I love your Mama” is what she wrote :-)