Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Home for the Holidays

You know that you spend too much time in the emergency room when the ER doctor recognizes you. That, my friends, is a sad day. Not that having a handsome doctor smile at you is a bad thing, but when he walks in the room, takes a momentary visual check of the people in the room, and his eyes register that he's aware of who you are and he gives you, the one allowed visitor, a wry little smile of clear and undeniable recognition and acknowledgment of what is taking place there, then that's not as good. And Tuesday that is exactly what happened. I have spent altogether too many hours in the Round Rock Medical Center emergency room over the last several years. I know the drill. I know how to dress (warmly, it's always cold there), I know what you can and cannot take in (they do let you cheat and use your cell phone, but don't try and bring in a meal), how many people you can actually get back there (parents can both go back, and if your patient is dying, the whole family can stream in, all rules seem to fly away), I know what they need for patient admission and the questions they will ask you (generally, they always throw one in there that catches me off guard). I know what the monitors are and what they do. I know where the supplies are, I know where the restroom is, and I can jabber about football with the security guard on duty there, which is generally a Round Rock cop, because he no longer intimidates me in any way. I am, in short, a frequent flier.

I spent this past Tuesday in the familiar Room 3, this time with Mother. I have spent more than one long night there with first Kelsey, then Marissa, then Kelsey again, then Marissa a couple of times. Marissa seemed to time her trips over the holidays, so not only am I familiar with the surroundings, I have seen them dolled up with the trappings of the holidays. When I walked in this past Tuesday morning and casually glanced the fake holly draping the cheap-hotel-wall print hanging in the waiting area, it literally jolted me like an electric shock. The deja-vu was simply too strong.

There is something really out of place with holiday glitter and lights in a place where such serious business takes place, but then again, that's sort of what our life is like right now. Our somber morale jolts and jars against the "merry" of the season. But, after a moment of taking it all in and reconciling myself to what this particular trip was all about, I began to feel right at home.

The first time we rushed Kelsey to the emergency room in the middle of the night it was summer. She had taken a couple of handfuls of Advil. Her boyfriend had been trying to reach her on the phone and when he couldn't, he came over and he and Marissa had found her passed out upstairs in the middle of the night. I was wearing Steeler silk boxer shorts, some t-shirt that I don't recall matching, no bra, and I put on slippers to drive her the mile or a bit less to the emergency room. Greg stayed home with Marissa, so what I had on and what I had with me was what I was stuck with. And that was when I learned most of what I now know about emergency room visits. For one thing, you ain't the show, so your comfort is not the staff's concern. So the fact that you are freaked out, cold, dressed like a deranged, loose clown, and bored stiff at the same time is not their concern. And, you can't just leave and come back, someone has to buzz you in. You can't call someone to bring you stuff because you are supposed to shut your phone off (although, as I mentioned earlier, I have since left it on and used it liberally in front of staff with no repercussions),and who are you going to call at 3:00 in morning anyway? That's not a test I really want to put any of those friendships through. So, you sit and shiver and wait. Long periods of time pass between your seeing another human other than the patient, who generally is not good company if he or she is even conscious. So, on subsequent trips, I've known to take a moment to gather some things. And I keep a book in my car at all times now. One just never knows.

More recently, it's Mother who has been the cause of my strolling through the automatic double doors. Sitting vigil with mother is on the one hand far less stressful, but on the other, far, far worse. No matter how frequent our trips to the ER became with Kelsey and Marissa, there is always a level of "freak out" that accompanies you when it's your child. All those maternal instincts go into hyper drive. I don't use the emergency room like an urgent care center. If I drag my child into an emergency room, I am worried, whether legitimately or not, that she is in life threatening distress, and that's just not supposed to happen to my child. To anybody's child. Mother, on the other hand, is 91, diabetic, suffers from Parkinson's, congestive heart failure and has Alzheimer's. It's actually more a marvel when we go a month at a time without going to the ER. I accept the reality of the dips her health will take. Time is trying to pound on her. She does a good job of pounding back. That is why, however, sitting with her is generally worse. She is a bad patient. Nay, she is a horrible patient. I have described her behavior before, so I won't belabor it. And then being stuck in a small space with her for hours at a time listening to her repeat the same thing over and over and over and over and over and over again is enough to make you want to jump out the window. You wonder if that's why the windows that do exist are tiny and way up high.

This past visit however bordered on pleasant, as those things go anyway. I was appropriately bundled, had my phone with the bells and whistles, had my book with lots of violence (always helps to have a murder or two on hand to read about in these cases) and Mother could not stay awake for longer than a few minutes at a time. Sound callous? It probably is. But, I can only ask that you walk a mile in my shoes for a while before you pass too much judgment. I did not fail to worry however that she really was in bad shape this time for her not once to say she was a) a nurse, b) would not check into the hospital and c) complain about anyone who even glanced in my direction rather than address her. Of course, the handsome doctor, having remembered us from before, knew to look at her when talking, and I just listened. Occasionally he shot a secretive glance my way to make sure I was paying attention. They called in her cardiologist; another handsome man with a good bedside manner for women like Mother. And again, he acknowledged me when he came in and then went straight to her, only daring to look at me as he was leaving to make sure I got what was said. He actually handled her like putty and told her he was admitting her without giving her much say, but made it sound like a brief visit upstairs. Again, a testament to how sick she felt, she didn't complain.

So, there dozed Mother, fluid on her lungs keeping her from breathing properly and getting oxygen to an already overtaxed heart and there sat me, her only relative in a 1,000 miles, keeping vigil. I wondered once, briefly, if it was the same gurney the girls had been on, or if those get mixed up and rotated. I had slept on that hard vinyl mattress before, climbing up with Marissa once to try and catch a few hours of sleep while they treated her. But, I dismissed that thought rather quickly. Dwelling on that level of detail doesn't really help anything. Nonetheless, the surroundings felt so familiar. Yes, I thought to myself, I have been here altogether too many times. If Mother makes it through this episode, I will be back again.

And she did. By Thursday night she was stating that they had better let her go home the next day or she "would tear the building down around their ears." I should change her name to Timex; she takes a licking, but keeps on ticking. She is, as I write, back in her room, resting from the ordeal. Marissa and I are about to head for the airport to see our Steelers tomorrow, thanks to Kelsey's friend Leslie. Greg has Mother in hand during our trip. I hope I don't have to find out what a Pittsburgh hospital ER looks like, and I hope I get a respite from the familiar surroundings of our local one until after this horrible year comes to a close. Hope, they say, springs eternal. We shall see.

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