Tuesday, September 06, 2005

I hate hospitals

I know that in a way the above statement is somewhat selfish because there are so many people who really need medical care. People on the Gulf coast who would love to be able to go to a nice clean hospital for real medical care. I can't help it though, I still hate hospitals.

In 1999 I quit my job, quit smoking, turned 35, moved to a new house (a good story in itself), and my Mom was diagnosed with cancer. A slightly stressful year. Over the next four years I spent a lot of time waiting in hospitals while she went through her chemo and radiation treatments. I watched her bravely battle this disease, certain that she was going to beat it. And she might have had it not been for the damage her body sustained from the radiation treatments...but that's another story.

She had the most amazing attitude. She would wear different wigs depending on her mood, sometimes the blond one, sometimes the red one. It was always a surprise to her co-workers as to what she would look like each day. She had dozens of baseball caps and bandanas, too. She loved to tell the story about a hot afternoon when she was driving home from work. She just couldn't take the heat from wearing the wig anymore. She glanced around her and when she didn't see anyone too close, she grabbed the wig, whipped it off, and tossed it into the back seat of her car. Unbeknownst to her, someone was coming up on her left side and saw the whole thing. The man just about wrecked his car trying to figure out what she had just done! I'm sure it would have been a rather disturbing sight to see! I only saw her once without a wig or cap or bandana and I couldn't stop staring at her. When she noticed that I was staring, she asked me if I was bothered and wanted her to put on a cap. I told her no, and went on to say that I just couldn't get over how much she looked like Grandpa! Amusingly enough, she had thought the same thing!

She always felt that she needed to do things for the other people, especially the women in the chemo room. She often gave her phone number to them and they would talk, meet for coffee, and generally help each other through the rough spots. It was a sad day a year later when she found that she was the only one left of the five women who had started chemo together. But she just went on and still believed that it was better to help someone else than it was to dwell on herself or her illness. She didn't want anyone to treat her any differently so she didn't act any differently. She was a real smart ass, too and would let you know if you started treating her like an invalid! ;)

When she became too sick to work she thought she would go crazy because she hated being idle. She found ways to fill her time, though. She knit tiny little blankets in bright colors that she donated to the local hospital's NICU unit. Each blanket went with a premie when they were finally able to go home. Since that didn't seem to fill enough time, though, she joined her church's quilting circle. It was a skill she had learned from her mother and she found that the hours spent there were very soothing. The women always had a good time chatting while they sewed away on these quilts. Quilts that were often donated to someone in need or that were be auctioned off to raise money for the church. She also joined her local Curves so that she could try to build up her stamina and do something that was "normal."

The one thing that she hated more than anything was when she became to sick and weak to participate in choir anymore. She had been in one choir or another her whole life. Her father, a natural musician, had a PhD in music, was an orchestra conductor, and a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, so music was a large part of her life. Though not standing with the choir, she did continue to sing...right up to the week that she died. And even then, we heard her sing, her voice came through with the choir when they sang at her funeral.

Her battle ended in an intensive care unit after surviving a surgery that removed most of her intestines and should probably have killed her. Her body, so tired and frail by this point that I don't think she weighed more than 95 pounds, couldn't take anymore though and she knew it. She begged us to go home. After we did, she pulled the respirator tube out. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your view, that didn't do it. She was so angry. She wanted to call the shots and her body, sick as it was, wouldn't let her go just yet. The next day she mumbled good-byes through her damaged vocal chords to her grandchildren and then pushed us all away. That night she went into a coma...dying in the very early morning hours. She was not alone, though. Her husband was there, and her sister, and I was there. We shared stories about her through the night as we held her hands and stroked her brow. Then at about 5:30 a.m., she took her last breath. I thought my heart would break as the awful machine blared that single tone until a nurse came in and turned it off. Mom was only 60 years old.

So that is why I hate hospitals.

And now, in a horrible twist of deja vu, I find myself spending more time in hospitals. This time I am waiting while my mother-in-law goes through chemo. Until 1999, there was no cancer in either family, yet here are two women, bound by married children, and a friendship that lasted 17 years, and a cancer that kills 28,000 women a year. My fear now, though, is for my daughters. Their risk for cancer has more than doubled.

God, I hate hospitals...

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