Saturday, July 13, 2013
Saturday Musings, 13 July 2013
An endless string of lovely Saturdays stretch behind me in time. I turn the calendar's page with a brief whisk of my finger and see months upon months of them. Birds squawk; squirrels bark; and a woman clad in cotton strolls past with her dog on a leash. The black cat, having eaten a handful of dog food that its shameful owner foisted upon him, stares balefully at me, then tosses his body down onto the concrete pad of our porch, and tends to grooming his paws. I close my eyes and let the wind toss my hair against my cheeks, surrounded by nothing but beauty, relentless, cool and serene.
I feel the rush of caffeine hit my veins, and think of the pale grey of my mother-in-law's face, three days ago, as she lay in a hospital bed, her worried spouse of fifty-eight years hovering nearby. It will take a little hissy fit by her daughter-in-law who does not care about the nurses liking her, before a unit of fluids and two of blood will restore color to the delicate skin of the ailing lady's face. I am struck by the amount of time women spend standing beside others during post-surgical hours. I wonder, briefly, if there is a gene for knowing the proper ratio of diplomacy to insistence.
On the wall next to my cedar closet hangs a framed piece of fabric, with the words, "Tomorrow Begins Today". I remember my mother sitting beside my grandmother's hospital bed, needle flying quickly through the creamy cotton, embroidery hoop holding the work taught beneath her brown-spotted hands. Nana shifted beneath the sheets; a machine trilled; and my mother jumped from her chair. A soft touch on the taught forehead; the machine's noise settled to a rhythmic, periodic beep.
I pull my car into the long driveway of the hospital, day after day. I've learned to lie to the guard. The parking lot for the Heart Institute affords me a shorter trip to my mother-in-law's bed, past the better coffee shop. I'm supposed to park in the garage for the main hospital but have learned that the trip from there to her room exhausts me. My father-in-law doesn't cheat. At eighty-four, he could fib with moral justification and park wherever he chooses, but he makes the longer journey, in his tightly laced Rockports and camper's shorts, twice a day, to sit by his wife's bedside.
I greet the coffee shop clerk as though we know each other. I tease her about her co-worker, whom I have seen flirt with her on other days. She knows my order already -- a twelve-ounce Americano, no room for cream -- and I have exact change ready. It's day five, day six, day seven; and for someone who favors routine, these hospital visits tuck neatly into my morning.
As I walk down the corridor to the Blue Elevators, lab-coated figures stroll on either side of me. Their thumbs fly across the tiny keys of small black devices. Smartphones or iPods. Eyes down, elbows crooked, feet on auto-pilot set to rapid, as I trudge beside them, a heavy bag with my own gadgets tucked neatly inside slung over one shoulder. They keep typing in the elevator, and I gingerly sip my coffee, straining to read their badges. A doctor who looks to be half a decade younger than my son; a nurse with an unpronounceable name smacking gum; a couple of worried relatives. The doors open on Four and I disembark, swiftly glancing at the small waiting room where others clutch cups of coffee just as I do, but moving on, having seen no one I know, not really expecting to see anyone but looking just in case.
The ladies at the desk raise their eyes as I approach, then look back down. I'm one of a series of faces with which they will for a short time be familiar. After my mother-in-law returns to the Memory Unit where she lives, the fabric of time will re-seal, leaving no trace of me. Some other grumpy daughter-in-law will make an impression, on some other day, for some other reason. I know that their knowledge of me will not endure, but I don't mind. I respect their profession and most of their work. Our dumb luck dictated that the one inefficient nurse among them happened to be on duty the day of my mother-in-law's sharp decline. She hasn't been assigned to Joanna's room again, and not necessarily by chance. I smile when I see the assignment board; as long as certain names appear on it, and certain names do not, I know Joanna will be as fine as she can be, given what she has had to endure and the present state of her long life.
The hallway to her room smells the way all such hallways do. I pause halfway down, and breathe in the mix of antiseptic and sweat, Lysol and despair. I see a little clutch of medical students in the distance, stethoscopes shoved in deep pockets, narrow shoulders pulled back, eyes pinned to the doctor standing in their midst. For a moment, I am lost. I could be in the hospital where my mother's cancer marched her towards a hastened end; the long ago facility in which my grandmother recovered from one devastating stroke after another; or the Arkansas nursing home to which I brought a sheaf of papers for a client's son to sign, as he stood, soundlessly sobbing, over her dying body.
Yesterday morning, I arrived at my mother-in-law's bedside before her husband. She had just awakened, and lay quietly beneath a white sheet, her hands on its edge, her eyes alert in the pink flush of her face. Good morning, Joanna! I said. She does not know me. But she knows that I come to see her wherever she is. I can only imagine who she thinks I am -- an aide or a hired hand, I've decided -- but she smiled at me, as she always does, and echoed my greeting. I hear you had a long visit from somebody special last night! I am talking about my stepson, whose name is Mac, but I don't refer to him because I do not want her to be stressed with the challenge of trying to remember.
But I need not have worried. OH yes! She answered. Mac came to see me! And her radiant smile confirmed that she does, indeed, remember. I set my coffee down, and bent to kiss her forehead. The lingering pleasure of that visit has made a permanent mark on her mind. Whatever else might happen to Joanna this day, this weekend, this life, she has had that moment when a six-feet-two handsome young man, with his baritone voice and his broad shoulders, has sat by her bedside and held her hand.
In a few hours, I will watch a young couple exchange their wedding vows. When they have been married sixty years, as my in-laws nearly have been, I will be long dead. One of them will fall ill, and the other will travel from the parking garage to sit in the uncomfortable visitor's chair and watch the dials of the machine which monitors the patient's progress. Some young relative will bring a brief ray of sunshine into the room, and some nurse will forget to monitor the patient's condition as carefully as she should. Another nurse will intervene, and disaster will be averted. As they stand in the church this evening, this brave, slender couple who have chosen each other, I will sit with my husband, hold his hand, and wonder which one of us will go first and who will come to mourn us. Then I will turn my eyes back toward the bride in her beautiful dress; and the sturdy, strong groom, and for a few minutes, nothing will matter but the light of love shining from their faces.
The Missouri Mugwump™
- M. Corinne Corley
- I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.