Saturday, May 15, 2010

Saturday Musings, 15 May 2010

Good morning,

I must be getting old. As I stood on my porch this morning, watching the black cat limp across the concrete, I shivered. A year ago, this delightfully cool morning would have seen me sitting in my rocker, perhaps with a small throw across my lap. The iBook beside me on a wooden camper's table, I would have sipped strong coffee and hammered away at its keys, buoyed by the sounds of my waking neighborhood. Instead, I retreat to the warmth of my nook, where the chair is padded, and the screen is large enough to read without straining.

Yesterday, I made my way to Mission to visit an old haunt, I Love A Mystery, a bookstore formerly owned by a friend who has since died from cancer that she battled, with varying degrees of success, longer than I would have thought possible. Though I am often just down the street at the VALA Gallery, I do not frequent the mystery bookstore as much as I once did. The staff greeted me as though I had been long at sea, or in Europe, or myself infirm. I felt guilty, knowing that I have betrayed them in the aisles of the Half-Price Bookstore and the book sections of every thrift store in the Greater Metropolitan area. As a consequence, I bought four or five titles, even though I have twice as many already waiting at my bedside. They marveled over my weight loss, and packaged my purchases, and admonished me to return soon. I promised I would, though my words sounded false and guilty, and their faces reflected their understanding of my lack of clear intent.

From there, I continued west, and south, to an Overland Park hospital to take possession of a friend who had undergone tests involving medication that inhibited her from driving. I pulled under the portico, and disembarked, clutching my Blackberry to while away the few minutes, in front of the glass doors through which I expected her to be brought.

I have waited outside of too many automatic doors. I have watched the cold glass, trying to ignore the harried look on the face of my reflection. I am never sure why the simple act of coming to a hospital causes such anxiety. Is it the potential that the person for whom you wait will not come? Is it the fear of role reversal, when you will lie on the gurney, and watch the twitch of impatience, as the person who has delivered you begins to think about their next appointment, or the lunch they have not had, or a cool drink, or waiting work?

In 2003, I think; or maybe 2002; I had my right knee replaced. It should not surprise anyone to learn that I set the record for the longest in-patient stay relating to a total knee replacement at St. Luke's Hospital. Most patients go home in three days. I spent seven weeks in the 8th floor rehab center. In the days before wi-fi, I communicated with my assistant via dial-up and a clunky NEC laptop. It seemed like a party at first, or a vacation, but the stretch of days soon fatigued me, and I missed my son, and I grew so tired of the entire affair that the doctor finally consented to my discharge despite my failure to attain his arbitrary pre-release goal for use of the new joint.

On my first day home, my then-husband suffered a terrible accident that nearly killed him. When I got the call, I was lying on my bed being tortured by an in-home physical therapist with no sense of humor. Determined to accomplish what the hospital therapist could not, this woman -- who probably did not get enough love as a child -- pulled and pushed on my right leg, willing its nerves and muscles to accelerate their response and attain 90 degrees of bend. Not surprisingly, my first reaction to the ringing phone resembled relief, though that quickly dissolved into disbelief.

When I got to that hospital, strapped in a cushioned knee brace, pushing a walker for support, my friend Katrina behind me, a gaggle of white-clad attendants with various degrees and licenses attempted to bar my entry to the area of the hospital where I would find the cubicle in which their patient lay. I am his wife, I announced, as I bullied past them and through those automatic doors into the patient care area. I understood even then that I looked frightful to them, more like a patient than the spouse of one, more like a victim than a rescuer. I understood their reluctance to admit me. But I am relentless, and they yielded to my insistent advance.

He looked terrible. He had suffered a crushing blow from a malfunctioning automatic wheelchair lift, and had not yet responded to their attempts to revive him. I think, even now -- eight years and a divorce gone by in the water under the bridge -- that if I had arrived five minutes later, they would have called the code -- terminated resuscitation efforts -- let him go. But they had reckoned without me.

I pushed aside a large man, whom I later learned was the ER doctor. I approached the narrow bed from one side, abandoning my walker in the doorway and trusting, for the first time, my new artificial knee. I leaned over, pushing my face as close to his as I could, watching his open, wide eyes in a face turned away from the side to which I had come. I spoke his name, Dennis, just once, but in that commanding voice peculiar to a frightened spouse, or a panicked mother, or a desperate child.

And he breathed, a sharp, sudden draw of air. His head jerked toward me, and all hell broke loose, as the men and women in white took up their tools, shoved me aside, doing what they do best. I retreated back to the open space behind the curtain, beyond the automatic doors, and sank into a chair in the waiting room.

Yesterday, at another hospital, beyond another set of glass doors, I glanced around the circular driveway, at other cars, and other friends, other family. Above me, the day's pale sky arched, rising to embrace its feathery clouds. I closed my eyes, and let the sweetness of the afternoon wash over me. Then the doors opened with their firm, assured sound of rushing air in well-oiled channels. An aid wheeled my friend outside, and for a moment, she looked like royalty, in a peach-colored blouse, with her simple, elegant hairstyle, and her gracious smile. You are the best-looking sick person I've ever seen, I told her, and we all laughed. Then the aid helped her into the car, and I took my seat, and looked at her. Bo-Ling's? she asked, and I nodded, and away we went.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

P.S. My apologies to DRL if I offend. It is not my intention. Rock on.

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The Missouri Mugwump™

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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.