Monday, April 9, 2012

Monday Morning Musings, 09 April 2012

Good morning, and a good morning it is.

I've a story to tell, and it is mostly a borrowed story. So indulge me. Picture this story told by a woman to her children. The woman is about 5 feet three, early to mid 50s, greying auburn hair, short, sassy, always a quick smile but sometimes a tense frown adorning her face.

Oh wait. That could be me.

So thought I, on Friday afternoon, lying in a hospital bed in St. Luke's brand-spanking new Heart Institute, listening to the overly condescending voice of the admitting nurse and thinking of a story that my mother once shared, about using the same tone with someone in the hospital at which she worked. The circle, indeed, is unbroken, though the shoe might well be on the other foot.

The memory of my mother telling the story that I'll shortly relate floated to the surface of my oxygen-deprived brain several times during my hospital stay. The first such occasion coincided with the floor nurse's questioning of my report of multiple broken bones so soon after my blithely answering "no" to the question, "is anyone you love hurting you". Rather than perpetuate her clear suspicion of He Who Adores Me, (he who was not even in my life during most of the breaks), I allowed her to slap a bright yellow "Fall Risk" band on my arm, and I endured three days of indignities from people half my age and a quarter as resilient as I believe I have proven myself to be, awkward gait and all.

My mother's voice rose in my head, chagrin-laced, regretful, for the tone she reportedly found herself using with her "clinic patients", a tone that she admitted arose from her middle-class assumptions: You are poor, therefore you must be stupid. You are in a wheelchair, therefore you must be deaf. Even my mother, liberal, Democrat, war-protesting, fell prey to such sad truisms.

The morning after my admission, the day shift had its turn at humiliating me. I discovered, to my horror, that being a fall risk in the heart unit meant having one's bed rigged to blare if one set one's dainty, bare toes upon the cold laminate floor for purposes of traversing a few feet to attend to one's morning personal tasks. An over-sized, thunderous aide appeared to scold me and grab for my elbow. As any person with an "awkward gait" will attest, grabbing for one's elbow triggers a sudden jar which sends you tottering in the opposite direction of the grabber, and so I nearly became the falling patient that their precautions ostensibly intended to forestall. Let go of me! I cried, desperate for the bathroom but determined to get there with as little humiliation as possible.

The nurse appeared beside my torturer. Darling, darling, she bellowed -- or cooed, perhaps, but by this time, I had no tolerance for such appellations, and I heard her voice as loud enough to wake my eternally sleeping maternal unit. Darling, honey, we have to help you, you're a fall risk.

I stood by the sink, just about ready to slam the door in her face. First of all, I spat out. I am not your darling. Second, I am not a fall risk. I only admitted to falling on the rare occasion to keep your night-shift counter-part from assuming that my history of broken bones should be attributed to my husband beating me. I've been disabled longer than you have been alive, and, really, it is rude to call someone you've never even met, 'Darling'.

My mother's voice, telling her story, the story that I am about to share with you, drifted up to the surface in my consciousness. I glared at the nurse, who stared back with a quiet intensity. I could see her thinking of how to keep me, whom she perceived as a nearly rabid patient, from posing a risk both to her calm day and my admittedly very sick self. I saw the precise moment when she realized that she had let her assumptions guide her tone, in that condescending us-or-them way of medical professionals, even well-intended medical professionals, even excellent, caring and concerned medical professionals.

Like my mother.

Who walked one day, down the hallway, a few feet from her EKG department, at the now-defunct St. Louis County Hospital. Clinic patients awaited her, and you should read "clinic patients" to mean people who were too poor to get their EKGs in the offices of private doctors, and so were forced to report to my mother's office to suffer the indignity of removing their upper garments behind a flimsy curtain in a room which also held filing cabinets and desks at which my mother and her colleagues did their work.

Stop me if you've heard this one. It's a favorite story of mine.

A man approached my mother and ask for directions to the laboratory. My mother eagerly responded, trying to be helpful. In a loud voice, gesturing, she told him: Okay, the lab. You walk down the hall. Way, way down the hall. You pass an office that looks like the lab but it is NOT the lab, it is the blood bank. DON'T GO IN THERE. Go past that place and keep going down the hall. Way, way, way down the hall, really far, and then you come to a set of DOORS.

The man look intently at her. He replied, Doors? You mean, those things with knobs?

My mother quickly corrected him. Oh, no! These doors DO NOT HAVE KNOBS. These are SWINGING DOORS.

And then she saw the stethoscope around his neck.

As the short blond nurse stood silent in front of me, re-evaluating her prior notions of what I must be -- changing me from a faceless "fall risk" to a human being who has beaten all odds and clings desperately to her notion of self-sufficiency, I thought of my mother, and of the lesson she learned, all those years ago, about assumptions. And here we were, this nurse and I, making assumptions about each other. I assumed that she called me "darling" because she thought I was demented. And she assumed that because I have suffered multiple, small and annoying breaks from time to time when the earth arose to insult my gait-challenged legs, I could not walk from the bed to the bathroom without an attendant. Yes, yes, I know: Policy, procedure; rules, regulations; liabilities and laws. But still -- the assumptions had flared and had bitten us both in the butt.

We reached a compromise, the nurse and I. She did not require me to have an attendant hold onto me, or to wear those ridiculous, loose-fitting socks, or to wear a gait belt. I agreed to advise the CNA when I wanted to move around, and to let them at least be in the room. The bed alarm would only be activated after 10 p.m. She would call me "Corinne". Nobody would grab my arm.

I heard my mother chuckling, shifting in her grave, and settling back, ready to let another memory rise to the surface, as needed, to teach her daughter another life lesson, on some other day, in some other place, when I would again need her wisdom.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

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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.