Hospital Absurdities

I’ve been thinking a lot about illnesses lately.  About how some of them take your loved ones away, piece by piece, until there is nothing left of the person you once knew.

My grandmother’s mind was ravaged by Alzheimer’s. Such an insidious disease. She went from the fiercely strong woman I knew to someone who no longer even knew herself.  And as some of you know, my dad is currently struggling with cancer; he’s doing everything he can to kick its ass.  I’ve often wondered: is it better to lose your mind and keep your bodily health or retain your intellect yet have your body waste away? A twisted kind of lottery if you ask me, no matter which way you go. Terminal illness sucks, of that there is no doubt.

While I would drop everything to be at their beck and call, from day to day I try to keep a light heart and not dwell on the reality that is my dad’s illness … if I did, I’d go down that rabbit hole and never come back up. Instead I show my love through food and treats and stupid jokes and gossip and stupid jokes. Did I mention stupid jokes?

The tangled mess that is my mind wonders about so many things and since we’re discussing illness, naturally, I wonder about hospitals. So here is me … dealing with an ugly reality in a very not so mature way.

Why can you never find a doctor?  It’s a hospital, for goodness sake.  Doctors swarm around there like ants on your kitchen counter, so why is it you can never find one when you need him?  Pinning a doctor down for a visit to your hospital room is like planning a visit from your cable company, only a lot less fun.  “I’ll be there between 8am tomorrow morning and 11pm next Tuesday.”  Are there hidden golf course in the basement of the hospital?

Why are so many surfaces white?  Sure, I get the concept.  White equals cleanliness and sterility.  But what’s the point when the janitors are playing “Guess That Body Fluid” every time they make rounds?  Do you think janitors and housekeeping play fun games behind closed doors?  “I’ll see that pee puddle and raise you a vomit pile.”  “BINGO!”

Why do they wake you up to give you a sleeping pill?  Look, Mr. Baker is finally asleep.  Let’s run the floor polisher, set off all the alarms, and wake him for a sleeping pill.

Where do they hire the cooks?  Is there a testing process the cooks have to go through to be hired?  “Yes, Mrs. Smith, I see you worked in the High School cafeteria.  Serving cardboard pizza and soy hotdogs is great experience for this job.  However, I’m afraid you failed the test when you made the chicken taste like meat.”

How do they change the hallways to ensure you get lost every time you leave the floor?  This is some kind of engineering feat to rival anything NASA accomplishes.  From the moment you step out into the hallway, the room changes sides and moves to the opposite wing of the hospital.  The hallways reconfigure themselves, and the elevators disappear completely.  I swear, it’s like Hogwarts on steroids (if you don’t get that reference, go read the Harry Potter series … it’ll be good for you). The cafeteria moves multiple times to ensure no one will ever be able to find it, or its tasteless chicken.  I tried to leave a trail of breadcrumbs, but they disappeared when the janitor swept them up, excitedly marking his Bingo card.  Apparently, breadcrumbs are double or nothing.

Why have a call button at all?  Admit it, we all do this.  You hit the call button and immediately go out to find a nurse.  This is similar to the person hitting the up button on the elevator when it’s already been pushed.  Of course, once the call button is pushed, all nurses and technicians play hide and seek.  Well, all except for that poor nurse who’s always standing at the medication cart, paper cup in one hand, looking like a deer in the headlights.

Can we try happy words instead of procedure names?  “It’s bubbly yum yum time” sounds so much better than “It’s time for your chemo treatment.”

In all seriousness, I hate disease, and the way it robs us of all we hold dear.  The treatments sometimes seem worse than the illness they are treating, and it is hard to stay strong when you are watching someone begin to lose parts of themselves.  Some stories have good endings – thankfully, my Dad appears to be veering off into this direction – some, unfortunately, don’t.  The best you can do is reassure your loved ones that you have your seat belt on, and you’re coming along for the ride.

In the meantime, it doesn’t hurt to try to find some small doses of humor along the way.

Oh, and I’ll bring the snacks.

 

Grow Old With Me

So, the little salt and pepper shakers have been a matched set for 58 years now. 58 years. 5.8.  I mean, I don’t even know what to say for my parents’ anniversary this year … it’s not often I’m at a loss for words, as you all surely know by now. The lack of poetic flourishes notwithstanding, I’m awestruck at the feat – I mean, 58 years! But also their obvious devotion, which has been on full display even more recently. Oh sure, sometimes they seem more like Tom and Jerry than Ozzie and Harriet, but the love binding them together for all these years remains a force to be reckoned with. And no doubt the best is yet to be.

Life is Messy

Keats said: “Life is divine Chaos. It’s messy, and it’s supposed to be that way.” And I get it. Yes. Life is messy. I’m not quite sure on the whole “divine” aspect, but in general, I’m on board with the whole chaos theory per Mr. Keats.

Here lately, chaos has defined my world … some bad, some good. It seems that along with being messy, Life has a sense of humor, and a twisted one at that. It sometimes gives you what you want, while also throwing obstacles — or downright tragedies, in your wake. Trials, tribulations, misfortune. Why can’t we just be allowed to enjoy the “good” without having the “bad” trail so closely behind?

After too many years of an unhappy — even, shall we say, hurtful, marriage, I began anew. It has taken adjustments, but it was necessary, and there is now a peace in my home that reigns supreme. Chalk that up to the “good” side. My kids are doing well on their respective paths to their future. Add a notch to the good column. I start a new job in a week. It’s been a long time coming, and I’m excited about this new route my own path is taking. Another mark to the good.

And then. Life, in all of its infinite wisdom said: “You know what? Things are just going a little to well for you and your family. I’m going to throw a kink into things. The mother of all kinks, in fact. Because, fuck you.”

Yeah. Life is messy all right.

My Dad, who this time last year was fine, now has Stage IV lung cancer. We know he was fine last year because for a few, non-cancer related reasons, he has scans done every year. That’s Life right there, flipping the middle finger. He’s a tough old cuss and if anyone can beat this thing, he can. But damn it, Life, get your shit together why don’t you?

 

Dear Mom – Things They Don’t Teach in School

Yesterday. Whew. What a long day, for all of us.

Dad had the biopsy on his lungs yesterday.  To say I was nervous and afraid is an understatement.

I decided to tag along to keep you company.  You’re my mom, but you’re so much more.  My friend, my confidant, my rock.  And dad?  He has always, always been there for me, no matter what. So of course, I was going to be there for him.

While thinking of you both last night, after all was said and done, I took a moment to reflect on the differences that separate us, and also those that connect us, as they do in any family.  Politics?  Please.  Social issues?  Ugh, no way. I have no doubt that you feel the same. I mean, I got my attitude from somewhere, right? Yet, through it all, I love you.  More than you will ever know.  You’ve done so much over the years for me; I want to be there for you like you are always there for me.

This is not to toot my horn, so to speak. Instead, it’s meant to offer up a heartfelt apology.

Yeah, I choked.  Sure, I’m great at the lighthearted stuff.  I can gossip about the mailman and tell terrible jokes with the best of them in an attempt – perhaps, a misguided attempt – to keep your mind off things.  I can distract you from the bigger picture, if only for a little while, with any number of sarcastic and witty (in my own eyes, at least) observances. I can get super-charged and angry on your behalf; whether it’s at people or situations, I’ll gladly take it on to save you the stress or heartache.  But the serious stuff?  I’m at a loss.

They never taught this stuff in school.

Mom and dad, I wanted to say the right things.  I wanted to do the right things, to offer comfort, hope, and a bit of light in the darkness.  I just am so ridiculously backwards and awkward in serious situations that I don’t know what to say or do. It’s almost funny. Except, it’s not.

I’m sorry I’m not good at small talk or knowing what to say in a painful, frighteningly serious situation.  And I was scared.  Just like you were.  I’m sorry I’m not better at comforting you; I truly wish I knew how.

I hope you both know that I love you more than anything in this world.  I will always be there for you, no matter how awkward or backward I may be at the reassurances and encouragements and comforting phrases.

My heart feels it, oh boy does my heart feel it; if only my mouth could say it.

 

Construction Ahead

I want to say Happy Father’s Day to my Dad. And I’m sure my children would like to take this time to thank him for the inside joke that I constantly throw out, even though they weren’t even born when the joke originated, and it’s one they don’t really “get,” but they laugh along with me anyway. Of course, their laughter is likely just a way to placate their eccentric mother since we’re always in the car with me driving at the time of said joke, and they do have their safety and well-being to consider.

I’ll share a bit of nostalgia with you and let you in on the inside joke – there are actually two. And which joke gets repeated on which outing depends entirely on which road construction sign I happen to see at the time.  I know, I know, make jokes about construction signs, you say? Who on earth can come up with jokes about road construction signs?  Well, my Dad can. And little did he know they would drive off into the future at full speed to infect his grandchildren.

I have no idea if these happened all on the same long family trip, though I think they did. I think my Dad just happened to be on a “roll” during this one lengthy excursion with a Great-Aunt in tow – honestly, it all happened so long ago that I can’t remember exactly.  There are a great many parts of my childhood that I remember only in fragments, not getting the whole picture, but rather just fractured bits. I believe on this particular occasion, we were taking my Great Aunt Bunny to West Virginia with us, and both the long drive and the looming visit itself would have made her an anxiety ridden nervous wreck, such things always did. Which would make sense – IF that’s the trip I’m remembering – because my Dad would have been doing what he could, in his own silly way, to ease my Aunt’s nerves. The jokes I’m going to tell you about, however, those stand out in my mind.

The trip to West Virginia from our house back in those days took a solid 8 hours, and more often than not, there was road construction along the way. Going through an area of construction, with all of its delays and issues, during an already 8-hour trip – with two pains in the ass children, can never be an easy thing, but on this particular trip in question, my Dad decided to take his comic show on the road, as it were, and lighten the mood.

Coming upon a section of road construction that required rerouting of the lanes, there was a safety sign duly posted informing all and sundry of a “flag man ahead.” Now most people would slow down, follow the “flag man’s” direction and just move on, right? Not my Dad. He stopped, rolled down his window (this was in a time when you really did roll down a window) and cheerily greeted the guy: “Hi, Mr. Man!”  After we drove on, and I suppose due to the looks of confusion from all of his passengers – except my mother, I don’t even want to know what look she was giving him – he says, “Well, I don’t know him well enough to call him Flag!”  Rolling eyes and groaning laughter ensued. And the joke has lived on into infamy. Although, my version keeps the window tightly closed, with me just shouting through the glass, but in a good way, not like when there is an errant jaywalker or a driver who has apparently never heard of a turn signal.

The next sign that encouraged my Dad to act was a bit more hearty and enthusiastic, or rather, his reaction was at any rate. For seemingly no reason whatsoever, and certainly with no warning, my Dad threw out his hand and grabbed my mother by the top of her head. I wish, for the life of me, that I could remember the look on my mother’s face at that instant, but what I conjure (based on personal experience with the woman), it would’ve been a hoot, and not exactly a look of adoration towards my father either. In his defense, he pointed to the “Stop Ahead,” sign we were passing…I mean, he was only following directions, right?

My kids are 25 and 18, and I kid you not, they know exactly what is going to happen when we pass construction or road work that has one of these signs posted. Oh, they may forget in the moment as they text or watch videos on the phone, but whoever is in the front passenger seat is sure to have their head accosted, or to be startled into thinking we’ve seen someone we know, each and every time…and when they search the surrounding area for the sign and find it, they smile a pacifying smile and then go back to their business.

It makes no difference to me if my kids don’t share in my joke. I think it’s hilarious and sometimes, dammit, I just do things because they amuse ME, not necessarily those around me. And more than being amusing, it reminds me of family, of times gone by, and while I can’t grasp the full memory of that road trip from so many years ago – only bits and pieces remain, what does stick in my head is the fact that my Dad was on a comedic roll for the entire drive. Who knew his Dad jokes would get passed down through the generations? I guarantee you that while they may not repeat the jokes themselves, till their dying day, my kids will never be able to pass road construction without at least going over those wisecracks in their head. And maybe, just maybe, when they have kids, this bit of Dad-silliness will live on.

So, thank you Dad…it’s not enough that you’ve had my back since I was born or that you constantly watch out for me. Your casually tossed out pieces of comedic genius have stayed with me over the years and have been the source of great joy, in so many ways. Here’s to family road trips from back in the day. Here’s to lasting memories. Happy Father’s Day! I love you.

dad in his element

The Adventure Continues

My parents’ 57th wedding anniversary is tomorrow – June 15th. Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad! I think this might be the first year that I haven’t confused the date. It fell on Father’s Day one year, ages ago, and for me, I’ve equated the two ever since, making me perpetually late in wishing them a Happy Anniversary. Father’s Day changes every year, you say? No matter. You underestimate my ability to be wrong about something.

Hey, did you know there are traditional gift themes for each year of wedded bliss? First year is paper. Fifth year is wood. Twentieth year is china. Well, as far as I can tell, by year 57 all the ideas have been used up. By that time only the anniversaries ending in 0s or 5s get a themed gift. Seriously. On the list of “traditional gifts” the years skip from 55 right to 60.

My guess as to why that is: maybe whoever made the list felt that people grinding out 55 to 60 years of holy matrimony are too busy trying to not kill each other to really celebrate the honored day. Who knows? Maybe they’re right. Maybe by that point, not trying to choke each other is a gift in and of itself. “I didn’t suffocate you with a pillow this morning sweetie, Happy Anniversary! Want some breakfast?” Personally, I think 57 years of marriage—murderous thoughts notwithstanding—is one hell of an accomplishment.

The lists of traditional gifts often give an alternative modern gift for the couple who want to stay hip and with the times. For example, the first-year anniversary’s “modern” take on the traditional paper theme is clocks. How the two are related completely escapes me. Now while there isn’t a traditional gift for 57 years of wedded bliss, a modern alternative my parents have for celebrating their anniversary is a glass or a mirror. A glass, particularly of the decanter variety, I can understand. Giving each other something to hold the sweet nectar of alcohol or caffeine I can see as being invaluable to such a lengthy marriage. Sadly, my parents can have neither. So that’s a firm no on the glass option.

Mirror, it is. But really? A mirror? All I can really see my parents doing with a mirror is holding it up within an inch of the other’s face and saying, “SEE! I told you there was a smudge on your face! You just couldn’t believe me, could you? Noooo…of course not.” I’m not sure I want to be the purveyor of such a contentious gift.

Despite their individual secret schemes on how to plan what can only be described as the perfect murder, in real life my parents do what they can to keep each other out of the ground for as long as possible. Which is particularly good news for my dad. If anyone was going to kill an old man and get away with it, it would be my mother. That woman is nothing if not thorough.

I’ve often wondered what the secret is to a long marriage such as theirs. In an age when a marriage that makes it five years can be seen as “a good run,” there’s got to be something special to keep two people together for close to SIX decades. I believe that my brother and I were maybe that special ingredient in the glue that has bound them. No, not because their love for us created an unbreakable bond.  It was more than that. I think they decided years ago that whichever one of them asked for a divorce, they had to be the one to take the children.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, my parents loved us…still do for some crazy reason. It’s impressive really, given what we put them through. It’s just that together, they were strong enough to counter my and my brother’s daily foolish antics. They could commiserate late at night and bolster each other’s mental stability – “Did you SEE what that boy did? Just look!” “Oh well, that’s nothing on what the girl tried to get away with today…let me tell you!”  Ahh, there’s nothing like having a common enemy to keep people together.

At its essence, having each other’s back is their mainstay – their rock. Sure, they may squabble and they may pick at each other, but my dad still makes my mom her coffee (decaf these days) every single morning before heading out to the backyard to feed her feathered friends – I mean, hey, she needs company while she sits on the deck, having her morning cup of joe. In return, she makes sure his meds are always in order and that he has his fishing hat when he goes out on the water so his shiny bald head doesn’t burn.  And god help the outsider who speaks ill of either one of them.