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Comings and Goings

January 23, 2012

I drive past our local hospital almost every day.  About a mile and a half from my house, situated right on the lake, it is located on the main road that goes through the downtown core.  Occasionally, when I drive by, I wonder about the people I see coming and going from the building, and entering or exiting the almost-always-crowded parking lot, and count my blessings that I’ve had to spend very little time inside the building myself.  That was, until this past week.

When I was little, we lived just down the street from another hospital – the one where I was born (and, coincidentally, where I gave birth to my own boys).  The nurses who worked there regularly walked by our house on their way to work (there were four apartment buildings at the southern end of our street and a majority of their tenants were nurses), and occasionally we’d hear an ambulance racing past on its way to the emergency department.  Cabbage Patch KidAs a child, I understood that the ‘maternity ward’ was where women went to get babies (although why the stork and/or the elves or fairies or leprechauns who found babies in cabbage patches dropped them there instead of right into the ‘new mommy’s’ home baffled me), and that sometimes old people – grandparents and the parents of my parents’ friends – got sick and went into ‘critical care’ and never came out.  That part frightened me just a little, but I suppose deep down I knew that the hospital was an important and necessary part of the neighbourhood.

Of course, as I got older (and later bought my first home only a block from that same hospital … and I’m beginning to see an almost frightening pattern here) the value of the hospital and its staff to myself, my family, and my community became much clearer.  Baby ZooThe birth of nieces and nephews allowed me to see for myself where babies really came from (what one niece recently referred to as the ‘baby zoo’), and the passing of my grandmother and great-aunt meant I got to see first-hand the work of the doctors and nurses in critical care.  “Health care” and “medicine” during that part of the last century wasn’t nearly as sophisticated or technologically-enhanced as it is today, but the job always got done.  And it’s always amazed me just how many people dedicate their lives to helping others – a role I honestly could never see myself in, but greatly appreciate in others.

First BornSecond BornFor most people, the maternity ward is the happiest part of the hospital.  It represents a place where new beginnings are experienced and celebrated. When my boys were born (waaaayyy back in the eighties), moms and babies stayed in the hospital for as long as a week, and I remember feeling exceptionally safe and well-cared-for during those initial days of ‘new motherhood’.  I also visited the maternity ward many times in subsequent years as friends and other family members brought little ones into the world (I suppose visiting now is almost non-existent, as most new moms and babies are sent home within twenty-four hours; I couldn’t imagine how I would have managed that!) 

On the other end of the spectrum, of course, is the part of the hospital that deals with end-of-life circumstances.  My maternal grandmother spent only two days in the hospital (over thirty years ago) before she passed on, a great-aunt was there for just over a week a few years later, and three years ago my father spent his final two days in the hospital. I suppose we were lucky that their time there was limited.  I still recall, though, how the rush of noise in the hallways seemed so at odds with the eerie quiet in their rooms as the end neared.  It was very much the opposite of the joyful noises heard in the maternity ward.

Mom and Dad - Christmas 2007Just over a week ago, my 93-year-old mother suffered what we believe was a small stroke, fell, and broke several bones in her face and nose. She subsequently spent twenty-four hours in emergency (against her wishes – she didn’t think she needed to go to the hospital at all!), and was rushed to intensive care when her situation worsened the next night (last Sunday).  The family was called and we were told to prepare for the worst.  Three days later, Mom was sitting up in bed, laughing and talking to everyone, and demanding to be fed (she’s a rather remarkable woman – just in case you hadn’t already guessed – who survived 67 years of marriage to a rather obstreperous man, raised five children, and guided each of them in parenting her 12 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.  She survived a serious heart attack in 2003, underwent a successful triple by-pass at age 90, and while she’s been living with my brother and his family since my dad died, she’s maintained an amazing level of independence and cognition). 

Once out of ICU, but because of her still-tenuous condition, a family member was required to be with her 24/7, and my brother, sisters, sister-in-law, and I spent a week rotating days and nights by her bed – some good, some not-so-good. On Friday they moved her to a ‘regular’ room (and routine); we’ve had a couple of ‘roller coaster’ days and no one (including, apparently, the doctor) is quite sure what to expect next.  We’re all keeping our fingers crossed, of course, but it’s an emotionally stressful day-by-day process (as any of you who have elderly parents can attest to). 

The more time I’ve spent at the hospital, the more I’ve come to realize that it’s not just a big brick and tile building where doctors and nurses and administrators and maintenance staff work, where ambulances – lights flashing and sirens blaring – come and go from, where people visit friends and family or go for tests or procedures or to hear life-altering news.  It’s a place of comings and goings in life.  And it’s a place, no doubt, where I’ll find myself spending more and more time now that I’m on … the other side of 55.

All That I Am

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8 Comments
  1. Madeline Lund permalink
    January 24, 2012 4:21 pm

    Not sure anything can quite prepare us for the departure of our parents. I think your family is doing the right thing pulling together to cover the hours your mom’s care demanded. That is one of the purposes of family–your support system at both ends of life.

    How much do we take for granted in our modern medical environment? It takes a lot of folks to keep the hospital going. The doctors, nurses, CNA, techs, housekeepers, cooks and all the office support staff etc etc–they are all working for the best outcome for those we care about. I can get so crabby with them when my 86 yr old mom is there because it’s often harder on me watching it all than it is on her living it–sometimes I have to remind myself of this, get a grip and say thank you.

    Anyway, thank you for sharing so I can remember again how important those that help our loved one’s are and prayers of healing for your mom.

    • January 24, 2012 7:33 pm

      We take so much for granted and rarely are able to really put ourselves in others’ shoes. Most of the nurses (and doctors, staff, etc.) have been wonderful; a few have left me wondering why they chose the profession in the first place. But, all in all, we need them and the hospital for overall care. Thanks for your prayers.

      Margo

  2. January 24, 2012 12:54 pm

    I think the potential death of a loved one is very hard until we embrace the concept of letting go. All things and all lives have a beginning and an end. We celebrate the beginning, but we often fail to find a way to accept and celebrate the end, don’t we!?

    • January 24, 2012 1:21 pm

      Death is absolutely hardest on those who get left behind.

      Margo

  3. January 24, 2012 11:26 am

    She sounds like an amazing woman!

    • January 24, 2012 1:20 pm

      That she is – I can only hope to manage half as well as she has!

      Margo

  4. January 24, 2012 10:34 am

    I will keep your mother, you and your family in my thoughts. Visiting the hospital reminds us that it too is a community.

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