Stitching Good Things Into Our Life Stories

Today we headed back down to the Fair.  You know, my very favorite time of the year.  Since today was the final day of the Fair, we loaded up the crew plus our angel and set out for fun and adventures.

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Despite the midway being my least favorite place, we spent time over there, and the littles loved their first time over there riding the rides.  The Fella had his fill after the Flying Kite ride where you lay down on your stomach and fly around and around in circles.  Mess Cat rode with our Princess, and the Fella rode with Cooter.  Yeah, I was the official photographer.  No rides for me.

Then it was time for my favorite place at the whole fair, the Crafts building.

20131013-212710.jpgThe quilts, the crocheted and knitted dolls, blankets, and other projects.  Canned goods and baked treats, camellias, paintings, photography, art by folks of all ages.  I love it.

Aub ran into an old friend while we were there, Uncle Si from Duck Dynasty.  She shared her sweet tea with him, which made him happy happy happy.

Aub and Uncle Si.  He was a part of the 4-H scarecrow competition.  I love seeing all the creativity the young people have in creating their scarecrows.

Aub and Uncle Si. He was a part of the 4-H scarecrow competition. I love seeing all the creativity the young people have in creating their scarecrows.

While we were there, the littles carried on the tradition of painting a wooden figure/ornament.

Each year they paint something to bring home.  I love traditions.

Each year they paint something to bring home. I love traditions.

They also started a new tradition.  The leatherwork folks were there, and you could make a leather bracelet or bookmark.  They both enjoyed this. It made me smile because when I was in elementary school the leather bracelet with your name on it was THE thing.  I almost made myself one today, but held back–all for the children’s sake, you know.  But oh, the memories.

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What was most special in the building were the memories.  I saw the camellias on display.  In my previous life, I did love camellias.  While walking through, I came across someone I worked with twenty-five years ago.  Mr. T, such a kind soul, sold the number two peaches when I was working my way through college at Sunburst Fruit Packers in the summers.  It was a sweet visit to the past.

Then there was this.

20131013-212643.jpgThe art of needlework on display.

This is the first year that I didn’t spend time going through all the creative displays (isn’t this one lovely?), looking for our cousin’s handiwork, checking to see if she won a ribbon, and taking a picture of it.  Miss B was Mama’s first cousin once removed, as her grandmother and Miss B’s mother were sisters.  Mama was Miss B’s guardian, as she was mildly mentally delayed.  The true story as to whether she was born with the delay or something happened is lost somewhere in the family lore.  The important thing is she was cared for by people who loved her–first her Mama, then her Aunt, whom she adored, then a cousin, and then my Mama.  Each year Mama encouraged Miss B in her needlework, and when it was done, Mama took it to be matted and framed, except for the year she embroidered the state birds quilt, the year she made a butterfly quilt, and the year she embroidered a shower curtain.  Yes, she was just that good.  Here, you can see for yourself.

All those intricate stitches.  There's no telling how long this took her, sitting in her red chair, working away diligently.  She truly had a gift--of patience and with the needle.

All those intricate stitches. There’s no telling how long this took her, sitting in her red chair, working away diligently. She truly had a gift–of patience and with the needle.

She knew I loved sunflowers.  The one below hung in her room.  Each time I visited her she told me she wanted me to have it one day.  “I know how you love your sunflowers.”

I dearly love this gift from Miss B.  She stitched with love and skill.

I dearly love this gift from Miss B. She stitched with love and skill.

While Mama was at her HospitalStay in February, Miss B was taken to the ER and later admitted to the hospital in another town.  It was her lung problems.  While there she fell and broke her hip.  In the end, I guess she never really recovered from the surgery for that.  Her lungs just weren’t strong enough.  So exactly one week after Mama left us for a better place, Miss B followed her on the journey.  It was appropriate, I think, that Mama, who had taken such good care of Miss B in life, went ahead to pave the way for her journey there.

This is the first Fair that I haven’t had the adventure of looking for her work.  While she was in the hospital, some of her kind ladies came to see her and talked to her about how she had to get back home so she could work on her Fair entry. Weeks later, when I was getting her room cleaned out, a dear friend of hers and Mama’s came to help me.  She pointed to the sunflowers, “You know those are yours.  She wanted you to have them, said you loved your sunflowers.”

Tears.  Of sadness.  Of joy.  Of gratitude and admiration.

By all reports, most likely she should not have been able to create the beautiful pieces she did.  She was so patient and intent on completing each project.  When I was going through her things, I found this blanket.

Each stitch of this twin sized blanket is single crocheted.  Single.  Crocheted.  For real.  The time she put in this.....unbelievable.

Each stitch of this twin sized blanket is single crocheted. Single. Crocheted. For real. The time she put in this…..unbelievable.

Single crocheted.  Each and every stitch.  Pretty sure each color represents one skein of yarn.  The fact that it is single crocheted means it took a lot of time–no easy way out when you are making those tiny stitches.

She did what some might have deemed impossible.  Because she tried.  Because she focused, had a goal, and worked diligently towards it.  She also was very sweet and loved my family.  Our Princess was born on her birthday.  She was convinced it was because she had asked me to have her on that day.  From that moment on, our Princess was hers.  Pictures on her little mini-fridge in her room, and she cross-stitched ballet slippers for our Princess to hang on her wall.

Somehow I think she would have been proud of her Princess and Cooter today.  They set out with a goal and went after something that some would have deemed impossible.  Much like she did.  They set out to climb their own mountaintops…..just like her.

Cooter was right behind his sister not to be outdone.  He kept on trying.  Way to go, bud!

Cooter was right behind his sister not to be outdone. He kept on trying. Way to go, bud!

Princess made it almost to the top.  So proud of her.  The whole thing was her idea.  She set her sights and went after it.  Keep that up baby and you'll go far!

Princess made it almost to the top. So proud of her. The whole thing was her idea. She set her sights and went after it. Keep that up baby and you’ll go far!

Tonight after an exhausting day of many steps down memory lane, I will lay my head down on my pillow with a full heart and a thankful one.  Miss B was a beautiful soul with a simple, beautiful heart.  She found joy in pretty things and she shared beauty with those she loved.  Her handiwork is the stuff of family heirlooms, and that is how we treat it.  Most of all the lesson of her patience and determination and dedication will last for generations to come.  Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t.  Go after what you want but be willing to work and work hard to make it happen.  Those are the great things to stitch into our stories. The needlework of our lives comes together one stitch at a time to form the big, beautiful picture we call this life.

A bit sappy and sentimental tonight perhaps, but how could I not be?  Trips down memory lane can do that to a person.  Wishing you all happy trails on your own memory lanes…..love to all.

A New Voice of Hope

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In this place I have witnessed life and death, and tonight, new life. The moment of hearing the voice of a new one in our world who might one day cure the cancer that took her loved ones away too soon or find a way to help the ones who walk the streets in her new hometown…..such beauty and dreams surround her. And yet the echoes of the beeping of machines haunted us today just as they did before. And the fear that seems to lurk in corners of places like this was waiting to grab hold of people in uncertain places like we have been today.

But in the end, love and redemption won out and there is a new little squeaky voice of hope among us.

Welcome little one. Dream big. May you always know how much you are loved by those here and those watching over you from beyond the thin veil, and may you share that love with those who come along to journey beside you. Peace and joy and laughter to you today and everyday, our precious little one.

There Is No Getting Back To Normal

The new normal.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately.  I used to say quite often, “When things get back to normal…..” or “When things settle down a bit…..”  I’m here to tell you, it doesn’t happen.  Things and life are constantly changing and there is no returning to normal.  There is only finding the new normal that comes with every change.

One year ago this evening marked a new normal for me and mine.  After a ten-day HospitalStay in the local hospital, Mama was discharged.  August 9 last year was on a Saturday.  As the day wore on, I gave up the idea that they would even think about discharging her on a weekend.  But then they surprised us and they did.  A little after six p.m. we began our departure.

Mama had been admitted with a high fever that she hadn’t been able to fight off on her own.  During those ten days, we heard scary words tossed around–leukemia, blood disorder, cancer, unknown disease, and such as that.  In the end, we left with a double diagnosis of Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS, formerly known as pre-leukemia) and Sweet’s Syndrome.  And quite the collection of prescriptions.  To be filled and taken immediately.  And several follow-up appointments.

I helped Mama get into my Blazer, and we headed off.  The sun shone through the front window as we headed west towards home.  I had already called Mama’s usual pharmacy and they were closed.  We decided to go to the Kroger Pharmacy that Mama had used previously as they didn’t close until 7.

We pulled into the drive thru lane as Mama was too weak and had no business wandering through a store.  I didn’t want to leave her alone, and I thought the drive thru might be faster, as it was about ten minutes before closing.  I rolled down my window in preparation, as there was only one car in the lane and it was already at the window.  I could hear snippets of the conversation, and I can tell you it was not pharmaceutically related.  I think they had met before.  Which was fine, except the clock was ticking.  The car in front of me finally pulled away.  They must have already received their medicine before I got there, because I did not see any kind of exchange at all.  It was 6:58.  I pulled up to give them the prescriptions, having already filled out the necessary information.  The clerk took them, glanced, and said, “Okay we will have these ready tomorrow after twelve.”

Excuse me, chatty clerk say what now?

“I’m sorry, but my Mama has just been discharged from the hospital and she MUST HAVE these medications tonight.  In the next hour for one of them actually.  So, ummmm, is there any way we can get these tonight?” Panic was starting to set in.

“I’m sorry, we close at 7 and we stop accepting prescriptions before that.”  (I did not see this information posted anywhere.)

I was almost in tears at this point.  Ten days of balancing home and hospital, hope and worry, patience and exhaustion–I didn’t have anymore to give.  I guess the clerk saw it.  She turned and talked to the pharmacist.

When she returned, she said, “Okay we’ll take them.  I’ll need you to come inside and pick them up though.”

I was relieved, and after expressing my thanks, I parked the car.  Mama assured me she would be okay.  I hesitantly left her there and headed inside.  While I waited the few minutes, I picked up some frozen French toast for Mama.  She had enjoyed it at the hospital, so why not?  When I picked up the medicines, I could have kissed that pharmacist.  I am still very thankful for her making her life interruptible and stepping outside conventional lines to help the person behind the prescriptions.

I drove Mama home and could have collapsed then and there.  Mama once again assured me she was okay.  I did not want to leave her alone, as she had been needing help or at least supervision when she got up and out of her hospital bed during her time there.  I finally decided that though it was only 8 p.m. I was too exhausted to drive myself the half hour home.  We visited a little–Mama puttered around, putting things away and checking mail, and then had some French toast.  Soon she went off to bed.  I crawled into the twin bed in the room across from hers.  I’m not sure I’d ever slept in there before, as it was once my sister’s and then my brother’s room.  I slept like a log, and the next morning, after a fairly good night herself, Mama seemed a little stronger.  A little more able to stay on her own.  So I headed home.

This past week I have been reliving those days in the hospital with Mama.  The nights spent with her fevers soaking the sheets when they broke–some nights two and three times.  The friendly faces that were so kind and patient in their caring.  The puzzled looks on the doctors’ faces, and the questions, over and over, as they sought answers that might perhaps clue them into what was wrong.  The running home to shower and hug young’uns each day while a sibling, or my Aunt, or a friend came and visited with Mama.  The walking over to my physical therapist’s office, which was located near the hospital,  because Mama insisted I must continue with that.  The tears cried in the car to and from the hospital but never where she could see them.  The sight of this fireball, my Mama, always so strong, weakened by these diseases that had taken hold of her.  Text messages from friends and family.  And then the one from my friend about her mother, who had just been diagnosed with brain tumors.  My heart broke.  I read the message to Mama, and she closed her eyes and hung her head.  Sometimes it’s all just too much to bear.  This was one of those times.

My sweet friend, whose Mama had many of the same symptoms my Daddy did with his lymphoma, said goodbye to her dear Mama almost five months later.  Six weeks after that, I said goodbye to mine.  About  a week ago, my friend shared with me that she is starting to mentally relive last year, all those hard days after the diagnosis.  I know what she means.  The thinking of where we were a year ago today has brought back a lot of pain and tears and yet, somewhere in the midst of it, gratitude…..for the pharmacist, for caring folks, friends, and family,  for the six months we had with Mama after that, and for the precious, intimate moments with Mama in the hospital.  I wouldn’t have been anywhere else in the world.

It’s a weird weekend.  The one year mark today.  And tomorrow marks six months since Mama left this world behind.  Another one of those moments–almost too much to bear.

As I think back over this last year, there are two moments that stand out.  Mama kept her spirits up and didn’t let me know she was afraid or worried, though I know she had to be.  Her spirit was so strong through all of it.  During her January/February HospitalStay there was a moment when she looked at me and wrinkled her face up with a smile around the ventilator that was helping her breathe.  I knew what that meant, and it warmed my heart and filled my eyes with tears.  It was her look that said, “I love you.”  Even in pain and as she fought for her life, she expressed that precious love that I will always treasure.  The other memory was about two days later I think.  She was in a small room in the STINKU as I called it, and she had an abrasive, boisterous male nurse.  He was loud and kept calling her “honey” and “sweetheart.”  Oh please.  *major eye roll*  He had already done an exam of a rather personal nature (enough said) before I got there.  He walked over to the pitiful excuse for a window that looked out onto nothing, and said, while pulling down the shade, “Let’s give Mama some privacy over here…..protect her dignity.”  I looked over at Mama and her eyebrows raised as only hers could, and I swanee she was laughing around that blasted ventilator.  I laughed out loud and said, “Yeah, I know, Mama, that’s pretty funny isn’t it?”

As I reminisce and trace the path of days gone by, that’s what stands out about Mama, especially in those last six months.  Her love and her laughter.  She filled my life with both…..and often. All my life. While I can’t get back to that normal, I can carry her love and the memory of her laughter with me into the new form of normal, each and every time it changes. I am never really without her.  And for that, I am thankful.

Mama and the Drug Dealer

Last August when Mama was in the hospital, she had a really rough time.  She had been admitted with a temp registering over 105.  I don’t know if I’ve ever been more frightened in my life.  They took her back immediately and left me to do the intake…..and worry what was happening back there.  She was dehydrated, her blood levels were off–it wasn’t good at all.

As happens they needed to “get a vein” on Mama quite often during that ten day HospitalStay.  Putting in an IV was especially tricky.  Mama did not, for whatever reason, have what could be deemed “good veins.”  I watched her in pain as nurse after nurse tried to find a way to get it set up.  Eventually they did, but each time Mama was left more exhausted than before.  And unfortunately, the vein would give out I guess or she would be in great pain, and they’d have to move it again.

Between me, my Aunt, and my siblings we stayed with Mama pretty much around the clock.  I spent the nights with her.  Though you could still hear voices in the hall and the lights were as bright as ever out there, there was a hush that came over the hospital after dark.  People who came in the room talked in low tones, and were more deliberate in their movements.  Often I dozed through the comings and goings.  One of the symptoms of Mama’s newly diagnosed syndrome was that she could run a fever and then sweat so profusely the bedclothes would need changing.  The staff was very good about helping her and sometimes changing the linens twice in one night.  They understood.  I’m so thankful for that.  And Mama, who had been to nursing school, kept a keen eye out for which ones had those special bedmaking skills.  Before she was discharged, I knew what was considered the right way, and who the best bedmakers were on our floor.

One night I had been sleeping for a couple of hours when I awoke to voices talking quietly, almost a whisper.  I sat up and Mama said, “Oh Tara, you have to hear the story that Sonya* just told me.  She’s the best at setting up IV’s.”  I smiled and rubbed my eyes.  Mama was beaming.  Sonya was finishing up connecting the IV, but it was in, and Mama wasn’t hurting.  Oh so thankful.  “I’d like to hear it.”

pic of drug needles

Sonya had been in nursing school in Virginia I think.  Mama liked that because her baby boy and his family live there, and it was a connection for her.  Eventually, Sonya wound up in New York doing some training.  Late one night she was having a hard time getting a vein on a patient.  One of the more experienced nurses told her to go up on the ninth floor to see Harold*.  He could help her with accessing veins.  Sonya went up and found Harold, an older gentleman patient diagnosed with AIDS.  He was a former drug dealer.  One of the aspects of his business was showing new folks how to get a vein, in the hopes that they’d get hooked on the drugs I suppose.  He was very, very good.  Maybe at selling drugs too, I really don’t know.  But eventually he wanted out of it.  He quit dealing, turned his life around and was involved in many good programs helping people before AIDS put him in that hospital.  On the ninth floor.  Where he taught Sonya–very well–how to “get a vein.”

The next morning as we sat, like you do in a hospital room, I thought about Sonya’s story.  “Hey, Mama, did you ever think you’d be thankful for a drug dealer and his skills?”  I don’t remember her answer.  She might have been sleeping.  All I know is I was and still am thankful for him.  And for Sonya who took the time to learn from someone others might have overlooked, something that all of her patients from then on would benefit from.

A few weeks ago I wrote about all the shades of gray in our world.  And remembering this brings it home for me.  So often in the past couple of weeks I have said to my Aunt or my friend or to my oldest–and yes, in frustration quite honestly–“See, no one can be put in a ‘white’ or ‘black’ box.  We are all a mixture of good and bad, light and dark, and we all go in the ‘GRAY’ box.”  *sigh*  So often I wish I could just write off someone who has upset me or disappointed me because there was nothing redemptive about him or her.  But it’s just not that easy.  There’s no all the way on anything or anyone.  It’s always a mix.

And that’s why I love this story.  The story of how my Mama, a feisty but sweet Mama of four, volunteer, Winnie the Pooh lover, great cook, reader, artist, and writer was touched and blessed by a drug dealer from New York City.  Because that part of his life did not ultimately define him.  Just as no one part of Mama’s life defined hers.  We are all these amazing stories whose lives intersect in the most fascinating and ordinary of ways and at the most interesting times.  And when they do, isn’t it breathtaking the stuff that can come of it?  When I think about the ripples, all the lives touched in a good way by Harold because he was a part of helping programs, because he was willing to share his skills with nurses, I am blown away.  Just as there’s no way of counting the lives that Sonya touched and still touches as she goes about caring for patients and helping people heal and be comfortable.  Or how many little lives my Mama touched all those years she read to children in classrooms at Byron Elementary.  I think that’s one of the coolest things ever.  How our stories travel far and wide to places we’ve never even been.  My Mama and a drug dealer’s lives connected?  That’s the most beautiful shade of gray I’ve ever seen.  Light in the darkness.  I love it.

*not their real names

A Time and a Place

Today the littles had their semi-annual dentist appointment. We arrived in the office on time to find that the “let us take your picture to check you in” computer was gone. We are back to signing in. I don’t know why, I didn’t ask questions, I am just so happy it is GONE. I hated that thing. It was incapable of taking a decent picture. It gave you ten seconds, counting backwards from ten. Try to pick a right expression in ten seconds–right now. I can wait.

You changed expressions half a dozen times, didn’t you?  Now imagine doing that while looking at yourself.  Exactly.  Not a good thing.

I think I would pay our doctors to put this on their tv screens.  Pic courtesy of 9gags.com

I think I would pay our doctors to put this on their tv screens. Pic courtesy of 9gag.com

So we sat down to wait.  The television that seems to grace every single doctor’s waiting area was there.  With a news channel on.  I don’t watch enough tv to remember which one, but they were covering the George Zimmerman trial.  Words were floating through the air, “Murder…..gunshot…..screams…..violent.”  And so much more.  I often try to distract my littles when the television is on a channel that I’d rather them not watch, but today it was impossible.  The volume was up and it was a small waiting room.  My Princess asked, “Mama, what is all that about?”

I don’t intend to keep them out of the loop forever, but there are some things that I don’t think their innocent little hearts or minds can grasp, and this is one of them.   I hate that I’m not given a say in this.  The channels are on what they are on.  Fortunately, my two were called back just then, and I asked the hygienists to please put their channels on children’s programming.  (Later, I found out my little guy had been watching Cartoon Network.  Great.  Some programs on there are okay, but mostly, ummmm, no.)

We were at another doctor’s office a few weeks ago and they had the TV on a talk show.  Someone on there was discussing the latest pictures taken of Miley Cyrus.  I hadn’t seen them before this, but I could only imagine what was coming, so I took that commercial break opportunity to ask the receptionist to change the channel.  As usual, she was very nice about it, but honestly, do these people not realize children are coming in?  Do they let their own children watch this junk?  And they have a lovely little play area RIGHT. UNDER. THE. TV.  Makes sense, right?

While I was waiting for the littles to have their teeth cleaned, (yes, I have graduated to letting them go by themselves!) I thought about the TV’s at the hospital during Mama’s HospitalStay.  Mama never wanted a TV on during her time in the hospital–neither last August nor during her latest stay in January-February.  She’d offer last fall for me to watch what I wanted to, but we rarely turned it on.  I take that back, I think we watched some of the Olympics.  She was sedated during most of the first two weeks this last time, but one of the nurses told us that Mama could hear what we were saying.  I don’t remember how we discovered it, but my sister and I found a music channel that had calming music and streamed beautiful scenery with no breaks or interruptions.  We put it on that channel with the volume at a pleasant level.  One of our dear friends came in and said, “Miss Barbara, this is a lot like a spa.  You’re gonna wake up telling us you dreamed about being at a spa.”  The room was spacious, the halls were quiet, and the music was relaxing.

Then one morning we came in and the TV was on Dr. Phil.  Now I don’t usually use foul language, but I promise you one thing, the expletives were lined up, ready to flow.  Ain’t NOBODY got time for that!  Like my Mama needed to be listening to that drama.  Seriously, you’ve got a patient who can’t speak for herself and you put the channel on what YOU want to see?  For the few minutes you are in and out of there?  Unacceptable.  We changed the channel and scrounged for some paper.  We used medical tape to attach a note to the remote–“Please leave on Channel 74.  She really loves it.”  Well, why not?  Might as well leave them wondering.

It was about a week or so later when Mama had been moved down to the STINKU (okay, STICU), that I walked in and found her channel had been changed again.  These folks were already off my birthday list; the unit was loud and crowded and it was hard to get people to be timely in responding to urgent needs.  They were very strict about their very limited visiting hours just when Mama was coming out of sedation and really needed us there.  I’ll be upset over this one for years.  And to top it all off, the channel was on ESPN, with replays of the big basketball game from the night before.  I know exactly who changed it because this nurse talked about missing the game from the day before because of work.  Never in her life has Mama cared about the big basketball games the first time around, never mind the replays.   I was livid.  It was the ultimate in not being able to make sure that Mama was being cared for properly–the fact that her needs and wants were not being respected made me sick.  We talked to the floor supervisor about it and a computer generated sign was placed below the television–“Do not change channel.  Please keep on Channel 74.”  Finally.

At the same time that Mama was at her HospitalStay in Macon, our elderly cousin whom Mama was guardian of was in the hospital in Warner Robins.  My sister and Mama’s neighbor and I took turns checking in on her.  I made sure that the channel stayed on a “safe” channel for her.  As she was mildly developmentally delayed, Mama was very careful about what movies and shows she gave her to watch.  Finally I settled on Disney channel.  She seemed to enjoy the tween/teen shows.  One time I was visiting with her and she pointed at the TV and said, “She’s not very nice.”  I’ve seen it.  She was right.

About two weeks after she’d been admitted, she was not doing well.  Hard conversations were had, and I found myself having to make a hard decision.  The first of many without my Mama to guide me.  I lay there that Saturday night on the couch/bed in her hospital room with blankets and pillows brought to me by the patient care tech, bless her heart.  As I listened to our cousin breathing and watched her vitals on the monitor, Disney flashed across the screen.  I had muted it much earlier in the afternoon.  It occurred to me that I was on Holy Ground, so I got up and turned off the TV.  It just didn’t seem right.  And it stayed off, all through my signing papers the next morning and all that followed that.

Mama said quite frequently, “There’s a time and place for everything.”  I think she was right.  And I’m beginning to question the right times and places for things like televisions in doctor’s offices and hospitals.  At least, if they have to be there, please let them be for the patients and not for the folks who are working there.  And seriously, would it hurt any of us to sit in quiet or to actually talk to other people?  Or to remember to take a book along? I’m thinking no, but then, I haven’t had a nap today.  And I might just need one.

A Thank You to Our Nurses With Love

pic of nurses' weekThis is Nurses’ Week.  It is my pleasure to send out a big hug and many thanks and a virtual cup of coffee with a fresh Krispy Kreme to each and every nurse who has touched our lives.  We have been blessed by your kindness, your skills, and your dedication to what you do.  Thank you.

My first eye-opening experience with those of this profession was when I started work with our local Hospice in the Fall of 2000.  For over two years, I worked as a team with these beautiful people who made the journey from this life to the next one a lot more peaceful and a little less frightening.  When Mama and Daddy made the decision to call Hospice for Daddy in September of 2011, I was so hoping for just the right person to come in.  And she did.  A sweet spirit, calming and loving.  She was just the perfect person for Mama and Daddy.  And when Daddy was gone, she still cared for Mama.  Because of her, Mama found a whole community of people who loved and supported her through the next fifteen months.  And when Mama left this earth–our wonderful nurse was there, loving us and Mama, and holding Mama’s hand.  Just as she did a week later when our cousin Miss Betty took her last breath.  I know that calling her an “angel on earth” seems rather trite and cliche’, but I don’t know how else to decribe her.  Without being intrusive she became a part of our family.  To this day.  I love her with all my heart because of what she did, but even more because of who she is.  It takes someone special to be a nurse.

When Mama went for the second HospitalStay in January, we felt like we were old hands at this in some respects.  This was, however, my first experience with ICU nurses.  PHENOMENAL.  These men and women do so many tasks that are delegated to others on other floors.  I’ve watched them do things that I won’t describe here, but let me tell you–hearts of gold, stomachs of steel.  Enough said.

I won’t be able to mention each one, but most of them were pretty doggone great.  The joke amongst the family became that I got into in-depth conversations with the people who took care of Mama, while my baby sister felt like she was interrogating them by comparison.  (She would say, “Tara asks, ‘So where did you go to school?  Oh that’s great,’ while I say (in clipped sharp tones) ‘So.  Where did YOU go to SCHOOL?!  OH, that is just great.” )  I just shrugged at her version of it, and said, “I’m looking for my new BFF for-evuh!  I’m convinced I’m going to find her during the HospitalStay.”   And I tried.  We met some interesting people.

Tony who-smelled-good was our first nurse that night when Mama was moved unexpectedly to the ICU.  He was on again when she was rushed to surgery the next night.  He cared for her after the surgery.  He is precious to me because he is one of the few who remembered her awake and alert, how she smiled and made conversation through the pain.  He comforted her in her anxiety as she headed down to surgery.  He was the one to whom she bragged about her soon-to-be-born grandson.  He smiled and listened.  Listening.  That is huge.

Andrea was another beautiful soul from the beginning of our stay.  She had Mama several times before we were moved to the STICU.  She and Miss Betty, the patient care tech, made a great team–comforting us in our concerns, answering our questions, and oh, the healing laughter.  They laughed and filled that room with joy.  They told Mama, who was still sedated, funny stories and made up nicknames for each one of them.  Andrea left us a note on the obituary on-line.  That connection.  Thank you.  She let us know Mama was more than just another patient.  She was also one who let us stay even though visiting hours were over.  She knew the situation and decided accordingly.  That was such a gift.  We didn’t really know it at the time.  I will always remember this beautiful woman who was a surprise to her own Mama–she was a twin born to a woman expecting only one.  What a precious surprise she was.

Janel, and I may not be spelling her name right, took the time to teach us how to take care of Mama.  Mama ran fever a lot, and for several reasons, they couldn’t give her medication to bring it down.  Janel was the one who said “Let’s mini-skirt her and wipe her down.”  She would tuck the gown up a bit, and then she used a wet washcloth and wiped Mama’s arms, face, hands, and legs.  She asked if we’d like to do that.  Thank you, Janel.  Because of her, I wasn’t afraid to move around the wires and cables and touch Mama, love on her.  Though Janel was only with us one day, we started asking other nurses if we could do that, and by the time Mama was moved to the STICU we just started asking for washcloths and telling them what we were doing. Janel believed in the family being a part of care.  She even said, “If she were my Mama, I’d be crawling in the bed with her.”  She got it, and for that I give thanks.

There were so many other great nurses and patient care techs who touched our lives with love and a tender touch.  I am thankful for each and every one, even the ones who kept “ma’am”ing me.  (Boy was that hard to hear!)  I would have taken any of them as my new BFF for-evuh.  Loved.  Them.

When our cousin Miss Betty was admitted into the hospital in Warner Robins two weeks after Mama, our family decided it was best if Miss Betty didn’t know about Mama being in the hospital.  She would not have understood.  Mama was her guardian, and it only would have frightened her.  We hoped it would not be necessary.  And it wasn’t.  Just not in the way we anticipated.

So each time we spoke with a new nurse at the hospital there, we explained two things–that Mama was in the hospital so we couldn’t be there as much as we would like, and that Miss Betty wasn’t to know about Mama.  The team of nurses on the ICU and step-down unit were so incredible during this really hard time.  They became Miss Betty’s new BFF’s.  It was precious the night that I was visiting with her, and the night nurse Miss Cece came on, walked by and waved.  Miss Betty waved back, and said, “That’s my friend.”  I never worried once about Miss Betty’s care.  To this day I give thanks for that great group of nurses.   From the first day with Amber who took Miss Betty and my sister under her wing, to our last night with Mary, who was there to mother me as much as to care for Miss Betty, we were blessed with caring, compassionate people–among them Willa, Brett, Brandi, Cece, Mary, and so many others.  If we saw one in the hall, even when she wasn’t Miss Betty’s nurse that day, each one would ask how things were going.  They remembered and cared.  One I owe a great deal of sanity to is Aimee.  On the way to see Mama during one of the very strict visiting times at the hospital in Macon, I had hoped to have time to swing by the hospital in town to see Miss Betty first.  The skies looked ominous, traffic was awful near the Base, and I knew that if I did drive to Miss Betty’s hospital, I would probably only have 1/2 hour out of the two hours allotted to visit Mama by the time I could get there.  With no other options, I called and asked for Miss Betty’s nurse.  Aimee.  I told her my situation and asked that if I got there a few minutes after visiting time was over, could I please still see Miss Betty before I needed to head home?

This sweet and compassionate woman gave me the gift of grace.  “You go see your Mama.  Take your time, drive safely, and when you get here, no matter when, you can come on back.”  I cried right then and there.  Later that evening when I finally arrived to see Miss Betty, Aimee was there, ready to change shifts.  She stayed to ask how things were going in Macon with Mama.  She listened and she laughed with me and let me just be.  What a gift of love.  Tonight I am particularly thankful to Aimee for my being able to have that visit with peace in my heart, as it was only three days later that I had to tell Mama goodbye.

Dear nurses, you have a thankless job.  I know.  I saw and heard things during our HospitalStay that broke my heart for you.  But please hear me say this, I owe you all a debt I can never repay.  You took the time to make sure my Mama and Miss Betty were safe and comfortable and had the greatest of care, just as you do for each one of your patients.  And you took the time to talk to us, to answer our questions, to listen to our stories, and to just let us be.  You are loved and treasured.  Thank you all, those whom I have met and those whom I have not.  Please don’t ever doubt that what you are doing is making a difference.   You are healers of body and spirit.  With your gentle hands and your full hearts.  Thank you.

pic of heart with bandaid

Where is the Grownup?

Some days.....

Some days…..

Some days I feel like this.  Today has been one of them.

I am sitting at the Med Stop with my middle one. She has been running fever since Friday night. I guess this is Round 2 of what the littles had two weeks ago. Waiting on the results from the strep swab now.
It is moments like this one tonight, when I saw that her temp had gone into a very worrisome range, that I look around, wondering where the grownup is.  The One Who Makes the Decision.  So often I feel like I am just filling in until he or she shows up.  I wish they would hurry it up.

I know there were several times with my firstborn that I felt that way, ill-equipped to handle the situation. The one that sticks out the most is the time we were stationed in Japan and Aub came home from school with a high fever. She threw up her medication for the fever, and I was very worried. And very pregnant with this one I am with tonight.  So we went to the ER at the base hospital. A very overzealous first time ER doc came in and wanted to do a spinal tap. (I’m sorry, WHAT did you say?!  You want to do what, and the risks are what?!!)  I was scared senseless. I was far from Mama, it was the middle of the night where she was, and I didn’t have a way to call her from the hospital anyway. I felt helpless and lost. After a call to a local friend who was a nurse, I felt a little better. But it was Dr. Elnicky who came in when the shift changed and apologized for the previous doctor’s recommendation. “Overzealous” was her term. She brought Aub’s fever down and sent us home.  (I loved Dr. E.  She had such a quiet competence. When I went in with severe cramping about midway through my pregnancy with this girl, she was the one who calmly said, after many tests, “I think you have a case of bad” lowered to a whisper, “gas.” Oh my.)  Thank you Dr. E for being the adult at those times when I was very afraid.

When Daddy was diagnosed three and half years ago and things became dire, Mama was right there. And even when we were all frightened or sad, she was the grownup who loved us through it.

So last August when Mama went in for the first HospitalStay, it was very frightening. I drove my grownup to the ER as she shivered violently under several blankets. When we got there a half hour later, thanks to a detour, she could not walk on her own into the ER. I tried to hold it together as I went inside and asked for a wheelchair. A sweet nurse came out and helped me move Mama to the chair. They moved her through pretty quickly, thank goodness. When they checked her temperature and found it was 105.3, they rushed her back to a room and left me to give her information to the intake nurse. This was when the terrible fear kicked in. 105.3? That was a radio station. Not someone’s temperature. Not my Mama’s.

I anxiously gave the nurse Mama’s allergies and insurance and medical history. Finally they let me back. Mama was so pale and weak. And not able to be the grownup at all in that moment. It was a paradigm shift. One that never really returned to an even keel.
I called my Aunt to give her an update. I whispered from the corner of the tiny room on the wall phone in the room. Cell phone reception was next to nothing in there. I told her all I knew and then tearfully said, “I feel like I’m just waiting on the grownup to show up and take over.”
She chuckled softly, and then said sweetly and clearly, “Oh Tara, I hate to tell you this, but you ARE the grownup.”
Oh. No.

We were talking yesterday morning and I teased her, saying that she was lucky I spoke to her at all after she broke that little bit of bad news to me.

It’s nights like this one, when worry creeps in and my ineptitude becomes painfully obvious, that I find myself still looking. Really I’m just filling in until She gets here. You know, the grownup.  I am sure she’s quite lovely, but I do wish she’d hurry up. It gets tiresome playing grownup. Especially when one of mine gets sick or there is drama and heartbreak behind their tears. Incompetent doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel.

Tonight I am thankful for my family and friends who walk with me as I try my grownup feet out. For their patience and guidance I give thanks. I also appreciate those who fill in as the grownup from time to time. Like Miss D who, two weeks ago, when telling me what to do, pointed her finger at me and said, “Now I ain’t your Mama and I can’t take her place, but I reckon I can look after you and keep you straight since she can’t right now.” And my Aunt. Who answers my calls and listens, when she must have a hundred things to do instead. And Mama’s sweet neighbor. Who is always there to help with things.  And so many others. Bless ’em.

Because of the reprieves they give me, I am able to get through the times when it’s the hardest to be the grownup. Like tonight. We are home now, and the strep test was negative. The doctor said this just has to take its course. Kind of like life. We have to watch it and respond accordingly.

So I get it, I’m the grownup. *yawn* And as the grownup, I do believe it’s time to call it a night.  Being a grownup is exhausting sometimes.  So I’m off to Neverland and a good night’s sleep.  I hope.  Someone has to be rested to be the grownup again tomorrow…..

pic of peter pan quote

Hey, This Alarm is Beeping!

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During the weeks of the HospitalStay my sister and I became number watchers.  We obsessed over heartrate and blood pressure and Mama’s temperature.  For some reason, somebody decided that the Metric system would be a good thing to use, so her temp always registered on the Celsius scale.  I finally looked up and found a converter app for my phone and, from then on, I would announce what her temp was on the Fahrenheit scale.  On a regular basis.

It got to the point that Dr. C, who was filling in for Mama’s surgeon, replied, when I asked what number he was looking for on the respiratory screen to indicate improvement, “I’m not going to tell you.  Because then you’ll be looking for that number all the time.  And there are other things to factor in.”  Yeah, it seems he had MY number.  He was right.  There were times I thought if I stared at the numbers hard enough, I could bring her blood pressure up or down, or that I could will her temperature to return to normal 1/10 of a point at a time.

And then there was the beeping.  Oh, that infernal beeping.  After a couple of days we learned the difference between the “hey, the medicine has almost run out over here” and the “heart rate is excessively high” or “O2 levels are dropping.”  For sanity’s sake, this was good knowledge to have.

We had really good nurses and techs for the most part, and they were so kind.  The respiratory therapists were great as well, and they were willing to share and answer questions.  I appreciate them so much.  But as is usually the case, there’s one in every bunch.  I particularly remember a late afternoon in the STINKU (sorry, STICU) when Mama’s O2 levels were dropping, the alarm was sounding, and I could actually hear sounds that were distressing.  I went to her door and stood, hoping someone would hear the beeping if I opened the door.  When that didn’t happen, I started staring people down.  Finally the two RT’s who were having a pleasant conversation with someone behind the desk looked up.  “Did you need something?”

(Hold up.  Okay.  Doesn’t that just make you mad?  Not “do you need something?” or “can I help you?” but DID–it just feels so condescending…..and unfortunately this is not the only time I was asked if I did need something.  Maybe it was in the delivery.  Okay, rant over.  Thank you.)

Yes, yes I did and I still DO need something.  I pointed out the incessant beeping, the numbers dropping, and the sound.  “Oh well she probably just needs suctioning.”  And yes, that helped tremendously.  But how long would Mama have gone without relief if I hadn’t been there to stare someone in?  So frustrating, especially since we were only allowed to be with her a few hours a day.

Another time during our stay with the CVICU, the IV alarm started going off.  The meds were low.  No one came in for a few minutes, and then our favorite nurse walked in. “Y’all I am so sorry.  I was in with my other patient with an emergency.  I apologize, I know this sound has got to be making you crazy.”  She went on to say that working there, you pretty much get used to the beeps.

I guess you do, as I heard them whenever I closed my eyes for days after we left the hospital for the last time.

I was thinking the other day about those beeps, those alarms.  I think we all get used to them.  Oh not that incessant chiming of the whirring machinery in the Intensive Care Units or Emergency Rooms.  But the beeps, the alerts that we should be hearing from one another.  Sometimes I think we get so busy, too busy, that we don’t take time to hear what others are saying.  Or feeling.  Oh sure, we ask folks how they are doing, and we usually get the obligatory “fine, and you?” but we don’t often go beyond that.

I just finished reading The Invisible Girls: A Memoir by Sarah Thebarge.  (Yes, you should read it, thank you for asking.)  A really good book.  And actually quite an impressive one, considering my lack of focus.  I haven’t been able to “sit through” a whole book in several months.

Until now.  In her memoir, Ms. Thebarge meets a Somalian family in a chance encounter and realizes that these girls and their mother seem to be invisible to all around.  Just as she herself felt invisible at times.

How often do we go about our days, focused on the to-do list or the activities du jour and fail to make eye contact, to hear what those around us are really saying?  How many “alarms” have we not responded to?  And how often is someone suffering quietly because we are not listening?  Or seeing?  I am sad when I realize that I am guilty of this.  All too often I don’t make time, take time–I am not interruptible enough in my comings and goings.

I had a conversation with someone the other day about what it all boils down to.  Relationships.  We want to matter to someone.  We want someone to care when our alarms are beeping, be it ever so quiet.  We want to be known and treasured.  Not much to ask, huh?

Here’s link to a shorter version than what I shared before of Hugh Hollowell of Love Wins Ministry sharing what that kind of relationship looks like:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=hddnX_t5lRs

There are folks all around us whose alarms are quietly beeping, who are in need of attention or some love or just someone to sit with them where they are.  They are looking for a friend.

Tonight I am thankful for people like Sarah Thebarge and Hugh Hollowell who see and who are friends of those who could really use one.  I give thanks for the ones who have heard my alarm going off and who have sat with me.  What a beautiful message we can give to one another, “You are not invisible or silent.  You matter.  I hear you.  I see you.”  Let us make it so.

pic of i see you