On one day I am running ragged taking care of a dozen different things at the same time, then a day later I’m sitting in a darkened room with solitary thoughts. It’s amazing how quickly perception of life can change. What can seem monumentally important one day suddenly becomes trivial the next. What’s really remarkable though is that despite the number of times we experience negative occurrences in our lives when times get better we tend to forget and return to the same pattern of taking life for granted.
This day I’m sitting in a small two bed hospital room next to my daughter Julie. There is a tiny space between the two beds and it’s separated by a tall curtain. The shades are pulled down and the lights are turned off as both patients have just had surgery. I can make out the sign on the wall facing the foot of the beds as a bit of light streams through the narrow opening of the half closed door. It states “welcome to unit 42, please discuss discharge time with your doctor and nurse as we know you would rather be home”. That message is truly unwelcome to someone awakening from major surgery and feeling tremendous pain.
Having nothing to do but sit quietly for hours my eyes keep poring over the words and I stifle a mad desire to tear that offensive sign off the wall. I’m happy to watch Julie as she sleeps as she was hours longer than anticipated in recovery due to unstable oxygen levels that made it difficult for her to awaken from surgery.
As her husband Paulo and I waited I’d had a strong feeling that something was wrong. Parents will understand this, personally I always experience an intuitiveness, a gut feeling when something is wrong with all of my children. Nauseous with pain, ingesting nothing but a little water and tiny amount of ice chips for days, the day after the surgery a nurse takes away the self- medicating button and gives her only Tylenol. She struggles with pain until I can’t bear her suffering any longer and speak with the nurses. It takes a couple of days to regulate the pain and get it back under control.
Still the first night she is up to walk a little, despite continuing pain and nausea each day she walks up and down the aisle, I walk behind wary in case she falls. Nurses are caring and sympathetic but on the sixth evening Nurse Brenda comes on shift. She’s an older woman with little bedside manner.
She asks my daughter brusquely if she’s eaten supper to which Julie replies that her stomach is still nauseous. “Why do you think that is?” Julie asks, without blinking nurse Brenda replies, “It’s all in your head?” I’m appalled by this answer and have to bite my tongue not to give a sharp response. Later Julie buzzes and asks for nausea medication. Nurse Brenda come in and takes it to the patient in the next bed, “It’s not for me it’s for Julie”, the other says. Nurse Brenda replies tersely “Well, she can’t have it”. Turning to Julie she adds, “it’s not time besides this medication is expensive you know.” I wanted to tell Nurse Brenda about the studies that show that patients heal faster if they experience the warm touch and words of medical staff when hospitalized and thankfully most are just like that. Instead when she leaves I try to instil some humour in the situation by commenting that Nurse Brenda must be the nurse sent purposely to patients to upset them and make them want to go home immediately, because of course for most surely being in hospital must be akin to having a vacation, therefore who wants to leave to return to home.
On the seventh day after finally forcing down a couple of bites of chicken it was determined Julie could be discharged. At home she asks for boiled chicken with rice and Swiss chard, a meal that was eaten daily by my father. She eats a bit, is comforted by my presence, my cooking, my nurturing makes her heal faster she says. I change her dressing twice a day, cleaning the incision, checking staples holding the flesh together, check the drain in her side and then cover it all up and tape it down. I sit quietly as she naps, thinking about the many things I left behind at home that need doing but here at this moment at this time don’t seem at all significant.
In my daughter’s house I do laundry, make beds, cook meals and discipline my thirteen year old grandson who states that I am a “nag”. We are enjoying quality time together talking about his dreams for the future. My son-in-law is also enjoying the “nagging”. I am no shrinking violet mother–in- law, that’s for sure but my “favourite son-in-law” as he wants to be referred as takes all in stride.
We never know from one moment to the next where life’s turns take us. If that nagging little pain that you experience for months that doctors can’t find a solution to is really just a nagging little pain or something that will change life forever. What I do know is that Life is never to be taken for granted, family, friends, community, all is important, all precious. And what I also know for certain is that with each painful experience, each heartbreaking moment we become stronger, more resilient, more courageous, more aware and more giving to everyone around us. And that’s what it means to not take Life for granted.