Care, Competency and Consent: What Four Nights in the Hospital Taught Me

Thursday night I was admitted to the hospital and this morning I awoke in my own bed.

It’s been a long time since I was in the hospital that long. I had a lot of feelings about it. At first I felt anxiety and boredom, along with mild annoyance. I had stuff to do. The bed had no back support and was intermittently moving around thanks to new technology to prevent bed sores. After two days I felt like a “sick person,” and didn’t like it.

But on a deep level, I felt secure. I had done my research and chosen doctors affiliated with this hospital after seeking recommendations from local family members. I had established relationships with these doctors and my relevant specialists came to see me. This hospital was close to home, part of a large network, but a smaller branch. It had an excellent reputation and my aunt had recommended it. I knew that I was safe there. And that helped me to relax.

A major reason why I preferred this hospital was rooted in something practical: all the phlebotomists and nurses were competent and respectful about getting lab work done. They found a vein quickly and often without pain. They didn’t argue when I told them to use my hands, not my arm. Staff at other hospitals I had visited for lab work and tests struggled, needed multiple sticks and often had to change staff to someone more skilled. When an IV was needed and I consented to them using my arm for a bigger needle, it was difficult for them. The staff that this hospital were all excellent with such a delicate but ordinary routine– and to me that’s vital.

When you’re hospitalized, it’s easy to let your fear and pain, if you’re afflicted with it, consume you.  Luckily this time I had no pain. Discomfort, yes. But not pain. Regardless it’s to easy to detach from the immediacy of your care and let others take the reigns– if they are competent and you trust them. If you’re able to think on that level, which many are not because they are too sick. My Dad has been there at every hospital stay, and most of my doctor visits. And that was needed, because he was the calming presence who reassured me to trust my doctors and that it was important to make decisions and get things fixed rather than avoid them. He was there to squeeze my hand when I needed blood work or IV’s that caused me to breathe deep because my veins are collapsed and scarred in many places. He helped me pay. In the past I would look to him to help me understand the most important information and usually go with his advice.

But I was younger then. So was my Dad.  Now he’s 76 and I’m 38. He falls asleep in his chair more often. He doesn’t chat as much. I don’t need to ask him as much and we share companionable silences. I have done a lot without his help and done it successfully. Without realizing it, I did absorb his analytical nature and ability to cut through the bullshit and find out what needs answering by the doctors and hospital staff. I taught myself to have a list of questions ready along with suggestions. I have spent much of my life in a hospital setting and handle it better than most. I realized it was up to me to help myself heal and actively participate in my care and recovery.

And I realized something  wonderful: I am a competent woman even when I feel uncertain and stressed. My Dad visited me every day, but was only present once when my doctors were visiting me. That first night. He stayed till 12:30 a.m., making sure there was a plan and I was safe.

So I asked all the important questions to learn about my diagnosis and options. I called and texted my friends and relatives to learn if anyone in our family had my symptoms. I asked my friends if they had ever dealt with something similar. I Googled away to educate myself as best I could. I questioned the nurses about updates and the next step in my treatment.

And I became a strong advocate on my own behalf. I realized at one point I no longer needed input from anyone else, even the doctors. I had made decisions. Obviously every doctor is prepared to make the ultimate decision when necessary and to negotiate aggressively for treatments families may want to avoid because of risk, price, or an inability to accept their loved one is sick enough to warrant that level of intervention. But it’s up to us as patients to make sure we understand what’s happening and draw the boundaries about what is an option and what is a hard “no.” We need to know our bodies and what we feel and not hold back when something makes us uncomfortable.

They had goals for my treatment plan and release and they met those goals in the predicted timeframe. They were patient enough to advocate for the least-invasive course of action, rather than the quickest solution. They decided to use meds rather than surgery and wait it out an extra couple of days to let me heal, and that was reassuring to me. They explained why I wasn’t a good candidate for that surgery and that it was an option but more likely a short-term fix that would bear addressing again in the future. I agreed with them and we proceeded with success. But the whole way through, they cared about my safety and consent.

At 4 a.m. when I was being woken up for blood work, they were kind and did not rush me. Every time, I was asked if it was okay. Most times they knew to use my hand, so a note must have been in my chart. I woke up just enough to move my arm for their access and then luckily fell back asleep instantly.

Once my symptoms were gone for a satisfactory amount of time and my lab work had returned to healthy stable levels for more than 8 hours, I was released quickly. They didn’t drag the paperwork out. I felt exuberant and 200 percent better.

I was grateful. During those four nights I had no responsibility other than seeing to my immediate needs: going to the bathroom, ordering my meals from food service and eating them, and answering questions about what was bothering me and what was working. I asked for a fresh hospital gown, to have a nurse wrap my IV so I could shower, to have another glass of water or more blankets. I brushed my teeth and washed my hair. Otherwise I received the IVs ordered and relaxed. I took my meds when they were brought to me on a schedule. I was able to text and call my family and friends, and receive visitors.

I slept when I needed and watched TV when I wanted. I got to catch up on some re-runs of the original “Roseanne,” which delighted me. I watched the Grammys Sunday night and squealed about each gown and musical performance.

Now I am healthier and comfortable with renewed energy.

I had been telling one of the nurses who I interacted with the most about Lady Gaga’s Grammy win for “Shallow” from her soundtrack contributions to “A Star is Born.” I told him that he NEEDED to watch this song and that it would *CLEAN UP at the Oscars. He hadn’t seen the movie yet but agreed she and Bradley Cooper have insane chemistry and they should just get together already! As he was wheeling me out to exit, my Dad went to get the car. I had declined a wheelchair but it’s just a service they provide to help your transition and show you that last bit of care as you leave. So I allowed myself to accept it.

My nurse surprised me by finding “Shallow,” on his phone and playing it close to my ear. He didn’t tell me, he just let me notice it, which is interesting because my left ear is my deaf ear and it’s a surprise I didn’t miss it.

“Tell me something, girl….” The song was close enough that I heard it.

“Are you happy in this modern world?”

It was so unexpected and considerate. It even seemed a bit romantic. I just enjoyed the moment– that my favorite song for more than six months was being played for me by someone. A stranger, really.  A female trainee nurse was there also so I didn’t comment or flirt, but if I hadn’t already been sitting down I might have swooned or asked him to dance with me.

Maybe that moment was a little gesture from God, reminding me that he’s paying attention to this girl. To keep believing and that the Next Good Thing in my life will be happening soon.

Regardless, not a bad last moment to remember in that hospital. I may be single this Valentine’s Day, but I’ll remember that song and that bearded male nurse and smile on February 14.

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A Baptism for Liam, an Epiphany for Me

I’ve been to Baptisms before, but today’s was special because it showed me something important about myself as well as celebrating the new faith of my friends’ first child.

It showed me that I do want a family life and I do want a Catholic marriage.

My friends Jenni and Ryan celebrated their first child, Liam. He was born on Ash Wednesday into an Irish Catholic family! They have been close friends of mine since high school, when all three of us went to youth group together. They’ve never missed a birthday of mine! They are both responsible but are silly enough to keep each other laughing, too.

Being there with our other mutual friends– also from youth group– was wonderful. They all have families now, and their kids were playing together in the back yard. I’ve seen them all be pregnant. I’ve been to their weddings and showers. I just felt so grounded and comfortable today with all of them.

A statue of the Blessed Mother was in the left corner of the yard and I found her presence very comforting. I found out it was passed down from someone in their family. My own Godmother has a similar one in her front yard. I’ve always hoped that one day when I hopefully own a home I will have one as well.

I spent the afternoon just catching up with our friends, getting to know both their families better, taking pictures and eating great food! It was wonderful to see them together as parents as well, knowing they prayed and planned for this blessing in their lives. They both have this wonderful, relaxed glow about them. And a big reason for that is their marriage is grounded in a strong friendship and shared Catholic faith.

If I’ve had doubts about whether religion is truly a deal-breaker for me in a relationship, today they were dissolved. Jenni has always been my voice of reason, reminding me that it’s not an unreasonable expectation and showing me that it’s possible in her own marriage. I’ve dated enough Atheists and people who profess no faith. They were all good men but there was definitely something elemental missing. I am unabashedly a woman of faith.

And the highlight of the day? Of course, it was holding Liam. He was so calm and cuddly. He felt comfortable with me and I got to take a few pictures with him. And for me, holding a baby is so natural and it just makes my day. To know this little being trusts you enough to relax and let you hold them is such a good feeling.

I will know when I’m in the right relationship and I’m genuinely happy single for the time being.

I’ve almost renounced my faith in the past because I wanted so much to be compatible with a man who was not religious. I am more confident now and will not compromise my religion again for the sake of being in a relationship. Now I recognize my faith is not only fundamental to my my identity, but my happiness.

Unrelenting Blogging, Running and Courage: Six Year Anniversary!

Word Press informed me today it’s my six year anniversary as a blogger.

Hard to believe this chronicle of my life still stands– I attempted to erase it once. Exes had commented, past friends were keeping tabs on me, fellow bloggers encouraged me. Thank you to those who have subscribed, followed, commented and encouraged this unrelenting literary journey! Some have left, but most have stayed.  It’s edifying.

I went through a period of wanting my life without documentation.

My emerging narrative had no focus, I felt it was a waste  of time. But as events unfolded, I found this humble blog to be a refuge.

I would write what I want, without censor or error by editors. Without deadlines.

This journey began as a public vow of accountability during Lent, to uphold my Catholicism and Lenten promises. To challenge me.

Six years ago, I was searching for meaning in a relationship with a man. I thought that was the dream I should chase. I thought my treasure would be in another’s heart– in the reflection of what he loved in me.

Now I have accepted loss in relationships that haven’t lasted. I wrote about some dates, and the struggles to combat loneliness and failed compatibility. But I kept the details away, not wanting to jinx something still evolving, nor preserve details of suitors who did not work out.

Now I have accepted uncertainty and blog when I feel compelled.

I am still restless, but have re-directed my energy. Now the relationship I feed is that with myself– and running is the mechanism driving me forth.

Now I have races and goals for which to train! The joy I find is in surpassing my doubts.

I seek my own approval, reward myself with courage.

I’m making plans without fear.

I’m still Catholic, but now I forgive myself easier. I don’t depend on Lent to hold me accountable to my own promises.

I allow myself to be human, faults and mishaps included. I enjoy Mass but it’s not the center of my life as it once was.

I’ve chosen to build my life around developing a routine of running. I’m struggling with rising early and getting to sleep early enough to maintain that schedule. But already, it’s bringing me peace.

I’ve signed up for training classes for an upcoming race, my first 10k with lots of hills. I’ve joined the local run club in my community. I’ve attended group runs. I’ve enlisted a running buddy to start soon. I’ve purchased running gear necessary. I’m learning to layer properly in differing weather so I can persevere.

I’ve also failed twice this week on something I consider major: I missed my training class Thursday, and slept through a group run this morning.

I’m worried because my next race has a time limit for me to qualify as a finisher– I usually need 1 hour and 30 minutes to run five miles. This race requires 1 hour and fifteen. I felt intimidated— but signed up anyway. Now that fee has been paid! I want that finisher’s medal.

Today as I ran, I pushed myself. I knew I had to wean my mileage and maintain it below a 15 minute mile. And I did, except for two short bouts of walking. I noticed my knees hurting by the end, 3.16 miles. But I don’t normally feel that when I’m running regularly.

Tomorrow morning I’m meeting someone from our running group early. I’ll go faster.

I’ll be the runner I know is within me.

I think I’ve found something special with running.

And it’s in every road, every time I put on my shoes.

During Superbowl 51 : Self-acceptance, Gaga and mother/daughter bonding

I had some great moments with my family this Superbowl Sunday, as we gathered at my parents’ home.

Waiting for the game to start, we were chatting in the kitchen. My aunt, who I adore, was talking with my step-mother, Diane.  My aunt is a generous, hilarious, devoted woman– but also quite conservative.

Her reaction to a story Diane was telling about a woman she knows  was to interject, “Without a HUSBAND?”

“You don’t need a husband to be happy,” Diane said in her calm way.

A bit later, my aunt referenced a man I had been texting as I was celebrating Christmas Day at her home. I updated her, announcing that I ended it and have moved on. And that currently, I’m not seeing anyone.

And I’m happy.

She laughed and said “You are a woman chauvinist!” and that I date a lot.

I won’t deny it, I did. Currently I’m off dating, and feeling relieved. I’m no chauvinist.

In stark contrast, anyone who knows me would correctly name me a strong Feminist.

I then sang a few bars: “Oohhhh, here she comes. Watch out boys, she’ll chew you up! She’s a MMMAAAAAAAAAAAN-eater!”

They laughed, I laughed. Finally, I had the perfect clap back! The conversation moved on.

Mission accomplished.

After dating that last guy, I realized I’d rather just focus on my own life– truly. There was a part of me who felt I *should be dating someone, just because I’m 36. And that’s bollocks. I even took the plunge and deleted the dating profile I was using. I don’t need the comfort of having “a line in the water.” The moment it was gone, I felt free.

I only watched the game for Gaga’s half-time show– with was magnificent, for “A Million Reasons.” She was courageous, flawless, mesmerizing.

Gaga is single and she’s having the time of her life! Her career is sky-rocketing.

On Friday, my friend Heather and I dressed up as Wayne and Garth for a 25th Anniversary showing of “Wayne’s World,” at a local theatre. I’m a brunette, she’s a blonde, we put on some ripped jeans and I bought a hat from Amazon for authenticity. She ratted up her hair and donned a flannel. We met Tia Carrere (Cassandra,) who was impressed with our female cosplay and said upon meeting us, “I love your work!” We took selfies and had more fun together than I think we’ve ever had.

I’m becoming more interested in my friends, my family. I’ve been really connecting with my girlfriends in a new way since then– and it’s energizing!

I’m asking more questions of them, listening better to the details. I’m not feeling wistful for a man in my life. I’m grounded in the present- not ruminating on my past exes, not dreaming of a future man.

Rather, I resolved to pursue my friendships and make plans with them the way I used to pursue dating. And you know what? I feel a whole lot better. I’m in more frequent contact with these ladies. I’m less stressed.

At 36, people consider it either tragic or a joke if you’re single.  You can’t just be a woman living her life– you must be either desperate, bitter, or a resigned spinster. I used to feel offended by these inquisitions.

I’m just Amee.

Tonight, I could laugh it off and change the subject with aplomb! What a milestone for my self-esteem.

As we watched the game, I was sitting on the couch on the right of my step-mom, Diane. She then scooted next to me and put her arm around me– which she’s never done before. She’s a wonderful woman but not very touchy-feely or physically affectionate.

I relaxed and leaned back against her arm, into her shoulder. She was sticking up for me. She and her sister are best friends, but she certainly understands being criticized by her. And Diane didn’t marry my Dad (her only marriage) until she was 53. We had a great little conversation. Eventually we sat up and moved apart a little and returned to watching the game, but it was something I’ll cherish forever.

That moment happened because I’m single and she’s proud of me.

She obviously remembers what this feels like, to be judged on a no-relationship status.

And she ended up with my Dad, who is both perfect for her and perfectly devoted to her.

I’m finally at a point where I am at peace.

My thirties continue to become better and better.

Pretty in(tegrity) : Andie’s Choice

Since “Pretty in Pink,” is showing at my local mall, I took myself for Valentine’s Day. It’s the 30th anniversary– I went to the first of two showings.

If I’m single, I might as well be around a love story. It’s been years since I’ve watched this movie, though I played the soundtrack until the CD broke in my trunk one day. Neglected to put it back in the case.

I’m more impressed with Andie’s character than I’ve ever been. Girl’s got class.

Her life was rough, if you consider the big picture. Not only does she live in the bad side of town, but her depressed, creepy father only works part-time and mostly wears a short bathrobe around the house. Her mother deserted them both three years ago and Andie has clearly become her father’s care-taker. Their relationship is co-dependent and haunting.

In the first scene she is making him breakfast, waking him up, and encouraging him to just get out of bed for the day. Then she drives herself to school for a full day. Not only does he refuse to function as an adult, but his entire appearance seems resigned. Lots of wrinkles on his face, dark stubble. He always seems exhausted.

There’s something stony and untouchable in Andie. Edgy, even. She may dress in an openly romantic fashion, full of florals, skirts, and of course– pink. But she does not mask her hostility when it’s earned. She works after school. She has her own funky pink ride.

At school she encounters three men: Steff, Duckie, Blane. Steff is the hot, fashionable guy who is incapable of talking to her without a sneer and is hitting on her in a passive-aggressive way. Duckie is straight-up obsessed with her, to the point of fawning. He is her only male friend, and she appears to be his only friend, period. He’s cute, but annoying.

And then Blane enters the picture. He visits her at work and buys a record to talk to her. He’s clearly interested but ambivalent. Steff notices the flirtation with Andie and does his best to quash it. Steff puts her down and gives Blane the ultimatum of dating her or losing his friendship. Under peer pressure, Blane retreats– though he does sincerely like her.

I commend the film for a level of sophistication I missed previously. Andie and Blane have no time to casually date and enjoy what may be a burgeoning connection. This may be a high school film, but it’s a very real predicament that continues to translate 30 years later.

When beginning any new relationship, you are forced to choose sides. It may be your peer group or your family that has misgivings. At times we have a strong attraction to someone but no idea if it has a real future. The timing may be off, or you may seem too different.

Clearly, Andie chooses to be single. Both Steff and Duckie like her, even if they are awkward about it. She spotlights Blane’s cowardice.

Best of all, I like the scene where Blane ignores Andie’s phone calls over the weekend. Rather than trying to be the detached, laid-back girl, she waits by his locker and confronts him. Not only that, but first thing, before classes! And although she didn’t need to yell and did seem a bit crazy– she doesn’t hide her disappointment or humiliation. She lets him know that she cared about him.

“What about Prom, Blane?”

He can’t even look at her. He makes up an excuse– he asked another girl and forgot about it. Incensed, she walks away. She accepts the rejection.

The sad thing is, this type of awkwardness doesn’t end in high school. In adulthood, this kind of skittishness still persists. You either tango with it, or you recognize it and stride forward. You know that’s a sign that someone is insecure or not available, and that you demand more from the beginning of a relationship.

And goes to Prom anyway. Alone. She makes her own damn dress!

“I just want them to know they didn’t break me,” she tells her Dad. And by the end of the film, he does right by her. He gives her a dress. He knows it’s ugly but tells her he knows that she can make it something beautiful with her imagination and sewing skills

And of course, Duckie and Blane are attending solo as well.

But she didn’t require their support. She went to prove to herself that she could.

Andie has more guts than all three of her would-be suitors put together.

Like most others, I’m not particularly fond of the ending– she forgives Blane.

But at least he does step up and own his mistake, which takes character.

This year I’m single, and that’s okay. I found a beautiful red poet’s blouse with ruffles, even if it’s not my design. I bought it and wore it today. Red is a color I rarely wear, but I should!

It’s energizing.

It takes guts to stand single. To march forward into the unknown, not knowing when you’ll find a relationship but believing it will happen again.

And that it will surpass anything in your history.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

The Faith Cup

An Atheist friend of mine had a brilliant analogy about faith once. 

He said it was like a cup with liquid inside– the liquid being the faith. And if no one refills your cup at times, it gets emptier and you feel terrible and start to lose hope and then have an emotional crisis. He was struggling, as well do, to balance his life.

“My faith cup has a splash in it,” he said. 

I agreed, and was impressed.

I was just happy to hear him talking about faith at all! He’s come a long way from his young iconoclast days. He’s kinder.

However, I have something to add. 

I think that WE are the cup– how we feel about ourselves. And at some point, we have to realize that it’s impossible to expect others to keep our cup full. They just won’t. They have things to deal with in their own life, or they have wrong reaction or dissuade us from something we want. They fail to believe in us in a crucial moment or area of our life. They may love and support us, but just not know how to express it the right way.

Our cup will always feel empty if we expect others to fill it. 

But I’m starting to feel that maybe we do have a way to keep it fuller– at least from becoming empty.

Prayer. 

As hokey as that sounds… I believe it. 

I’ve always been preoccupied with God and matters of faith.

We can’t depend on others. But if we pray and try to do well by Him, I think it helps. If we think about others, do our best to help them, to forgive and make others happy, to not judge. Do your best to fill the cups of others, especially when they don’t believe in themselves.

People who are surrounded by torment somehow survive. Their sheer force of will seems to keep something in their cup.

I’m beginning to read Scripture more, even if it’s just in bits and pieces and not a formal study. 

My cup is feeling more full lately.

I love that Atheists are always teaching something, even if they don’t believe themselves.

And I love when sometimes I break through to them, even for moments– that God is not an enemy or a void. When you are friends with a person who doesn’t believe, it can feel so frustrating. I never judge them or try to convert them. I just accept them as they are and I keep being myself. I let them know their faith or lack of is not a condition of my acceptance or friendship. I still see them and I tell them why I think they’re awesome, what about them I admire. 

Don’t forget, God is in that cup! Even though you can’t see Him. And no one can knock him over or drain him away. 

Maybe He’s lonely too. Maybe if we talk to him more, he’ll help us feel less alone, less unsure. 

Maybe God needs our prayers to fill his own faith cup. If you think about it, he’s just a ghost– though a powerful one. 

He needs us, humanity, to do his work and help him connect with us. 

Elusive Anger, Regained Self-Esteem

I can’t hold on to anger these days.

Is that a sign of enlightenment? I suspect not.

Rather, I think I’ve finally just realized that I have no control over others. It’s scary at first, until you realize it’s liberating. 

Anger and envy are beautiful ways to squander your life. I know. 

I used to be so focused on what everyone else had and I didn’t– I was one sour lady.

I’d rather control myself– and that I can do. So I’m redirecting my energy. 

And THAT is exciting. I have more respect for myself. 

Change is happening in my life, because I’m making better decisions. 

I have less to say about it, and more to do. 

I’m feeling powerful and unapologetic. 

I know my worth, and I determine it.