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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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!

 

Dear Forever Valentine, Thank You

Because you (I!) deserve a love letter today. Self, you are always by my side!

First, I am proud of you.

I see a woman who has nothing to prove this year. She is wearing overalls because they are what she feels comfortable wearing, and she’s STOKED at the ’90s are back in that style! With it, a pink and white baseball shirt because it’s a little feminine but also practical. Today she is wearing no make-up. Her hair is shorn in a pixie, which makes her feel free– she loves the feeling of the icy wind on her neck. She often goes without a hat, but zips her coat up to the hilt instead.

This year has been about realigning with what you need, and putting that into action. And you are making great strides every day! Even when you think I don’t notice the progress, I do. Even when no one else does, I see.

I believe in and admire you, Amee. I adore that name– your mother chose it with care. It’s not something to be found on pencils, which you used to resent. It’s singular and a little bit exotic–French. There is nothing typical about you. You forge your own way in every aspect of your life– you don’t do things like everyone else.

You are unafraid to sacrifice in the present for something you know will be better in the future. You are committed to what you need even when it’s not fun or popular. You are learning to value your own voice most. You can weather questions and the assumptions of others with increasing grace.

Like all humans, you have walls to protect yourself. Your heart is not impulsive as it once was, although sometimes I know you long for those days. Those were beautiful times of innocence, important to teach you lessons. Of loss, of how to lose yourself in giving. Of appreciating someone even when they don’t understand why you love them. You seek to understand others and comfort them.

You know how to love with abandon, commitment and safety.

You accept that not everyone deserves what you want to give– you are more patient. You demand that people prove to you that they are sincere. Never admonish yourself for that– it’s been learned with fire.

You always rise. You may slow down, you may hold yourself back with caution.

But conserving your energy and valuing what you possess to give others is something wonderful and smart.

Keep doing that.

Everything that you need is on its way to you. It is happening at exactly the right time and speed– just continue to trust in your judgement.

You are more real than many who put up a better facade. When you’re not happy, you don’t pretend. You’re polite and professional when needed, but never insincere. That is something glorious– the ability to know how you’re feeling and not be ashamed of it. That takes tremendous courage– it’s a skill not everyone has yet learned.

That writer heart of yours beats steady. I can always depend on you. We are always together.

Whatever comes your way, you will handle it with aplomb.

I am grateful that you preserve that delightful spark of silly, that propensity for wackiness. I am glad that you see beauty in the most ordinary circumstances.

You are loyal, affectionate, serious.

Thank you for not changing for anyone.

You are my favorite. I love you! You are beautiful and strong.

You are making peace with uncertainty and deciding to be your own hero.

And that is the best Valentine’s gift I could ever give you.

Always,

All the Love You Possess

I Didn’t Wear a Coat: My Solo Valentine’s Day Adventure

Because I wanted to embrace the chill– of winter. Of being single.

I didn’t want to pretend it’s not a bit lonely. False insulation is not genuine warmth.

But I ventured outside, and into the public.

I decided to focus on hopefully making others a bit happy.

I put on a ridiculous ensemble, because that’s why I like to do. Vagina Warrior colors! Red and black. (A nod to my 2010 role in a local production of “The Vagina Monologues,” which was life-changing. Cast members and supporters of the movement are called Vagina Warriors, and show solidarity by wearing red and black costumes in the show, at rehearsals, and especially on Valentine’s Day.

I put on the same red and black tunic I had worn in the show– with the black roses embroidered around the bustline. But this time I paired it with some pleathery black leggings and a black turtleneck, plus black boots. I wore the black hat my Step-mother gave me for my 29th birthday. Plus for contrast, white gloves and a white scarf, which she also gave me.

I put on bright red lipstick and a smile.

And headed to Dollar Tree to buy balloons. The store was bustling. No one interacted with me– everyone was focused on purchasing their items and getting out. I selected six mylar balloons– four red and black and white ones saying, “Happy Valentine’s Day,” and two that are a more pastel pink. The pink ones were a bit deflated– and I chose them for that reason. They looked lonely.

At the register, the cashier said there was a man who could add air to the balloons. I went over to see him. He had on a bright green button-down, and dutifully aired up each of my balloons.

Isn’t that what love does? It adds a little extra air to your heart! It pumps you up. Makes you feel like floating again.

Then I called the woman I bring Holy Communion to on impulse and asked if I could drop by. She said sure.

I stopped over with three balloons– one for her, her daughter, and her son who helps take care of them.

Her smile when she answered the door was worth it!

“I like your costume,” she said. “You look cute.”

She stepped back and invited me into her home. I first gave the pink balloon to her daughter– who also happened to be wearing a pink shirt! Then I asked her which balloon she would like– she chose. I tried to find her son, but he wasn’t around. I left the third one for him, wished them a Happy Valentine’s Day, and left.

Then I called my Step-mom and asked if I could stop by. Yep!

She too liked my ensemble.

I brought in a balloon for her and my Dad. (The second one I had intended for them got away somehow!)

And their adorable cat, Miss Bea, started playing with the string. Perfect!

A little valentine for the cat.

I asked Diane if she would mind taking some pictures of me outside, and she indulged me. I stood by the black lamp post in their front yard , the snow up to my calves. I held onto the last balloon– the one I was saving for myself.

Another pink heart.

I took some pictures, goofing off.

I hugged her, thanked her. Made plans to stop by after work to give them their cards.

That’s our family tradition– we’re card people.

But as I went to put my heart balloon into the backseat of my car, it floated away.

I looked up and thanked God.

That’s gotta be a good sign!

You have to give away your heart first for someone to receive it.

I wasn’t sad. I was relieved.

I watched that pink balloon spiral up into the cold air.

And dashed home, to my Valentine– this beautiful blog.

Yes, it’s a bit lonely today. But I gave myself a hug, and it helped.

And as long as I’ve got my Writing, I’m never alone.

Happy Valentine’s Day from Unrelenting Amee! And now to work I go.

Too Big for the Envelope: Best Valentine’s Day Ever!

I just got home from my first official date with myself in Chicago. I’m a helluva date!

All day, I spoiled myself.

I only did things I wanted to do.

I went to Starbucks and got my favorite Greek yogurt with honey, and a White Chocolate Mocha with Raspberry. Then I drove 20 miles north to my favorite bookstore, and bought two bad ass books for $5.

Then I went to my parents’ place for dinner, and they each gave me a Valentine card. It was hilarious, neither of the cards fit!

“They’re too big for the envelope,” my step-mom Diane said, laughing at the misshapen cards. And I quoted that in the headline because honestly, I feel that way about this V-Day. It was simply too much fun for one day, too great to describe in words alone. So I’m going to add some pictures!

They had the cutest cookies:

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And we ate a normal dinner, and had a light conversation and it was perfect. I’m so blessed that my parents are NOT on my case about getting married, or even finding a relationship. They don’t pressure me to have any kids. They just accept me as I am, and want me to be happy. Both of them married later in life, and they want me to ENJOY being single and wait until I meet someone who is really right for me. They both have a strong Catholic faith, that’s a big part of it too. They believe that what is meant to happen, will happen.

I truly believe I’m exactly where I need to be, right now. And that makes it so much easier. When you know your life is on track toward something good, all you have to do is relax and let it happen.

After dinner, I dashed off to get a manicure at a local salon a few miles down the road. I got a 7:30 p.m. appointment, and the nail technician was bubbly and fantastic. I picked out a bright red for the holiday, and we bonded over being single on V-Day and trash talking about the Kardashians, the family everyone loves to loathe! We both believe that Kim and Kanye’s baby will be the next Anti-Christ.

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Then my bestie Veronica called me, and I told her I wanted to take myself out in Chicago. Being the awesome planner that she is, she said she’d text me a few ideas of places to go! I wanted to get out of J-town and hit up a coffee shop, NOT a bar! I went home and mapquested two of them, changed into something Chicago worthy, and took off!

I started out with The Worm Hole, a place I’d heard about that has an ’80s nostalgia theme.

Miraculously, there WAS parking, and it was late enough the meters were expired. I walked a few blocks and enjoyed the peace of being ALONE–at night– on purpose, in Chicago. I talked to someone on the street while walking, and we had a friendly chat until I got there.

I knew this was my kinda place immediately. The Stay-Puft Marshmellow Man greeted me from a shelf directly inside the cafe. I walked around like a total dork, marveling and taking pictures. There were cute valentine cards taped on the wall for the baristas, from customers.

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And a hilarious sign mocking Justin Bieber on the door. I’m SO going back to this place.

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I got some chamomile tea and sat down on a couch next to a dude sitting on his laptop. I took out some books, but decided for once NOT to read them. I complimented his leather backpack, and we talked easily. He had just moved to Chicago from Houston a month ago, and he loves it!

Then I went to my next destination- a cafe which turned out to be closed. But there was a bar nearby, so I just ventured in to Revolution Brewing instead. I had almost given up bars for Lent– thank God I didn’t! It was the perfect way to end my date.

After a quick walk-around, I asked the hostess if I could sit alone at a table by the window. She agreed and I ordered just a glass of water and a dessert: Chai Panna Cotta with blood orange sherbet, honey-wit oranges, and almond tuille.

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Last Valentine’s Day, I had bought myself a gorgeous scarlet journal and begun it that day. This year, I began a new journal that I already had bought– one that inspired me. It has quill plumes on the cover, with words like “Discovery,” “Inspiration,” and “Motivation” on it. I wrote a quick first entry, in red pen. I wrote myself an inscription inside it:

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I luxuriously stretched my legs out to the chair across from me, and savored my dessert. The server brought me TWO spoons, but I happily pushed the extraneous one to the side.

I quickly blogged via my iPhone, before midnight. I decided then and there that I would blog every day for 40 days, and THAT would be my Lenten promise for 2013. Previously, I was going to STOP blogging– but I just can’t! This blog is my valentine, it makes me happy. I wrote a little in my journal, but just the name of the dessert and description of it. Then I decided to again, NOT be absorbed by my phone or books, and just look around and enjoy myself. A small group left a prime spot: a barrel table by a FIREPLACE. I moved my stuff over and asked the hostess if it was okay- and it was. I set up my stuff for a picture, and a woman nearby got my attention and asked why I was taking pictures.

I told her that I was on a date with myself for V-Day, and she smiled. Her name is Jessica.

“Does that mean you don’t want to sit with us?” I thanked her and re-located! There were about six of them all together, and they were all friendly, stylish, and we got along great. They were a mix of social workers, a teacher, and a free-lance reporter with lots of great ideas on how to get back into the business! I probably chatted with them about an hour.

I hopped on 90/94 East to head home, and rocked out to The Breakfast Club Soundtrack and Billy Idol all the way home.

Yeah, I can honestly say this is the best Valentine’s Day I’ve ever had.

I made it about ME, not looking for attention for moping around. I was open to talking to people, not pre-occupied with looking like I wasn’t alone. And by doing that, I DID meet people and had a blast.

I’m going to date myself more often! And blog it. With pictures!

Unrelenting Valentine love.

40 Days of Unrelenting Bloggery!

I didn’t even last a day without my blog!

I just love it too much. I decided to change up my Lent promise. Instead of depriving myself of something I love, I’m going to indulge and commit!

I will blog every day of Lent. This blog is my Valentine, how could I abandon it now?? I’m just not ready to be apart from it right now.

Right now I’m in Chicago, taking myself on a date! I didn’t buy a heart balloon, but I did spend the day doing things I love. I got my nails done, bright red! Way more glam and fun than a balloon. I impulsively went to the city and took myself to a coffee shop I’ve always wanted to go to, and now I’m at a bar, about to try a delicious V-Day dessert.

Solo. And it’s glorious!

I’ve come such a long way since I started this blog two years ago… and I’m truly at peace right now and enjoying myself. Now, time to dig in!

V-Day, One Billion Rising, and My Own Heart Balloon

Tomorrow is my favorite day…. V-Day.

It’ll be the fourth birthday of my favorite Valentine girl, Eva. The daughter of two of my best friends. She’s delightful and fiery and already, I envy her curls. Her smile can make your whole week!

It’ll be not just Valentine’s Day– but Feb. 14 re-claimed by Eve Ensler to stand up for women. At noon tomorrow, all over the world women will run out of their jobs and into the streets to dance– to celebrate our triumph over Patriarchy, over abuse, and over anyone who tries to tell us that we’re not all goddesses. Because we are.

Here’s a video to explain, maybe you can find a One Billion Rising V-Day event near you:

http://onebillionrising.org/blog/we-have-an-anthem

Last year, I was enchanted watching men with struggle against the wind with heart-shaped mylar balloons on Valentine’s Day. Tomorrow, I’m going to buy one for myself, because that would make me happy. 🙂 The biggest one I can find!

I’ll leave you with that note of hope, and see you after Lent is over. 🙂