Friday’s Weekend Column
Hospitals and Worry

by James Glaser
April 7, 2006

Having my mother in the hospital brought back a lot of hard memories for me. Two years ago my wife, Charmaine, was in the Hospice program waiting to die. She and I had spent the last five years before that in and out of hospitals, some were for operations or treatment, and in some we were looking for a cure.

I really thought I was over the trauma of that whole episode, but that call from my sister about my Mom's heart attack brought it all back to me.

I think it would be safe to say that I spent over two years in a hospital room with Charmiane, dealing with doctors, trying to get the best care for her out of the nursing staff, and feeling pretty inadequate. It is hard trying to keep a person's hope up month after month when they are in constant terrible pain. You can bring flowers, small gifts that really aren't a gift at all, (Just look at any hospital gift shop and you'll know what I mean) and depending how sick the person is, you can play cards, read to them, or go for walks. I know I pushed an IV pump on a pole attached to Charmaine for many miles over those years. All the time you are doing these things in truth you are hoping that your loved one gets better, and you are hoping you won't have to keep going to the hospital.

I did a good job, but eventually Charmaine made the decision that the constant return to those hospital rooms was not worth it, and so she choose to never go back. That led to the Hospice Program.

I learned a few things. Number one, doctors seldom give you a straight answer. They will say one thing and write another in their report, so as to cover both. One doctor will say things are looking up while the next will say he just doesn't know, and so he then orders more tests.

Nurses are like anyone else. They have good days and bad days. Some will let their prejudices get the best of them, while most are totally professional, and they are the only thing that makes any hospital stay bearable.

Having a loved one in the hospital long term makes the person visiting them on a constant basis, sick. After months of having to become sort of upbeat on every visit, you really have to dig deep to keep it up. You don't really take care of yourself, and there is no longer anything 'normal' about your life. You can't take off a day because you know your loved one is suffering way more than you are, but if you do take a day off anyway, the guilt trip you are on is worse than going to the hospital. So you might as well go.

When my sister called and told me about my mother being in the hospital it didn't take long for that sick achy feeling I had with Charmaine to come back to me, in fact it was within minutes. I could just picture myself sitting in a room with her. (After so many hospital rooms with Charmaine, I noticed they all look about the same)

The saving thing this time was distance, and my sisters. With Charmaine, I was all alone, and there was nobody to spell me off. Here in Tallahassee I am 1500 miles away from Saint Paul, where My mother is, and I know my sisters, my nieces, nephews, brothers-in-law, and my daughter are all spending time in my mom's room, and that gave me thought time.

If I had been in Saint Paul or even in northern Minnesota I would have hopped in the truck within minutes of that call, because it looked like death was imminent. I wouldn't have had that thought time. You do what you have to do in life, especially when a love one in involved, but some times you have to learn to pass the torch when it is appropriate.

Yesterday was such a blessing. I had unloaded my truck, made arraignments to sign the lease for my new studio early so I wouldn't lose it, paid the rent for my old studio so I didn't have to worry about vacating it, packed clothes for spring time in Minnesota and then my older sister Jean called with the good news. My mother had a good nights sleep, her blood pressure was normal, she ate breakfast, and they were moving her out of ICU into a normal hospital room. As she was telling me this that knot in my stomach started to loosen and that bloated feeling I had was gone. Jean said she didn't know what to tell me about coming home and I said, "but you are the older sister." She said she still didn't know.

My daughter Nikky stopped at Grandma's room during her lunch break, and she said that my mom was adding to the conversation, her eyes were clear, and she was Grandma again. Not perfect, but on the mend.

This whole episode gives me something to think about and to work on. I know in an emergency I can rise to the occasion in having to deal with a loved one's hospital stay, but I now know I can no longer do anything like that alone. It is really too much to ask of anyone.

Also it tells me that I haven't mended like I thought I had with Charmaine's dying. I have dealt with her death, but not the dying process she went through. I think she was a lot stronger than I could be, and she fought for life longer than I would have. Those years of suffering took a toll on both of us.

Another thing that I feel very good about, is knowing that I have no unresolved issues with my mom. I couldn't think of anything that I forgot to tell her, and I know she loves me, and that makes me feel good. I also feel confident about my Mom's faith in the Lord, and I have no doubt she will go to heaven when her time comes. Actually, and this is hard for many people to take, when my mother does die, the only loss will be for me, because I won't have her anymore, but she will be in heaven, the place we are all trying to get to.

Last Sunday I was at the small independent Searchlight Baptist Church in Tallahassee. The Minister said, "Cheer Up! We are all going to die."

We have a choice in life. We can believe we were are born like any animal, maybe we are a lot smarter than the animals, but we die like any animal too, and that is it, we become part of the earth's compost pile. Or, we can believe that there is more to it than that, that God created us, and if we believe in him, he has a much better place for us after this life. I believe there is a God. I believe Adam and Eve screwed things up for all mankind, and I believe that God's son Jesus did the unbelievable hard thing of giving up being God for a while and became man. He did that and even suffered and died on a cross to make atonement for Adam and Eve's sin, our sin, so that the gates of heaven could be open for everlasting life to any that believe.

I think my mother has that same belief, and so even though I would feel sad with her death, I would feel good about it too. I know that is hard to accept if you don't trust in the Lord, but it is pretty easy if you do.

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