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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Crisis Investigated

The sound of rapidly moving flip-flops signaled me that Cindy had arrived and would soon be inside my room. “Dar, hi. What’s happening? The nurse called and said you’re blind.”

“Thanks so much for coming, Cindy,” I said, shaking my head. “I just don’t know why they keep saying things like that; I’m not blind.”

“What a relief. So, you can see me then?” I heard the sound of the straight-back chair being pulled over to the bed.

“Not exactly. I mean, it’s not all black like blind people, but I can’t really see you. I see only long chains of colored pyramids. They’re like waving strings of colored lights, kind of; it’s hard to explain. I couldn’t make the doctor understand. He’s the one that says I’m blind.”

“Are you in pain? You’re kinda squeezing your eyes like I do when I have a migraine.”

“Am I? I didn’t realize that. Yes, I have a bad headache, but they say it’s too early to give me anything for the pain. I have to have some tests first.”

“Yeah, that’s what they told me. I called your mother and she’s coming right away. She said your father would come after work.”

“Oh, poor Mom. She’s probably a wreck. Dad can handle stuff like this so much better; but if they need only one parent to be here, I can see she’d get away from work more easily than Dad. Can you stay with her, Cindy?”

“I think so. I’ll run home before she gets here to be sure Jack‘s gonna be home with the baby. I don’t think he has plans that can’t be changed a bit; it’s his day off.”

“Hey, thanks so much. This is just so weird. I mean, Cindy, I’m not sick at all; I just had this neck-thing going on and now—“ I interrupted myself, remembering about the blindness rumor. “You didn’t tell Mom I’m blind, did you? She’ll crash the car on her way, if she’s got that on her mind.” Cindy joined my chuckling.

“I know exactly what you mean; my mom’s the same way. No, I just said you were in the hospital and needed to have some tests. I told her that the doctor wanted one of your parents to come.”

“Okay, good; that’s not too bad then. Go ahead and check with Jack, and thanks.”

When Cindy returned with the news she could be with Mom until Dad arrived, we used the time to catch up on family happenings over the months we’d been apart, as any two young adult women would. “One thing I am thanking the Lord for in all of this, Dar, is that whatever is going on with your body, we’re not still living across the city. We’re practically in the hospital’s parking lot.”

“Me, too, Cindy. I’m so glad the Lord has you close enough to be here with me, and to help Mom.”

Just then, the fast clicking of Mom’s pumps rushed to my bedside. Grabbing my hand and pressing it between her two palms, Mom’s lips touched my forehead. “Oh, Honey. Oh, Honey! What’s happening to you? The doctor said they had to do a test and you might die or lose your leg?”

“Leg?” Cindy and I said at the same time. “There’s nothing wrong with my leg, Mom. I have no idea why the doctor would tell you that.”

As I struggled to make sense of that warning, Mom reached up and stroked my cheek. At the same time, she pressed her own cheek into my right hand. I felt her tears. Then I remembered.

“Oh, Mom, I know why Dr. Roberts* told you that; it’s the law. They are going to do a test that puts dye into the blood vessels in my brain. Because they actually insert the needle in the artery at the top of the leg and thread it up to the right spot, he’s obliged by law to tell you what could happen if things go wrong. It hardly ever does, but if he tells us and we still sign the consent papers, the doctor and hospital are off the hook. You know how that goes, right? This isn’t going to happen to me; I’m not a bit worried about losing my leg. I’m not allergic to any dyes either, so this test isn’t going to kill me.” Mom wrapped her arms around my body as best she could, resting her head on my chest.

“It’s okay, Mom, really. I’m not worried; you don’t need to be either,” I said, stroking her shoulder and choking back the tears the sight of my mother’s pain had stirred in me.

Just then, the orderly arrived with the gurney to take me down to Radiology for the Cerebral Arteriogram Dr. Roberts had ordered to be done immediately. My bed raised, I scooted over to the gurney. Sitting up, I let my mother hug me; I returned her embrace, hoping all really would turn out to be as good as I’d tried to assure her it would.

The hard x-ray table felt cold beneath me. I listened to all the activity around me, remembering the protocols I’d followed when working as a student radiology tech. The tap at the back of my head meant a large molded foam would soon be placed under it, with straps to keep my head from moving out of position. I figured the inguinal insertion of the catheter would soon follow.

What I had totally forgotten was the towel. I felt the female tech place a wad of folded terrycloth between my legs. “You’ll want this there in a minute.”

“But, I did—“

 “Yeah, I know; all patients are taken to the restroom before being put on this table. But let me assure you, you’ll be glad I padded this area for you. It’s just a reflex.”

In fact, the lady had been right. Sometimes the humiliation of being a patient can be worse than the pain of the disease. At least, that’s what I thought when the inguinal insertion of the catheter needle caused an immediate release of residual warm bladder contents.

Then they shot the dye into my brain and I knew I’d been wrong. No humiliation came close to this kind of pain. No wonder they’d strapped my head into the foam restraint.

*Name changed.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Crisis Moves to the Hospital

Joe broke the silence in the little cabin, announcing we’d be landing soon. “I’ve asked for their van to meet us to take you to the hospital. That way, you can lie down and not have to pay for an ambulance--unless you think you might need the ambulance?”

“Oh my goodness, no, I don’t need an ambulance,” I said to the kind Hospital Board Chairman who’d been called into service to transport me to the regional hospital. “This is just so much fuss for my ornery neck. I’ll be fine in the van.”

The jolting of tires-to-tarmac shot pain through my head but soon settled into the familiar pressurized-ache. I waited for Joe to do the required pilot checks, all the while wondering why those colored lights never stopped flashing and obscuring my sight. At least, I could see them, so I couldn’t be blind.

I’d driven the distance between the airport and the hospital enough times to realize that the endless duration of the bumpy ride on the backseat of the van had nothing at all to do with geography. The ache in my head had increased significantly; I feared I’d vomit in this stranger’s van.

At last, the “We’re here,” rang out from the seat ahead of me.

“Oh, thank. You. So. Much,” I said, taking quick breaths between each word.

The sudden metallic clang signaled the side door had opened. Strong arms pulled me off the bench and set me down in a wheelchair. “Do you need the gurney, Miss?”

“No. this. Is. fine. But. I. need. The. Basin,” I said, as he whirled the chair around and my stomach rushed into my throat. I’d just finished my plea when I heard the electric doors of the Emergency Room snap closed behind us.

“Basin. Please. Emesis Basin. Now,” I said, but the exchange between the nurse and orderly obscured my whispered desperation.

At last, the nurse leaned her head down to put an ear close enough to hear me. I pushed her away just as the reason for my plea launched across the footrests of the wheelchair. “Oh, emesis basin,” said the nurse. “Sorry.”

I heard her shout for a gurney and felt myself being lifted out of the chair. “Her projectile vomiting isn’t a good sign,” the nurse told the duo of helping hands. Turning to the Ward Clerk, she continued, “Call Dr. Roberts*. Stat.”

“No, it’s Dr. Southerville* who said he’d meet me here. Call Dr. Souther—“I said, but my soft whispers had died in the hurried chatter of the professionals. What in the world made them think I needed a neurologist? I wanted to shout the whole thing had been a problem with my neck; they needed to call the orthopedic man not the brain guy.

In a blur of activity, one nurse removed my clothing, replacing it with the open-backed hospital gown, while another recorded vital signs and shouted out all kinds of orders over my head. When the dust had settled, I discovered the pillows at my back had tipped me to the side; an emesis basin had been placed between my two hands. All this drama over a sore neck? I thought.

After a short period of time, I heard the familiar voice of Dr. Roberts. I knew that strong voice well, because I’d transcribed hundreds of pages of his dictation in this very hospital not that many months prior to this official visit. He’d understand the mix-up, and I hoped he wouldn’t be upset at having been called in error to see me.

“Hello, there. Before you say anything, I just talked to Dr. Southerville. He asked me to come see you; he’ll drop by later.”

“Oh, good. I’m so sorry to bother you, Dr. Roberts,” I said, trying to smile as the nurse assisted Dr. Roberts to reposition me on my back.

The movement caused a wave of nausea, but I controlled it with deep breaths. I felt the rubber reflex hammer at my elbow, picturing the report of this well-known specialist’s routine examination. I’d pounded out the words to his reports many, many times.

“How many fingers am I holding up?” said Dr. Roberts.

I squinted my eyes, concentrating straight ahead at the spot where I’d heard his voice. “Actually, I can only see colored lights, Dr. Roberts. There are so many chains of them that it’s all I can see.”

Suddenly, I felt the hand of Dr. Roberts grip my forehead, his black curls flipping down to touch the top of my own forehead. I knew he’d begun to examine the backs of my eyes with his ophthalmoscope, but his unruly locks tickled me so much I giggled. The nurse grabbed my hand, preventing me from moving his hair.

“It’s okay; Dr. Roberts is just checking your eyes. He’ll be done in a minute.”

I felt the neurologist move from one eye to the other and back again. His examining light had begun to bring a burning pain. “Sh*t. You’re blind,” he said.

I laughed and said, “No, I’m not blind, Dr. Roberts. I can see dozens of colored chains of light and the background is white. Blind people see only black.” My breath bounced back at my own face, because the doctor’s face remained so close to mine. He repeated his examination, breathing against my cheek.

When the rush of cooler air registered, I realized he’d moved back. His deep sigh near my bed came from a spot high enough to let me know he’d stood. I smiled up at him, glad to have the painful eye examination over. “It’s my neck, Dr. Roberts. It’s been bothering me for several months now, and Dr. Southerville--”

“It’s not your neck. Did anyone ever look at your eyes?”

“No, you’re the first one.”

I heard a deep sigh again. Next, the tickle of his curls preceded the pressure of his hand on my forehead. The burning pain returned as Dr. Roberts repeated the exam one more time. Then, I felt a rush of cool air, followed by silence. I pictured the neurologist running his hands through his hair. The scene had often accompanied his string of expletives when frustrated.

“The last time I looked at eye grounds like that was on a corpse. Living people don’t have eye grounds like that.” Dr. Roberts took a few deep breaths before continuing. “Where are your parents?”
“Both of them are working today. I thought I’d call them later, when I knew they’d be off work. They live fifteen miles from here. Everything happened so fast; they don’t know I’m here yet.”

“Do you have a friend in town you could call? I want someone with you right now. Your friend can call your parents.”

How comforting it was for me in that confusing time of crisis to realize that one of my very best friends had only months earlier moved to a home half-a-block from this very hospital. The words of the nurse, “She’s on her way,” felt like warm salve on a fresh wound.

*Names changed.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Crisis Returns

The abrupt stabbing pain in my head startled me. I dropped my pen, listening to it roll off the desk and onto the floor. Gingerly, I inched my chair back, rotating my head to find a position to stop the pain.

Nothing relieved the stabbing, but tipping my head back seemed to make it worse. “Humph. What’s happening?” I said to my empty office. “Please, God, don’t tell me whatever that was, is back.”

I slipped from my chair to pick up the pen, fearing I might forget it had fallen until someone stepped on it. “Yeow! Tuck that chin!” I told my head, which had followed the natural inclination to maintain balance by tipping back when the body is bent forward. I managed to grab the ballpoint, righting myself before toppling over. A wave of nausea crashed over me like the surf, warning of a storm ahead.

Fortunately, the wave dissipated as soon as I sat upright in my chair. Closing my eyes, I tried to breathe deeply with exaggerated exhalations. I felt my heart rate slow, which reassured me a bit.

The onset of the now-familiar dancing chains of brightly-colored pyramids ratcheted-up my anxiety level a few notches again. “C’mon God. What the heck’s happening here?” I tugged at the cervical collar, which seemed to be tightening as my stress increased.

Finally, I ripped open the Velcro fastener at the back, and threw the piece of circular foam on the desk. The sharp pain had been replaced by a growing tension; rather like the sensation of a balloon being inflated inside my skull. Tears of frustration poured down my cheeks.

“What do I do now?” The lights still paraded across my field of vision; but as long as I didn’t move my head suddenly, the pain didn’t overwhelm me; it couldn’t really be anything serious, could it?

I must have jumped three feet in the air when the wall phone behind me rang. Since Lillian should be answering the phone, I’d normally have let it ring, but the clanging got the best of me. “Hello,” I said, totally forgetting even the name of the hospital let alone how to properly answer the phone. “Uh, er, yes, you’ve reached the hospital. Are you looking for Lillian? She must have stepped away from her desk for a minute.”

I started to replace the receiver in its wall-mounted cradle, when another thought hit me. I depressed the little lever that returned the dial-tone. “Maxine? Is Doc in town this week?”

“I think so, but Dr. Greg’s downstairs, if you need to ask the doctor about something. If it’s about a particular patient, I may be able to help you.”

Remembering his incorrect positioning of the patient needing cervical traction, I hesitated to submit myself to his expertise for my own neck issue. “No, it’s not one of our patients, Maxine, but thanks for offering. Do you have Doc’s phone number handy?”

When the retired physician failed to answer his phone, I looked for Dr. Williams’* number. I had shied-away from calling him immediately because I didn’t want another week stretched-out on the traction rack.

After explaining the situation to Dr. Williams, he suggested I come in on Thursday to see the orthopedic specialist he consulted when a case left the area of Internal Medicine. Hearing the name of the specialist, my face lit up. “Yes, I know Dr. Southerville* well, I worked with him when I trained the Highway patrol officers in Emergency Medical Technician classes.”

After reassuring Dr. Williams I didn’t need anything for pain, because the pressure had begun to lift, I accepted his advice to go home to rest until the Thursday appointment. Actually, I put my paperwork in my briefcase, figuring I could rest between intervals of work at the kitchen table.

Two days later, returning from the city alone, I sang my little heart out, country music station blaring familiar gospel songs. I’d had a cordial reunion visit with Dr. Southerville, who reassured me that I’d be fine; I just needed to spend less time bent over a pile of papers at my desk. “Get up and move around. Exercise your neck and back every thirty minutes before returning to the grind. If that doesn’t do it, give me a call and we’ll arrange some tests in Billings.” Even though, the specialist had no idea why I saw chains of colored pyramids sometimes, I’d found his words comforting; I trusted him.

Over the next couple of weeks, the pressure and lights made intermittent appearances. The painful pressure felt like a headache but I found it difficult to describe. Same with the waves of lights; I’d never known anyone who’d experienced that.

Then came the day when the dancing pyramids didn’t leave; in fact, they multiplied to the point of obstructing my eyesight. I squinted, trying to see around the chains dancing in my field of vision. The pressure filling my skull increased until the intense pain sickened me. The episodes of reprieve seemed fewer and of shorter duration.

During an evening dinner invitation at the home of my former-college roommate and her husband, my symptoms worsened. Although trained as a French teacher not a nurse, my friend rallied and did her best to care for me. The pain in my head made it impossible to relax; I just wanted to moan and roll around on the bed.

At last, I asked her to phone Dr. Southerville for me. This time, I feared I’d not get over it. He instructed my friends to get me to the hospital in Billings, where another specialist would be waiting to see me.

Getting to the city involved a road trip of 192 miles. How would I ever make such a long ride on the passenger seat of someone’s car, even if they could find someone to take me?

“Don’t worry about that; we’ve got it covered,” said my friend’s husband, overhearing my concern expressed to his wife. “Joe’s going to take you.”

Soon after, my friends helped me out of their car and over to the waiting plane, owned by the Chairman of the Hospital Board. “Are you blind?” Joe asked as I walked right into the fuselage of his plane.

“No, I can see. It’s just that there are chains of colored lights blocking the way.” I felt his hand on my arm, guiding me over to the spot on the wing where I’d need to step up and over to the open passenger door. Once I had the picture planted in my mind, I easily climbed aboard the small plane.

As the aircraft lifted off, I returned to Joe’s question. A person whose blind doesn’t see anything, does he? It’s just all black. I can’t be blind because I see the lights; and it’s white in the background, not black. But why didn’t I see the side of the plane? Those questions and more would soon have answers, though not the kind that brings relief to an anxious soul.

*Names changed.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Just Because

I sat sipping the steamy brew; my growing excitement not yet obvious to the others at the dinner table. With each prompting phrase, my heart rate increased and visions of zooming freely over the miles filled my thoughts.

“Our truck’ll be near that town next week. We can drop by your parents’ home and pick it up for you; c’mon let us bring your bike back to you,” Tom* said.

“You’ve made a pretty compelling argument,” I said, never once giving a thought to the area’s terrain. I laughed, joy spilling out through my response. “Okay, do it! Bring my little Honda back to me. I can save money on gas, too.”

The following week, my beloved red and white Honda 175 CL motorcycle rolled down the freight truck’s ramp and into my waiting arms. Joyous images of flying down the highway, wind cooling my arms and face had consumed every waking hour (and most of my dreams), since that conversation over the delicious cashew casserole. Today being Saturday, these dreams would become reality.

“Go ahead, give ‘er a kick,” the truck driver said. Guess he’d noticed I’d already climbed aboard. “I’ll go get your helmet from the passenger seat, while it idles.”

Both hands had fallen comfortably in place on the handlebars the second I’d grabbed the bike and flipped my leg over. The machine tilted slightly to the left, because my short stature made it impossible for me to actually straddle the bike and stand erect with both feet planted flat on the ground.  At the driver’s urging, I placed my right foot securely on the kick-starter bar and executed the familiar little jump. Nothing.

I repeated the action several times with the same results. My face began to warm to that uncomfortable red glow. At least, I’d known better than to just push the electric starter button on the handlebar, I thought, trying to console myself.

“Hmm? Guess your Pop didn’t keep ‘er runnin’ for ya for the months the bike’d been parked in their garage, uh?” I shook my head. “Well, no problem. Just put the charger on it for a bit and she’ll be purring before ya know it.” He handed me the helmet and climbed back in his truck.

My morning’s disappointment dissolved that afternoon as soon as I pulled onto the road out of town. How I loved that sense of freedom when riding along in the open air. The deep ruts on some of the side streets had challenged my abilities in slow, motorized maneuvering over rugged terrain. Now, enormous grin painted in place, I hit the paved highway and twisted open the throttle. Va-roo-ooom!

Normally, I snapped the plastic face-bubble onto the helmet when riding the interstate highway on the other side of Montana, but I figured it might not be necessary on the slower, isolated county roads of the eastern plains. My toothy-grin faded soon after opening-wide the throttle. The county road in this agricultural zone had as many flying insects in the air as grains of wheat in the fields. My face felt like a magnet for every one. Okay, note taken; bubble snapped to helmet next time out.

I delighted in securing my leather briefcase to the back of my Honda each morning. With cowboy boots on my feet, I sometimes laughed at the mental picture of a “modern cowgirl headed for work,” as I flipped my leg over the bike and mounted. Tootling around for errands had become enjoyable instead of necessary drudgery.

The bike took up a lot less room in the parking space; and at about $2 for each 119 miles traveled, less expensive. I loved my motorcycle.

Then, the dusty ruts turned into slippery, muddy zones of hazard. Maybe if I’d had a dirt bike instead of a street bike, my tires would’ve handled the climate change better; but what I’d found fun in the summer months, transformed into mud-splattering slides and slips as soon as autumn arrived.

I never dropped the bike—biker lingo for falling off—but I rarely rode once the precipitation began. It caused too much anxiety and proved too much effort to stay upright to be any fun at all… not to mention I never arrived anywhere with clean pant legs.

I’d experienced winter biking on paved city streets the first year I had the Honda. Even then I’d known it was crazy to be out in the blizzards, stopping frequently to wipe the snowflakes off my plastic face bubble. Here in the rural land of unpaved, gravel or dirt streets, riding my motorcycle was out of the question, completely.

In the absence of any weatherproof shelter in which to store my Honda for the arctic, double-digit below-zero temps of Eastern Montana, I had but one choice—sell my red and white treasure.

The afternoon I watched the same truck driver push my Honda up that ramp and secure it in the cargo area, I fought back tears. My intellect battled with my heart; I just couldn’t use the bike most of the twelve months of the year, so it made sense to let it go. The driver slammed the door, flipping the bar to lock in the truck’s cargo.

Turning to me he said, “Did you have fun while it lasted?” His sober face responded to my slight smile. “You betcha?”

“You betcha!” I said, widening my smile. “The best two months of my time here so far.”

I watched from my front yard until the truck could no longer be seen. As I did I thanked the Lord for making it possible for me to enjoy my motorcycle, as well as for showing me that this really wasn’t the place to have one.

So, why didn’t God just keep me from having a way to get the bike there in the first place? From my point of view, there’s only one reason.

God knew how much pleasure I’d have with the bike; that’s what mattered to Him. I’m confident the Lord smiled as I rode each passing mile; He may have even given a big, “Whooppee!” right along with me.

 Our Heavenly Father created that special joy a father receives when seeing his children having fun.

“Rejoice in the Lord always, and again, I say, ‘rejoice’!” (Phil. 4:4)

* Name changed

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Special Provision

Pulling my boots on, my thoughts harkened back to the two weeks I’d just lived. It hadn’t been the vacation I’d expected, but it did prove to be a good break from the work of administration. Now, the time had come to return to my newly-established routine.

The thing about cowboy boots, as opposed to the soft soles of nurses’ shoes, is that my approach is obvious on tiled floors. Heads lifted from desks and standing body’s turned to greet me as I passed. My heart warmed to hear each, “Welcome back!”

Monday morning routinely began with an update from the Director of Nursing, so I made my way to her office. “Anything happen while I played in the sun?” I said, taking a seat in front of Maxine’s desk.

“You don’t look very tanned for someone returning from vacation at the lake,” she said with a smiling glance at my arms.

“Uh, no? Well, that’s because most of it I spent in bed, sick as a dog; but I’m fine now and ready to work.”

Maxine laughed and stood. “I was just about to make rounds. Want to join me? We can talk as we walk.”

“Great! That’ll help get me away from the lake and back into the hospital mindset.”

As we approached one patient’s room, Maxine said, “This man was admitted before the weekend. The nurses tell me he came in with pain in his neck, but now he’s complaining about his back. Let’s see if he’s better this morning.”

Just as Maxine and I crossed the threshold, the man looked over, letting go a volley of foul words. I recognized a few key words in the midst of his exploding sentences: neck, back, pain, quack, and lawsuit.

The last word didn’t usually find its way into the vocabulary of local complainers, which made sense when I noticed the paleness of his skin. He may be a ranch hand but not from around here. “How long have you been working here, Sir?”

“Who the blue blazes are you,” screamed the man, punctuated by a few expletives I’ve omitted.

“I’m the Hospital Administrator, Sir. We’d like to make your hospital stay as comfortable as possible.” I tapped on my cervical collar as I continued, “As you can see, I’ve had a bit of neck pain recently, too. How’s your neck doing this morning?” If I thought my show of identifying with his pain would soften him a bit, I had grossly underestimated the man’s fury.

“There ain’t nothin’ wrong with my neck; leastwise I can’t tell if there is, ‘cuz my back’s hurtin’ me more ‘n my neck ever did!” More expletives and use of that word, lawsuit.

“I’m sorry to hear that, Sir,” I said, moving closer to the traction apparatus. If I’d not recently been hooked up to a similar contraption, I’d not have noticed the mistake. “Can you point to exactly where your back is hurting, or is it just hurting all over?”

The man immediately pointed to the very spot I’d locked-eyes on. “Yes, I can see that spot may be feeling pressure. I’ll see what we can do to help you.”

Maxine and I crossed the threshold, listening to the patient’s vitriolic spewing ushering us out of the room. “Where did this man come from Maxine? He’s certainly not from around here.”

“He’s one of Wade Hawthorne’s* boys. Came to the Lazy-S ranch earlier last week, I think. Word has it that he fell off a horse, but I’d bet he had a little help doing that. These men aren’t well-liked in these parts, if you know what I mean.”

“So, he’s one of the debtors who failed to pay his casino tab?” Maxine nodded. “Bet he wishes that he’d never seen that game room in Vegas.”

“Yeah. Next time, he’ll probably ask the casino manager if the owner has a ranch in Montana where guys are taken if they don’t pay up. Wade’s usually got of few of these city-dudes working off their debts,” Maxine laughed as she continued, “It’s usually good for hospital business, anyway.”

“It might not be this time, if that traction apparatus isn’t changed. Did you notice the spot he indicated is hurting him now but didn’t before admission?”

“Yes, but how’s that our fault?”

“The traction apparatus goes on the foot of the bed, not the head.” Maxine’s brow furrowed. “I wouldn’t have known either, but when the doctor put my neck in traction, the apparatus attached to the footboard. I didn’t see why then, but this patient’s case makes the reason clear. The pull of the traction tipped in that angle is putting pressure on the spot he’d pointed to when I asked. We are causing him that back pain.”

“But, what can we do? Dr. Henning* ordered it that way. In fact, he put the thing on himself before he left for his four-day conference.”

“How is the order written? Does it just say ‘cervical traction’ using so many pounds?”

“Yes, but we hadn’t had anyone in cervical traction, so Dr. Henning put it up for us. Do you think we can change it?”

“Not only can we change it, we’ll risk a lawsuit if we don’t.”

Maxine and I repositioned the traction gear, while the nurse assigned to this patient quickly dealt with the bed linens. Of course, the man complained quite colorfully, threatening to sue us for making a fool of him by putting him in the new position.

I know what you mean, Sir,” I said smiling as I hung the last weight. “Sometimes it’s necessary to switch directions when the patient finds the first choice doesn’t help him as much as we’d like. Let’s try this one; it’s the very position my doctor in Miles had for my sore neck, and it worked just fine.”

The same proved true for the temporary ranch hand. His back pain left immediately. As his admission orders allowed, the patient left the hospital, contented and feeling a lot better before Dr. Henning returned.
Had I not just experienced this very treatment, I’d never have known to attach the traction to the footboard. What a wonderful provision from the Lord!

*Name changed.

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Forever Memory

Slamming the lid of my trunk, I rounded the side of my metallic-brown Chrysler Newport. “Vacation time!” I said, slipping behind the wheel, and inserting the key in the ignition. I’d been delighted when my interview for the Administrator’s spot ended with the Hospital Board’s approval of two weeks vacation so soon after settling into the administrator’s desk. Months earlier, I’d committed to attending my family’s scheduled mini-reunion. So much had happened in so few weeks, that I really needed a break.

I drove the long, isolated highways for nearly two hundred miles before stopping in front of our family home. I’d sung my way there, with the aid of a stack of eight-track praise and worship cassettes. In spite of the heat, I’d faithfully kept my cervical collar in place, not wanting anything to interrupt this trip.

Five hundred miles later, Mom, Dad and I joined my older sister’s budding family at the lakeside home of her in-laws. We’d all be celebrating Donna’s twenty-eighth birthday, and meeting the newest addition to the Hawley-Weeks family, Lisa Marie.

Seven years earlier, Hayden Lake had also been the gorgeous setting of my new position as Auntie. The tiny, squirming, smiling bundle of joy placed in my arms had been named Tracy Lynn. I’d only been to visit the family home a few times since that introduction, so I looked forward to getting re-acquainted with Tracy.

On this first meeting, little Lisa had just passed fourteen months, and definitely had too much energy to be wrapped up in a new auntie’s arms. She had places to go, people to see, and just couldn’t take the time, you know? Lisa power-walked around the house, stopping every few seconds to practice her new facial frowns, and latest string of sounds, “Diddle-Diddle-Diddle,” before hurrying off again. Except for a man-sized breakfast in her high chair each morning, Lisa cared little for meals. Such a fun toddler.

All went well the first couple of days. I loved being with Tracy, as she discovered new things on the lake-shore.

Floating on an air mattress in the clear-blue lake had always been a favorite summertime treat. The stresses of the new job and recent health crisis banished to the recesses of my mind… until the day of Donna’s birthday.

I awoke feeling a little off-center, a small headache trying to take root. “You feeling alright, Honey?” Mom said. “You’re squinting your eyes.”

“Mornin’ Mom,” I said sitting at the breakfast table, already prepared for the meal. “I don’t really feel sick, but I feel kind of weird. I have a little headache, so I may be unconsciously squinting.”

Mom sat the steaming cup of coffee before me as she spoke, “Maybe you had too much sun yesterday. You get something into your stomach; and if you don’t feel better then, you can take some aspirin.”

I nodded as I sipped the lovely aroma of the black morning brew. My stomach didn’t feel much like allowing the offering Mom placed before me, but I knew she’d been right; I’d likely feel better after I ate. This time Mom had been wrong.

My stomach churned for half an hour after I’d swallowed the aspirin for the headache that’d gone from slight to moderate. I’d not worn the collar while floating on the lake, so perhaps I’d messed something up. I headed for my bed, expecting a little nap would help.

However, my body had no time to relax into sleep. I no sooner set my head on the pillow than my inner volcano started its upward flow. I rushed to the bathroom, flipping the toilet lid up at the exact moment the stomach contents released. Behind me, I heard rapid footfalls advancing.

“Oh Sweetheart. You are sick,” Mom said, rubbing my back as I hunched over the bowl.

After a couple more cycles of brief resting and mad-dashing to the bathroom, Dad brought a plastic bucket to my bedside. “Should we try to take you out to the hospital?” Dad said, wiping my forehead with a cool, wet cloth.

“I don’t know, Daddy. Do you think I got the flu or something? Or maybe it’s because I didn’t wear my collar all day yesterday? I don’t think I’d be able to make that long trip out on the winding roads now.”

“Okay, you just rest and we’ll see. I’ll close the curtains on my way out. Try to get some rest, Honey.”

“Daddy?” I said as he approached the doorway. He turned towards me. “Is Mom okay? I mean, she hasn’t come in here for awhile.”

“Yeah, she’s fine. She wants to come, but she said she just can’t. You know your Mom; I’d be emptying two buckets if she did.” Daddy chuckled, waved and closed my door behind him.

Mom did pop in from time-to-time, bringing small glasses of ice chips, and offering the family’s remedy for a tummy-ache—Ginger Ale or soda crackers. I just couldn’t eat anything. Each time she came in the room, she kissed my forehead and stroked my cheek, wordlessly saying, “I’m here, Honey.”

I had never in my life had my father tend to me during sickness; it had always been my mother at the bedside. This time, Dad jumped to answer every retch or minor stirring. Sometimes, while my stomach settled, Dad read Bible verses to me or chapters from a book.

Naturally, these spoiled vacation days hold memories of disappointment, especially since it’d been eight years since I’d been at a birthday table for my older sister. However in the midst of the sadness, the tenderness my military father had shown to me over those endless days of retching and vomiting remains a treasured memory.

I recovered from the miserable episode the afternoon prior to our departure. While all of us rejoiced that the sickness had come to an end, none of us had any idea that a critical set of dominoes had begun to fall weeks earlier with that first crisis in the shower. I hadn’t really recovered; the illness had simply taken another break.