Thursday, August 27, 2009

No One Ever Expects a Trip to the Hospital (Babble)

After almost a week visiting friends and family in Ohio the kids and I met up with their dad in Michigan at my parents’ house.  The original plan was to enjoy a few days in the Detroit area with my mom and dad before I flew with a friend to Alaska (more on that in the next post).  The plan turned into my dad needing emergency surgery to have most of his large intestine removed and lots of time at the hospital for me, my mom, and one of my brothers.

My kids never even got to see their grandpa, but they did make him some nice ‘get well’ paintings.

My poor dad.  He’s one of those people who would rather not deal with health related issues, so he puts off recommended testing until things sometimes reach crisis proportions.   There are few things worse than watching someone you love in pain.  That helpless feeling can be crazy making after awhile, for both the patient and the family.   Fortunately he was only in the hospital about a week and his prognosis is very good.  He won’t need any kind of follow up treatments like chemo, and he’s already up and around and eating normally again.  We’re all so relieved it’s hard to express.

I heard a quote once, years ago, on an NPR program, and I don’t think even at the time I caught the name of the writer being interviewed so I can’t even hope to recall it now, but the quote stays with me.  The novelist was asked what he thought the point of human suffering was, and he replied that pain causes us to need one another.  I don’t know if I believe there is a design to suffering, but something about pain bringing us together rings true.

I have two brothers, and one of them I don’t hear from much lately, and that’s fine because that usually means he’s happy.  He does touch base from time to time, but for the most part he only seeks me out for long conversations if something’s wrong.  My other brother had to change his plans for accompanying his wife and daughter to India in order to help my mom with dad at the hospital.  If my dad had not been out of the ICU and looking significantly more like himself by the time I was supposed to leave, I would have cancelled my trip and stayed in Detroit.  We seldom feel compelled to drop everything for the people we love when everything is fine, although maybe occasionally we should.

One of the lovely things about my family is that we appreciate each other’s company to the point where even when we are gathered for unhappy reasons there is still pleasure in just being together.  I hadn’t expected to see my brother, Arno, again until Christmas, so even though most of the time I spent with him in Michigan was at my father’s bedside in the ICU, I loved seeing him.  We read to my dad when he was feeling too tired to converse, but most of the time we tried to make him smile (and in turn made each other laugh).  My dad had a huge inciscion straight up his middle which hurt, and he kept telling us not to make him laugh so much, so we had to make an effort not to have too good a time.  At one point when my dad was sleeping, Arno produced a ridiculous deck of cards for doing magic tricks and his attempts to mystify us had me and my mom in tears we were laughing so hard.  I’d like to think in my dad’s subconscious hearing his family around him being happy was more helpful than to be surrounded by anxious, nervous whispers, but for all I know he wished we would be quiet so he could sleep better.

Thanks to our unexpected visit with my brother I got to hear one of the sweetest conversations with Quinn.  Arno has an interesting way of talking with kids, asking many questions and getting them to reveal not just some of what they think, but how they think.  He sat with Quinn one evening after dinner and asked him many things, but my favorite part was when he wanted to know what Quinn liked to do at home.  “Ring the doorbell,” was the answer Arno got, no matter how many he ways he presented the question to perhaps broaden the answer.  “I like to ring the doorbell at home,” Quinn kept saying, and eventually he even hummed the tones of the Westminster Chime setting of our wireless doorbell for his uncle, who just smiled and agreed it sounded like a fine hobby indeed.

In some ways I also got a little more time alone with my mom, which was nice.  Ian found play dates and activities for the kids and told me to go to the hospital without guilt.  He had the kids and I could concentrate on my dad.  Since I didn’t have small people asking me for water or needing help in the bathroom or climbing in my lap I was able to finish whole sentences with my mom.  I had lunches with her at the hospital and walks with her in the evenings when we came home.  It was a difficult time, to be sure, and hospitals are not easy places, but silver linings were not hard to find.

I need to make a quick mention of how great everyone at Beaumont Hospital was.  There was not one doctor, nurse, receptionist, etc., who was not kind and helpful.  My dad was scared, my mom was exhausted, my brother was respectful but persistent in his questioning, and we were all treated in a way that was friendly and professional.  It’s easy to complain when people fail us, but we aren’t quick enough to compliment others when they rise to an occasion, and our experience at the hospital renewed my faith in people being able to perform well as part of their daily business.  I don’t know how my parents are going to handle the medical bills when they start coming in, but the level of care my dad received was excellent, and for that we are grateful.

Tonight when I talked to my dad on the phone he sounded great.  He listened to Aden play her new violin piece for him, he told me about reorganizing some of the bookcases in the house, and everything felt normal.  That’s important, because I need my dad.  I didn’t need a hospital scare to remind me of that, but I am starting to scout out dates on my calendar when maybe we could drop everything and go visit for no reason other than everything is fine.

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