Hospitals are strange places. They are environments entirely about providing care to vulnerable people, with little in those environments that succeed in making those people feel comfortable. Health care workers are people just like anyone else, so most of them are attentive and kind and a few are brusk and dismissive. But it seems to me the whole experience of being stuck in a hospital room could be improved if we could just get some clever design people on the problem.
Spending days in the hospital in Detroit
with my dad has been both sweet and disheartening. I’ve had time to
observe what things here work well and what things could be better.
It’s amazing how far a gentle word from a nurse can go, and frustrating
to see how much can (and does) go wrong when people don’t communicate.
My dad right now has me and my brother and my mom, as well as friends
who happen to be doctors popping in from time to time to check on
everything, and all of us advocate for him, double check what we’re
told, and are working to keep my dad’s spirits up. I can’t imagine what
the hospital experience is like for people who must endure it alone.
In terms of my dad’s condition, everything seems to be one step
forward and another step back. Recovering from surgery is more
difficult since he also has a broken arm. Certain elements are in
conflict. One minute we’re being told he needs to start walking, and
the next they discover something which requires he keep still. Nothing
is simple. All of it is painful and confusing.
But I am here. I am my dad’s daughter, and
although I’m not a doctor I can prop his hand on a pillow when it gets
too swollen and scratch his back when he sits up and write emails as he
dictates messages to people. It was more upsetting dealing with the
fact of my dad being in the hospital from afar because helplessness is
stressful. If I can make my dad smile I don’t feel as helpless, and
it’s easier to make him smile from his bedside. I’ve been playing my
viola which my dad has enjoyed. (The staff asked if we could please
leave the door open so they can hear it in the hall, which is
flattering, so I had a larger audience than I had anticipated, but the
only listener who truly matters right now is my dad.)
It’s interesting being once again firmly a member of my original family.
Ian is home with the kids managing our life in Milwaukee where I am the
mom, and I am back where I grew up being a daughter and a sister. It’s
a strange shift, but not an unwelcome one. My brother and I are trying
to tend to my mom as much as dad. We’re making sure she gets time to
sleep in and finish some work while we’re at the hospital, and in the
evenings together before we go to bed we laugh. It’s good to hear my
I miss my kids, though. I know they are fine, and I’m sure they miss
me once in awhile, too, but as much as I like the break from being
responsible for their needs for a little bit, I miss the snuggles and
the hugs and the little voices and the unexpected cute moments. The
only other time I’ve been away from them this long was when I took a trip to Alaska
a year and a half ago. I hadn’t realized how much I’ve liked Mona’s
recent habit of seeking me out for a quick snuggle before she goes to
sleep until it was missing. She finds me wherever I am in the house
after she’s brushed her teeth and put on her pajamas and says, “I
thought you’d like some company.” And we hug and cuddle before I tell
her she needs to climb in bed. I miss Aden showing me how far she’s
gotten in the book she’s reading. I miss Quinn looking at me like he
can’t believe his good fortune that I’m there. But I’m not there. And I
won’t be for several days yet.
But this is part of being in a family. Love comes with
responsibilities. My children are safe and warm and fine at home with
their dad and they can survive without me for awhile. My dad and my mom
and my brothers need me now. I want my children to know they can trust
me when I say I will do everything I can to be there for them, and this
is part of the proof. I’ve made that same promise to the family I grew
up with, and my children can see me following through. Love needs to
be stronger than our individual comforts and desires. It means doing
the right thing even if it takes me away from my kids from on occasion.
Here in the hospital, I’m enjoying time with people I seldom get to
spend so many hours with. I like filling in the spaces on a crossword
puzzle for my dad since he can’t use his own hand, and helping my
brother find the right word for an email he’s working on, and getting to
sit quietly and have lunch with just my mom. Despite the scary
circumstances and the assault on my father’s dignity, time in the
hospital is not gloomy. We’re taking each challenge as it comes and
finding humor and beauty where we can.
I apologize if this post is more disjointed than most. Time in the
hospital is strange. It’s like waiting in line. There is a lot of
time, but just enough constant interruption that you can’t get anything
done. Most of these sentences were written many hours apart. We sit.
We entertain dad until he needs to rest. We stop everything for
pulmonary specialists and surgeons and people checking blood sugar and
blood pressure and fluids and oxygen…. Sometimes we go with dad as they
wheel him in his bed downstairs for more tests and we wait there for a
long time. Lots of time and no time at all. Being in the hospital is
the temporal equivalent of “Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to
And now I’m just homesick and I miss my kids, so here is a mess of
photos I just downloaded onto my computer and want to post purely for my
own amusement. In the spirit of this weirdly cobbled together post,
Mona’s favorite Christmas gift this year was a potholder kit. We now have many potholders.