The Other Side

February 5, 2014 at 6:28 pm (Uncategorized)

My last post was about the challenges my health has presented over the past few months. That’s one side of my life. My next few entries will explore the other side.

It’s true that I’ve spent more days than I’d like in the hospital. But it’s also true that I was not often alone in the hospital. When I was an inpatient for 36 days this fall, my parents came out to help immediately and without question. Jay and my Mom alternated nights—one would sleep on the uncomfortable couch next to my hospital bed and get awakened with all the hospital business that just has to happen at four in the morning, including for some mysterious reason a nightly weigh-in—and the other at home with Andrew. This provided my son with stability and a schedule, two things nearly 10 year old boys need.

My sister Chrisie dropped her life in Kentucky and came out for several days. She too slept on the horrible couch, and alternated with Jay nights at home with Andrew. She was ferociously protective, as only a big sister can be. She ran interference with one lackadaisical nurse who seemed to try and take extra time to bring me medication when I desperately needed it. Chrisie brought me morning Starbucks espresso and selzer water. I would awake to her quiet, guarding presence waiting in the chair across the room—and the smell of real coffee.

During other hospitalizations, when Jay couldn’t be with me overnight, friends stepped in and helped, sleeping on that same slab of a couch. Molly, Martha, and Barb spent long nights with me—Molly when I was delusional with pain, Martha when I was uncontrollably vomiting, and Barb the night after a chemo treatment that I reacted very badly to with breathing difficulties and more delusions. Jan would spend hours watching me sleep, simply so that I was not alone. Other friends made meals for Jay and Andrew.

There is no lonelier place than a hospital. I am lucky enough to be under the care of one of the best doctors I’ve ever known and his team of truly skilled and compassionate nurses (even the laggardly nurse was kind and helpful). Still, it’s a hospital. You surrender your privacy. Your bowels are asked over, your urine is measured, your weight is recorded on a white board every morning at 4 AM for all the world to see later in the day. I was always hooked up to an IV connected to the port in my chest. Blood gets sucked out of that port every night around 2 AM. At least 12 times a day, someone asks you to rate your pain on a scale of one to ten. The bed is narrow. Machines whir and hiss through the night, which is long and not very dark because fluorescent light seeps in from the hallway.

I often was in pain, not able to see, with my head swirling with vertigo. At times I was afraid I would die. I could feel the disease surging within me, clashing with the chemo that was trying to control it, wrangling with the heavy fog of the pain medicine, aiming to run wild again in my brain. When I had a bad reaction to one of the medications I began hallucinating that I was in Toronto and the nurses were trying to kill me. It sounds funny now, but at the time I was terrified and really thought I was fighting for my life.

But here’s the thing. My family and friends were like a balm to the loneliness and the fear. They literally would not leave me alone. Jay got permission to work from the hospital for weeks at a time. We didn’t talk much, but I could hear him clicking on his computer, turning pages of the electronic documents he’d been sent. The sounds of living broke through the mechanical whirr and hiss of the machines. Often I was in too much pain, or I was too out of it to talk to the people who did battle with my loneliness for me. But it didn’t matter. I felt them next to me. Jay, my mother, my father, my sister, my son, Molly, Martha, Jan, and Barb watched over me while I slept. They brought me cool cloths for my aching head. They held my hand. They worried over me and for me. They brought me back from that place of hopelessness and loneliness and sickness and carried me home.

8 Comments

  1. Amy said,

    I remember the quiet comfort of just knowing you are not alone in the hospital. So glad you are so loved and cared for.

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      Thanks Amy. I know you “get” it.

  2. Barb Barnes said,

    What a privilege, to be with you while you were your most helpless. To be able to act as your power, on your behalf, surrendered to the awfulness of the situation WITH you and yet able to just sit or lie there and hold the space. I remember doing this with large meditation groups. Holding the space, becoming invisible, indivisible with from the whole of One. You are the One, I am the One, the nurses, docs and other patients are the One. Especially at night or during those long daytime hours of sleeping/visiting/napping/peeing/napping/wondering aloud and receiving caring. What a gift you are Rebecca. Now that I join in having a chronic-like condition of my very own, I continue to be amused by the Rumi quote about Being in the Space with You, “One drunk, looks after another.” I love you.

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      You are amazing Barb, as a friend, a writer, and someone who grasps the underlying truths in life. I am privileged to have you as a friend. I love you too. –The Other Drunk

  3. Randy Bekkedahl said,

    beautiful, just beautiful. I’m so glad you have such wonderful support. And that nobody has to sleep on the “slab” of a bed right now (such a good description). It’s not fair you have to suffer so, but I hope you can take comfort in knowing you are loved by so many.

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      I do, Randy. Thanks for reading and commenting. I know you live this reality too, so it always means a lot to me to hear from you.

  4. Leanne Shirtliffe (Ironic Mom) said,

    So well said, Rebecca. I am so glad you have friends and family willing to get comfortable on the “slab.” I too know that I do, and that makes me weep.

    Sending you healing, not-too-squishy-but-squishy-enough hugs.

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      Thanks, Leanne. Yes, I am lucky to have the folks willing to brave an overnight in hospital. It’s great to hear from you! Hoping all is well with you and yours.

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