In the beginning there was grad school. That ended in 2010. Now what do I blog about?


April 04, 2008

A brief interaction with life

As usual, I left my computer and headed down to the cafeteria with a book to take a lunch hour away from the online world. The cafeteria isn't the most ideal location to read, but if I hit it right, I can get a 2-top in the back corner and at least be able to put my feet up and relax.

Chicken soup was on the menu so I poured myself a bowl and found a few packets of Saltines in which there were more full crackers than crumbs, and chose a milk from the fridge instead of a diet-whatever.

I am reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert and am in the middle, when she finally finds a way to meditate successfully. I am happy she found some peace and success. She has decided to stay at the Ashram for longer than planned, just to further enjoy the new sensation of peace found in successful meditation. AT this part int he story, I leave me table and head back to my office, ready to tackle the remaining 3.5 hours of the workday.

There are 2 sets of elevator banks int he middle of the hospital - the patient elevators and the visitor elevators. There is no such thing as a faculty & staff elevator, so you have a choice of riding up with someone dying on a gurney or the crying weeping family members who are in to visit the man dying on the gurney. Generally I opt for the patient elevator bank and wait until one comes without any passengers - alive or dead - and hope it doesn't stop anywhere between level 1 and the 6th floor.

Today outside the elevator bank there were two gurneys waiting for rides up to the wards, so I walked past and peered around the corner of the visitor elevator bank. There was, as I expected, a large group of people waiting for one of four lifts to arrive. I hang back a little from the crowd, knowing I will wait until they all get on and then push the UP button and take an empty one myself, unless someone else comes along...

So an elevator arrives and everyone squeezes onto it, Styrofoam Dunkin Donuts cups in hand, and I see a woman whip out her cell phone, ready to see if in fact, someone can hear her now.

I see a large woman in a wheelchair a few feet away from this elevator as the doors begin to close. There is a dark haired, 30-something obviously mentally impaired woman behind her, looking around casually. The woman int he chair says, 'Rose? Come on Rose, we have to make the elevator.' I see the elevator doors close. The woman doesn't look helpless or upset, she just looks longingly at the UP button closest to her but is still our of reach. So I walk over and push the button for her. She smiles pleasantly and says,'Another one is coming, Rose. This time we have to be ready.' I wonder how many elevators Rose has missed.

So another small group gathers and several of them hurried people push the already lit UP button and wait anxiously. An elevator opens and everyone gets on. I stick my arm inside and reach around to the HOLD button and call out to Rose, 'Come on Rose! Let's go!' as if I am calling my Dad's dog. Rose smiles at me with her crooked eyes and wraps her chubby hands around the handles of her mother's wheelchair. They barely fit int he crowded lift, but they do and the door closes. 'What floor?' I ask.

Rose's mother tells me 2ICU Lakeside. Damn. I am not familiar with that one. But before I can think differently, the chime pings to announce our arrival on the 2nd floor and so I find myself helping Rose and her mom off the lift and out into the hall. Another young women had to help as well, since Rose couldn't push the wheelchair backwards and I was holding the OPEN button. This women jumped right back into the elevator and was whisked away as the doors closed behind her.

I looked at Rose's mother and asked where she was heading. 2ICU - Lakeside she repeated pleasantly. 'Come on, Rose,' I said. 'I've never been there, but I am sure we can find it.'

'We're visiting my husband,' Rose's mom says.

'My dad!,' Rose says happily.

'He fell and broke his lg in 3 places,' Rose's mom says.

'I am sorry to hear that,' I say to the mom and then again to Rose, looking each one sincerely int he eye and nodding my sympathy.

After roaming the halls for a short time, I flag down a little woman in scrubs and ask for help. We are in the Radiology Department and I know we're not in the right area. I give her the run down of how I met Rose and her mother and that I wanted to help them get where they needed to go. She understood and waved us along. We followed and entered the Radiology area. Rose either heard or saw the word MAMMOGRAM and started reacting in a frightened manner. Her mother tried to soothe her with words, 'Its OK Rose.'

'I don't want Rose to have a mam-o-gram,' Rose whined.

'No mammogram today, Rose,' I said. 'We're just going to see your dad.'

'Going to see my dad!,' she echoed and then bumped the wheelchair into the leg, unintentionally, and I smiled.

The little nurse takes us through the back way to the new Lakeside addition built onto the hospital last year. The walls in the hall are still drywall - not even taped and plastered yet, confirming the nurses' claim that visitors are supposed to go through the new Lakeside entrance and not up through the old hospital. I thank her repeatedly in between encouragements to Rose as we make our way through the bright new hallway, past doorways covered with plastic sheeting.

We emerge into a brand new chrome and teak wood foyer and the nurse leaves after a few more thank-you's from me. I look at Rose's mom and she says this looks familiar. We enter a waiting room through a pair of heavy glass doors which I hold open for Rose and her mother. I think to myself, Rose would never have been able to manage this without help.

I felt suddenly overwhelmed with pity and sympathy for this woman and her daughter. I imagined 35 or more years this woman raised this mentally handicapped daughter - wiping her, cleaning her, feeding her, and now has to rely on her to do the same for her. I cannot imaging how difficult it must have been the last day or two days or however long the husband, Rose's dad, had been hospitalized...and in the ICU! which sounds like the situation is much worse than a couple of broken bones.

We enter the waiting area and there is a hospital volunteer in a red polo shirt who nods at us. Rose's mother asks about the ICU and he points toward the back area. 'Come on Rose,' Rose's mother says and Rose begins pushing the wheelchair in the direction the mother indicated.

'She is here to see her husband,' I said, emotion bubbling up inside me. 'And I think her daughter is mentally challenged. They might need some help. Can you help them?' I can hear a note of begging in my voice as I say this, imploring that this is a serious matter. The volunteer smiles and says he'll be free from the desk in a few minutes and will check on them. He nods affirmatively and I have the feeling he's handles these types, and worse, situations in the past. I am more than willing to pass on my self-imposed responsibility at this point, as I feel a choking feeling in my throat.

I step away but don't leave. I look toward the back of the room and see Rose carefully navigating her mother's wheelchair around other visitors. I see another set of glass doors and I feel compelled to go down there to continue assisting. But I can't. I don't. I don't want to. I want to want to, but I can't. It hurts too much.

I begin walking back to the main hospital, back to my office, back to work. I am emotional. I have that ache in my chest that comes withs sympathy and sadness. I feel like I could cry, if I stumbled upon someone else crying, just to cry out the sympathy I felt for Rose's mom and for Rose. Oh, my heart aches for these strangers and my mind reels from the intensity of the challenging questions which arise in my mind after this brief interaction with life, death and family. Its all too much, this life.

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