Sunday, 28 December 2008

and there we have it . . .

It is post Christmas and while everyone's holiday beliefs, practices and cultural foundation is different, there does seem to be a common theme of being ever hopeful of magical times during this season.

WARNING: Don't read any further if you are expecting an uplifting holiday message.

It is a well known fact that this time of the year can be extremely difficult for some people-- people that feel isolated, that have had more than their share of loss, people going through difficult times or depression . . .

This Christmas I felt like a I was living the movie "It's a Wonderful Life." Not that part about it being a wonderful life, but the part where you are shown how easily life around you can be totally different--in a very negative way-- or that your life can change for the worse in a matter of a minute.

Part of the responsibility for my glimpse into this netherworld has to do with the fact that I do work in a helping capacity in the medical field, so I hear stories. Lots of stories. But they are not fiction. They are real life.

I saw one of the sweetest people I've met recently the week before Christmas. "Did you see it in the paper? He died last week." The tears streamed down her face as she smiled and said, "I'll be all right." I knew her husband had been ill, but I didn't realize he was that ill. We talked about her grief AND relief for the end of his suffering. I knew she would be all right. But the empathy, which is what drives people like me into a field of work I do sometimes hits very hard. As I imagined the loss of her life partner and the holiday gathering where they would further experience his absence, I felt her pain.

The same day, I ran into another of the sweetest people ever. "It's been a bit of a stressful time. We just found out yesterday that my husband has prostate cancer; we find out how bad it is tomorrow." She stated that when the nurse called to tell them the bad news she said, "I keep telling the doctor to stop ordering these tests around the holidays. I can't bear giving families bad news at this time of the year." Her response: "We are hoping that we can view it as a gift-- that it was found early." This woman is in her 50's and her husband is the youngest 70 year old you would ever see. I enjoyed listening to their biking stories; they are avid bikers and exercisers. Her eyes glistened as she talked about how they were being so conscious of living a healthy lifestyle so they could increase the years they would be together-- discussions my husband and I have about our life . . . Once again the empathy tugged.

One of my husband's dear nurse's husband had a sudden onset of some rare neurological symptoms that put him in ICU-- unresponsive and on a ventilator exactly 2 weeks before Christmas day. She has been living in the ICU because he seems more calm when she is there. He had just recently retired and they had just moved into their home that they built for this phase of their lives-- a place where they could be in the country enjoying the land and their well deserved less hectic lives together. These plans have been altered. The doctors are not sure about his recovery at all. It was proving difficult to wean him off the vent and his responses were limited. Her future, as she envisioned it, is forever changed.

This Monday morning I ran into my husband in the parking garage at the hospital as we were both coming in to work; he had an earlier meeting at another location and had been paged. A patient that was very special to him-- he regularly brought us pheasant that he hunted-- had just been found dead in his driveway. "This is tragic," he said. That's horrible I told him. And then I shared my horrible news of the day. As I was walking out the door my brother had called. A classmate from grade and high school had just committed suicide. He was having some legal difficulty, was separated from his second wife-- the mother of their twins and had four children from a previous marriage. My 86 year old mother is very close to his mother and was devastated trying to comfort her friend through what she has always said would be the most awful thing: to lose a child before you die. The small town's Christmas surely felt different to everyone this year. What will Christmas mean to his children for the rest of their lives???

That same Monday I picked our four year old up from school and his cheeks were beet red. It was a long work day so it was almost 6:00 when I got him. He was burning up so I took him directly to Prompt Care where we spent the next 90 minutes. Thankfully we took him then and got him started on some antibiotics because his condition deteriorated rather quickly. I slept with him for the next two nights. Or shall I say he slept with me. In his delirious sleep he nightmared, kicked and thrashed. He half slept. I watched him.

The next day, this past Tuesday, I found out that a sweet, sweet man that was in the play The Laramie Project with us was found dead in his apartment after not showing to work. He was 54. He didn't have much family and from the looks of his obituary in the paper there may not be a service. Man, I wish I would have seen him at some point just to say hi. Now he's gone.

We finally got to Christmas eve with a house full of nine kids. The two sleep deprived parents became crabby and fussy and didn't communicate very respectfully with each other over some misunderstandings. We were creating our own version of the nightmare before Christmas. Getting up at 2:30 a.m. to distribute gifts added one more sleep deprived night to the bank and we were up to the beckoning of children, painted on the delirious smile and got through Christmas day.

Finally, I thought-- the youngest slept in his bed and did okay last night and seems to be out of the woods. Finally I will get that much needed night's rest.

At 2:30 a.m. there was a knock on the door. My fourteen year old informs me that he couldn't make it from his loft bed to the bathroom and has puked all over his bedroom floor. Being the gagging at the sight of puke-incompetent parent that I am and wishing hope upon hope that he wasn't REALLY sick and it was a one time event I gave him the paper towels, garbage bags and spray disinfectant and explained to him what to do. I don't think he saw my fingers crossed behind my back.

He was back soon informing me that cleaning up the puke had made him puke more. A concept I totally related to as I gagged my way through cleaning up the mess. That cleaning process was so massive I had to do it in stages: initial cleaning, baking soda sitting on it for hours, vacuum up, another soap and water clean, disinfecting . . . (hey, I know this is way too much information-- you should have been living it!) He has JUST risen from his almost 36 hour sleep with minimal doses of ice chips and ginger ale. The kid was SICK.

And here I am on December 27th. I think our kids actually had a pretty good time for Christmas. And besides the couple of glimpses of tears running down my face, I think I was pretty good at hiding just how much all of this misery and sadness around us-- as well as our own sleep deprivation-- had affected me.

The bad news: there were even more sad stories but continuing this post in that vein was just getting morose. The good news: last night was the first night in I-don't-know-how-long I got a normal night's sleep.

So my message? While many of you reading this may have experienced all kinds of magic going on around you-- millions of others were experiencing the most tragic pain of their lives, accented by the fact that it was the holiday season-- a time for cheer and memories and wonder.

Let's light a candle for the troubled and the dying and the dead.

Let's live a life that realizes it could all change drastically in one moment.

Let's get a good nights' sleep every night we can . . . (I know, the profundity astounds . . .)

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