Friday, September 26, 2008

Friday's Musings

The last topic we raised in our idiosyncratic, one-family’s adventure through the medical system review was our experience of waiting rooms in the clinic and hospital. This is the part where how disconnected we are from the mainstream becomes more obvious: we found the omnipresence of the loud TVs intrusive and grating at a stressful time. While we were seeking quiet and a way to comprehend what was happening to us, everywhere we went there was blaring noise. In retreat from the noise, we often ended up going around corners and sitting on the floor, of course first telling the staff where they could find us so we didn’t mess up their systems. In yet another mark of staff paying attention to what was going on around them, about half of the time, someone noticed us on the floor and offered to find us chairs—and usually people who had no relationship to the area we were visiting. In the pre-op insurance and medical clearance area, for example, it was a woman sitting across the hallway in the billing cubicles who offered to go round up chairs for us. Not her job, not her area, and she still noticed us and went out of her way for us.

Our steering clear of the TVs is clearly part of our own weirdness: we rarely watch broadcast TV and don’t have cable, so we aren’t either used to it or tuned into it. On the other hand, surely we cannot be the only people around who could use some peace and quiet when doing medical stuff? Or can we be?

We didn’t set out to be TV weirdos: it was happenstance. Let’s just say that the summer Kearney was born, the effects of pregnancy caused me to be more volatile than usual. When I got to be about five months pregnant, for example, I became absolutely convinced that Michael was going to be hit by a truck riding his bicycle to work. Honesty compels me to point out that it was about eight blocks to work for him and not on roads that trucks frequented, and that he wore a helmet and that the Walker ethic involves really careful driving/riding habits, but there you are. I was fixated and afraid. I’m almost too embarrassed (but not enough to stop) to tell you that nice man gave up riding his bicycle for the duration and walked to work to humor me. In any event, there I was with a new baby at home, watching the Olympics when she and I weren’t sleeping or sitting outside enjoying the summer—she stopped crying instantly whenever we were outside and was a little jaundiced when born, so multiple agendas were met, including my lifelong love of the sun. A cable bill arrived with a price increase to $25 per month. For TV. This seemed like way too much money for TV to me, and in fairness, to both of us, so we terminated our cable service and stopped watching, except for major events like elections and State of the Union addresses. As the girls grew up and went through school, we fully expected one or both to come home pointing out that all their friends watched [show of the moment] and why couldn’t they?… and that we’d negotiate something reasonable in terms of watching guidelines and re-establish cable or whatever was current at the time.

Except that it never happened. Not once, ever, did a girl in our house raise the question of why we didn’t watch TV or ask if we/they couldn’t watch some program that everyone else was watching. Or complain about being deprived. So, we just never got back in the habit. We own televisions and we rent movies, but we just don’t watch broadcast/cable content. So, we’re pretty out of the mainstream and certainly not used to the daytime offerings. I don’t feel like a sheltered prude, though I was now and then startled by some of the topics and language right there in my face in the MRI waiting room, especially. (The staff there let me sit in hallway chairs across from the scan room instead of in the loud waiting room. They were really nice about it, saying they try to keep their door closed to shield from the noise, which I guess raises the question about who sets the volume and why must it be so loud?)

In correspondence with an east coast friend this week with whom I shared a good deal of the 9/11 early morning experience, I was reminded that Michael and I didn’t even see the twin towers come down more than once or twice that day. Kearney was on an airplane—on her way to a study-abroad gap year in Greece—when all flights were grounded. The program had called early in the morning to tell us “something is happening, don’t send her” but she’d left on a crack-of-dawn flight to Detroit and was already airborn. That was stressful. As the day unfolded, the brother of a friend here who lives in Detroit went and scooped her out of the airport (if terrorists were attacking airplanes, an airport seemed like a particularly bad place to be), and took her to his home. Michael and I got in the car and started driving to Detroit to pick her up. It was a strange day, as all we had was the radio to tell us what was going on. The coverage was chaotic and no one really knew what was going on, right until about 5 p.m. when the whole situation seemed to come together and a coherent story unfold. J’s kind brother, when he heard about our progress, put Kearney in his car and started driving to meet us—and he drove her two hours towards us to shorten our drive (note this means he then turned around and drove another two hours back to him home), as well as having left work to go get her from the airport and take her to his home for most of the day. By the time we got back to Urbana, we were all pretty tired. We turned on the TV and for the first time that day, saw the towers come down. Seeing it once or twice was a lot, in our state, and we turned it off and never saw it again.

Just to finish the story, now that I seem to have veered off on a topic completely different than the peace or not of medical waiting rooms, Kearney’s entire experience of the day was of the kindness of people: the woman from her flight who loaned her cellphone to Kearney so she could call us once they were on the ground. The woman from the line in the airport who’d gotten a hotel room and left to go camp in it, but turned around and returned to the airport to offer to share it with Kearney until her parents could arrive. The airline employees who went out of their way to make sure that she was ok until she was picked up. J’s brother and family who picked her up and took her into their home. And since the airport had every TV turned off that day and we mostly talked (or she slept) on the way home, the horror of the situation was pretty remote to her at first. She had encountered nice people wherever she went and had no concerns about getting back on a plane and trying the whole trip over five days later. (The dump search of her bag at the airport that morning was pretty traumatic, though.)

So, I’m wandering. Hard to tell if this is what I’ve become, or medications, or recovery from brain surgery. That’s the oddest part of the current phase of this adventure: I don’t really know the answer to that question a good deal of the time. The renewed steroids have knocked down the headaches and swelling pretty completely and I feel back on a recovery track. Yesterday brought both physical therapy and strength training. Here’s an interesting development: I cannot walk backwards with any steadiness or stand in place and turn clockwise without losing my balance. My strength is very uneven. We’ll work on all of that, as well as the arm and hand. I’m cultivating patience, as the answer to this is going to be what it’s going to be and, as H says, “slow is the speed of the day.” We’re back to Dr. Donny’s wisdom: “We’ll know more next week.” Sometime, I’ll explain the overwhelming significance of that tag line for a very long period of our lives. Meantime, it is one of our family’s enduring pieces of wisdom, right next to Kearney’s “Mommy, I’ll do that another later.” Another later is a great concept, by the way, if you’ve never used it. I’ll bet a lot of the vexing things on your plate today could well be handled “another later” and you could do something personally interesting, gratifying or reinforcing today. Carpe diem.

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