Home away from home

Lynn Horton is a freelance writer and editor who in another lifetime taught English and Creative Writing at McIntosh High School and later worked in the Starr’s Mill High School Media Center.

August 26, 2019: 11:16 P.M. There is nothing more likely to darken, even break one’s spirit than a hospital room in any large metropolitan institution, and where someone you have loved for over 50 years lies restless and agitated; in a room whose contours and decor are so familiar because you have been here before, with your own heart attack, with his heart attack, and with your mother and the heart attack she too survived. Now, it is here in these same green walls with the same creme and brown tiles, the same bright lights and loud waxers in the hall at 10 p.m; it is in these same halls where the rattle of carts and of an old man’s chest across the hall can be heard and where Bill lies after his second surgery in 10 weeks.

This surgery was to insert a drain from his brain down the inside wall of his chest and into his stomach. The spinal fluid that was building up and causing serious issues with memory and motor skills will now collect harmlessly in his stomach. Now he is here where arctic temperature reigns, so cold it will surely kill the baby germs in the corners of the room where the mops did not quite reach, but this icy chill has no power against the disease your husband must fight. No. It is here in this stark, institutional green room, with the irritating noise of the inflatable mattress, with the hiss of the vent continually blowing cold air on my neck, and the click, click, click measuring the drip, drip, drip of fluid above your loved one who struggles against the evil cells, cells which want to grow and spread, whose goal is quite simply to savage this dear, sweet man’s brain; it is here that we will live together for days, and days.

August 27, 2019: 12:07 A.M. Routine rules in these halls. No matter that his body has finally responded to the sedative that has dripped into the needle installed in the top of his hand and that has calmed him for the first time in hours. No matter. It is time to ask the three big questions. Mr. Horton? Do you know where you are? What is today’s date? Who is the President of the United States?

August 27, 2019: 12:25 A.M. Hello, yes? Did you press the call button? Mr. Horton? (Loud Buzzing!!) No. No. You mustn’t get out of bed on your own. Someone is coming. Don’t move!

August 28, 2019: 5:32 A.M. Knock, knock. We need to check your vitals. O.K? Oh, were you sleeping? Only take a minute.

August 28, 2019 : 7:15 A.M. Breakfast for Mr.Horton! Oh. He is asleep? No matter. He is awake now. Again.

August 29, 2019: 10:40 P.M. You were taking a little nap? Sorry, just wanted to check to see if you were still having any pain from that nasty ole incision. Hmmm. They stapled it closed? So. How would you rate your pain. On a scale of one to 10, 10 being the worst pain you can imagine. Six?

August 30, 2019: 9:30 A.M. “Nurses. Tashanda and Ylanthe. Patient Care Technician. Fatmata. Doctor on call. Okoro. Charge Nurse. Diane.” Bill reads the United Nations of caregivers list off to me from the board on the wall at the foot of his new, silent mattress. We were able finally to exchange the air mattress with the constant roar of an airplane engine for a standard hospital bed. Bill’s sleep patterns have now changed dramatically as I had predicted. What a relief not to have to bend over the bed and put my ear almost to his mouth in order to hear Bill’s much-improved speech.

August 30, 2019: 1:20 P.M. Dr. Erin Dunbar, the Neuro Oncologist assigned to Bill’s excellent team, (he is secretly in love with this lovely, sincere and kind woman), stops in to say hello and check on his progress. He, unfortunately, will miss her visit as he is in the bowels of the hospital having a new radiation mask created for the series of 10 daily treatments he will begin on Monday.

August 31, September 1, 2, 3, 4, 5: Visits from friends break up the monotony of the days which run together with a sameness that is mind numbing. I sleep and shower in a room we were fortunate to rent in the guest hotel attached to the hospital. I do laundry there. Make friends with Andretti, the woman who cares for our room. I have difficulty knowing what day it is, or what we did, or who we saw, or what we had for breakfast! And Bill relies on me to help him keep up with our strange calendar. Our family now includes Charge Nurse Annabel, a 30-year veteran, Male Nurse Byke, Dr. Okuro, Fatmata, Rosalie, and Virginia whose smile lights up the night… all who have become familiar characters in this drama being played out in one small, green, friendly, cozy, little hospital room. There are pictures of our daughters and our grandchildren taped to the closet door. Bright, cheerful Get Well cards line the window sill. Our spirits are renewed.

Author’s Note: Excellent news Thursday. Bill was discharged to finish his radiation treatments at Fayette Piedmont. These began Friday and will continue through to Monday, September 16. Blessings continue from friends and family. It is good to be Home.

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