Overprotective Anger

DSC01804I walked in to the dining hall and found my hospice friend sitting slumped over in her wheelchair. I kneeled down and gently touched her shoulder to say, “hello.” She barely looked up and then said, “You haven’t come.” She didn’t want to talk. She was mad at me. I tried to explain that my children had been sick and that I did not want to spread any germs to her. But she didn’t want to hear my explanation. Today was not a good day for her. I understood. I positioned her blanket more comfortably. I asked her if I could read her card to her. I got her a Kleenex and itched her nose for her. I tried my best to sneak past her frustration with me.

It didn’t work.

She rested her head down. She slept. She didn’t want to go back to her room. I began talking with her neighbor. Everyone at the table held a stack of stapled papers. I looked through the nine pages. Oh, it was a sermon to follow along with.

“It’s too long. They talk too fast,” one woman said. I agreed.

When you come preaching to the rehab and memory care unit, perhaps you should remember to keep it short and simple. Less than nine pages. Better yet, you may want to sit down and get to know those you come preaching to. Sometimes, we may want to be fixed and sometimes we want to be seen, heard and understood. Listening may be the best sermon you can give.

I suppose that not everybody understands what it feels like to lose all control. To be stuck in a place. To rely on others to move you, feed you, and get you to the bathroom. Not everybody understands what it feels like to be physically and emotionally isolated, angry, and confused. Unfortunately, not everybody has easy access to an imagination that will help them better understand.

I’ve been the one in the wheelchair. And the hospital bed. The shower with assistance. And in the bathroom with an audience of nurses, care assistants, and family. I’ve been connected to IV poles, pain pumps, drains, etc. I’ve been completely stuck. Trapped. Alone in a crowded place.

I’ve been the angry one. And so I’ve learned to not take it personally when patients express anger, frustration, or other emotions to me. I don’t expect an apology. Please, don’t. I sit. I wait. And I will leave if you would like to use a tiny bit of your dwindling supply of control over me. I will come back again.

As Shrek says, “Better out than in.” It’s a million times better that a person would feel comfortable telling me or showing me how they feel. Anger can be an overprotective big sister to sadness, loss, inadequacy, and so many other emotions and feelings. I will be much more hurt if you fake an emotion with me. I think it’s truly an honor to be a bumper, a cushion, a landing place or even a temporary target. I feel that its a privilege, the highest honor to help carry another’s emotional and physical burdens.

My husband asked me, “Do you ever just want to leave when she treats you that way?” No, well maybe, but I don’t. I know she loves me. We all have difficult days. I don’t take her anger personally.

I listened to a woman who needed to talk today. She was not the woman that I came to visit, but she may have needed a companion just as much or more than my friend. She talked and talked and counted her pills over and over again. She asked me questions and told me stories. I’ve talked with her and helped her before. But she doesn’t remember me. Or maybe she does.

Maybe she remembers that I will listen to her. And that I will answer her questions without frustration or annoyance in my tone or eyes. Maybe she remembers that she can tell me she is lost. Or confused. Maybe she knows I will laugh with her about lengthy sermons and the lunch menu. Maybe she knows that I will also help her.

The worlds of senior care and the worlds of pediatrics are not that different. Kindness, compassion, patience, love and your consistent presence will help you navigate both worlds. You should and you will most likely feel sadness, pain, helplessness and loss of control through the eyes and experiences of the patients and families in both worlds. But that doesn’t mean that you should not go back. It means that you must go back. When people stop caring, feeling, empathizing, and helping, this world will be far too dark. A hopeless place.

If you’re not hurting for the wounded, broken, helpless, confused, and isolated, perhaps you are numb. Or perhaps you have over-insulated yourself from the world. May we all find a way to push through the many layers of comfort to find the uncomfortable. Somebody needs you to see them, hear them, and sit with them.

Don’t be offended if you’re not the best thing they’ve ever met since sliced bread. Keep sticking around. Soon, you may proudly be introduced as a friend. Or mistaken for family. Soon, you will hear, “thank you for visiting with me. Can I come visit you, too?” You will walk out of the place with a heavy, yet full heart. You will discover a new kind of insulation that keeps you warm: an internal insulation provided by those you sat with, listened to, heard and understood. Those you loved and helped. And those who loved and helped you, too.

“We are all in the same damn leaky boat together.”-quote from one of my hospice friends

Clean Bathroom Rug

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I laid my head down on the rug of my bathroom floor. Only because I had just washed it. It had not gotten all smushed down from repeated post-shower use. Yet. It was still fluffy and clean. And that worked out well because I was exhausted. Sad. Confused. Emotional. Beyond repair. Boggled thoughts. Unable to articulate what exact thought or event had triggered my current “distant” and sensitive state.

“What’s wrong with me?” I thought.

I emotionally scanned myself. It’s always difficult to determine what may be the exact reason for a sudden onset of the blues. Parenting exhaustion. Disease fatigue. A wave of grief. The grumps. A negative outlook. A sour face to go along with a curdled disposition.

My husband knows me well. It’s as if he immediately saw my thoughts escape somewhere else, away from the rowdy dinner table. I couldn’t tell another boy to sit down and eat. So I sat there apathetically. I knew that a glass of milk would soon surely spill but I was prepared to not react. My husband asked what was wrong.

“It’s complicated,” is what I thought.

So, I said nothing. One of my boys waved his hand across my eyes because I stared out the window. Apparently, I had not blinked or changed my facial expression in long enough for him to notice.

Occasionally, I get a bit overwhelmed. Maybe we all do. By life, in general. Or every little and big thing from the laundry to a busy next week to aching kidneys. And all the changes. The big adjustments. And the little ones, too. The future. The unknowns.

I can overthink. Overfeel. I can beat myself up but that doesn’t ever help. There are so many days. Juggling life’s moments scattered with a lot of relationships can be tricky, especially if you’re not so graceful like me. Balls drop. I sometimes bend over to pick them up quickly. Quick! Nobody saw that! Other times, I can’t get to them before my little people hand them to me. Then nights like tonight, I just plop myself down on the ground. I take a break from all of the juggling because I’m tired. And sad. It feels like one of them nailed me smack dab on my face, right on that sensitive part of my nose. Ouch.

Shhh. Be very quiet.

There is a hidden great grandma introvert rocking away inside of me. There are times when my extroverted self needs a break. I need to retreat to a serene, distraction-free place. All by myself. It doesn’t matter the place. A bathroom floor or a secluded overly full closet will do. I just want to curl up like a baby or a tired long-legged child. I don’t want to answer any questions. I don’t want to be touched. I don’t want to worry about the present or the future. I need to release a swarm of tears. Alone. I don’t want anyone to worry about me because I will be okay. I really will.

I promise.

I will get up off of the clean rug. I will say goodnight to my big boys and cuddle my six and a half year old baby boy. I will wake up to a new day full of life, hope and endless possibilities. I know that the same three energetic boys who hugged me as tight as they possibly could when they said “goodnight” will wake me, tickle me, wrestle me and laugh me out of bed when the sun rises again.

Tonight, I told myself that it’s okay to be sad, grieving the past and overwhelmed at the future from time to time. Here you go self, sadness permission granted. I think I do a pretty damn good job of being genuinely happy and grateful most of the days. Some moments or days are just harder for whatever reason. However big or small.

I’m not giving up, just taking a moment to recover. I try my hardest to cherish most of the days, even the challenging ones. I typically push myself to find the good. The sparks of light or the gigantic sunset in front of my face. I try to recognize and embrace the fleeting moments.

But there are some moments that come at me like a fall off the monkey bars. They knock the breath out of me. They arrive quickly and unexpectedly. Wind escapes and it’s just so hard to breathe. I try not to panic, or overreact, so I can just get through them. Wait. Don’t try to breathe yet. Oh, dear Lord, see me, hear me and help me. All the time but especially during these hard overwhelming moments. And help others like me.

Slowly. Gently.

Breathe in, and breathe out.

There. I did it.

I step out of the bathroom and think,

“Goodnight, tonight. Welcome, tomorrow. It will be so nice to see you.”

 

“He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds.”

-Psalm 147:3

 

Favorite Doctor Thank You note

IMG_9661I walked out of a new doctor’s office today with two discrete green bags. It looked like I had just bought several new pairs of shoes. Feeling all-Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman,” I walked out to my car. Where did I park again? I drove to the bakery because I had pre-determined my post-doctor’s appointment destiny. I told myself that I could go get a pastry and a coffee after my appointment. Yes, an incentive or grown-up prize motivator for completing a dreadful task.

I love this certain bakery because there is a kind woman who works there who accidentally shares great stories with me. I thought if she’s working today then that will be an extra prize for me. I have too many -ologists. Pulmonologist, endocrinologist, gastroenterologist, urologist. But, I do have pretty spectacular health still. I can drive myself to my appointments. And by golly, I can drive myself to the bakery following my appointments if that’s my Thursday destiny.

This past year, I received two letters in the mail. Letters from two of my different -ologists that he and she would no longer be practicing medicine at a certain location. This can be somewhat disheartening, discouraging and all-together overwhelming for an un-administrative assistant like me. I stink at meeting new doctors. I hate new patient paperwork, new doctor small talk, the waiting. The medical history. Blah. Blah. Boringdy blah. Blah.

But I got to thinking, what if doctors could send a pretty or funny or sympathetic greeting card when they left? I know they’re super busy and have a lot of patients but if they could, I thought of some meat for the card.

“I’m sorry. It’s not you. It’s me…..I’m moving. I’m leaving the practice. I’m retiring.”
“You’re a really awesome patient. I will miss our medical and non-medical talks. P.S.-Sorry for all of the waiting.”
“I’ve seen a lot of patients in those weird paper gowns, but you always looked the best.”
And so on. Oh, wait. One more.
“I wish I could fill out all the new patient paperwork for you. And fax all your records the first time you call, too.”

Ack. What if my doctor left because I never wrote him or her a proper thank-you note? I thought I should do that.

Dear Favorite Dr. or Doctor,

We, experienced patients, get rather attached to our good, old worn-in and perhaps worn-out doctors. You’re the courageous messengers of difficult-to-hear information. You’re the sympathizers, the cheerleaders, the healers, and the gardeners of hope.

You’re with us in some of our darkest, most difficult moments. And you gently help us reach the light switch with that fancy tiny rolling doctor’s stool of yours.

I keep forgetting to write you a thank you note for all that you do. Is it too late? Will you stay now?

I know that you carry your patient’s worries, fears and hopes and dreams with you in that genius brain of yours. How do you remember so much life-saving information?

Your mom must be so damn proud of you. I would have liked to know you under different circumstances, when perhaps, you weren’t wearing your work cape. But I feel honored and privileged to have someone like you taking care of a complicated person like me.

Thank you for seeing me as a “me,” not a disease or a diagnosis or a case study. Thank you for all the times you handed me one of those cheap hospital grade kleenex. Or thanks for sitting next to me on the bed when you had to deliver bad news. Thank you for doing the jobs that you could have had somebody else do. Thank you for being honest in the most respectful and delicate ways. Thank you for handling me and my precious family with compassion, patience, kindness and never-ending care.

Thank you for all of the sacrifices. Please thank your family, too. I know you have spent time away from them helping all of us. Thank you for coming back in the middle of the night. Thank you for your willingness to learn, to adapt, to grow and do the things the right way, which is rarely the easy way.

Thank you for helping me. You’re famous to me.

I will miss you.

And I would fill out the new patient paperwork a million times for a doctor like you.

Love,
Amelia

I don’t always need a self-pep talk or (several)post-doctor’s appointment treats, but today I did. Did I mention that I don’t like filling out all of that new patient paperwork? When I complete it, can I consider it a memoir of sorts? Hooray, I’m a published author. You will have to check my medical records. Boring much? Bonus: There are so many signatures that you won’t even need a signed copy.

Cheap paperback only.