Once In A Lifewhile

Yes, I know I look tired in the picture. But I did sleep last night and woke up grateful again.

I sat with a borrowed cat this morning, its purr against me, slitted eyes sleepily pondering me, and my fingers languorously scruffing its neck. An empty coffee cup was in front of me, its contents too hastily enjoyed. It’s going to take a while for me to fail to appreciate making a cup when I want one, perhaps even a lifewhile, a word that appeared in my head as I stood outside feeling the chill of the morning.

I’d taken out the trash and threw it on top of the unimaginably overfull dumpster. I couldn’t convince myself that it had only been a week since I used my extermination kit to spray the dumpster; it’s a duty I took on to control the ridiculous fly problem. It seemed like a metaphor was at play. I wandered around the outlet of the apartment simplex, observing the distant roll of clouds against the early morning horizon.

My surgeon and hospital team forgot to include work notes or restriction information in my packet; I suppose my five follow-up reminders weren’t a sufficient hint. By sheer accident, my supervisor Joe was standing in the room when I noticed the oversight. He’s accustomed to the complexities and holes in medical care. “I guess I’ll be back at work Monday,” I said. We laughed. I wish I were returning to work tomorrow.

I’m supposed to maintain a routine and stay active. While in the hospital, though I might not have said so before, I did the breathing exercises 100 times a day and walked a thousand loops in the hallway without assistance. The worst thing physically I had to do was to shower myself without help. Not only because I had a massive hole in my abdomen, but because they’d left the IV in the inside of my left elbow, making safe flexibility on that side of my body impossible. I can’t stress enough how HARD that was, but I knew I would go without a shower for a week if I didn’t.

For all of y’all who are concerned, I am “taking it easy.” But I am not laying down or sitting needlessly. I’m working on a plan to reset my diet. Even before The Stay (as I refer to it now), I was formulating an effective way to gain weight. It made me nervous about getting on the scale once I was back at the apartment. My weight had dropped to 142 by Friday afternoon. For those with inside knowledge of my stay, they’ll tell you that I fought tooth and nail to get substantive nutrition and a plan of action; the bureaucracy of care cost me two days of what amounts to starvation without dehydration. Unbeknownst to me, someone who shares a weight loss journey with me was just about to reach out and lovingly tell me to pull up a bit before I had posted my intention to gain some weight back. It’s amazingly easy to take advice from someone who has walked the path themselves – without feeling attacked or defensive.

Even the hydration cost me constant vigilance, though. I still hear the alarms and claxons of the empty bags when I sit in silence. One of the secrets of a hospital stay is that staff will ignore alarms with steadfast consistency. If the person coming in to silence your alarms isn’t assigned to you, they will turn it off without much concern about whether it’ll be refilled or restarted. This includes scenarios whether you’re getting normal saline, anti-seizure medication, antibiotics, or any other drug. Call lights are hallway illumination until someone is ready to acknowledge them. You can’t take it personally. You have to learn to play the game of attention and leverage. It’s unfortunate, but one that no one in the system will possibly deny. This is another reason you need to have someone with you if you’re in the hospital. I have suggestions on how to make a game out of it, too, if you’re interested. This will keep the men occupied, assuming you can get them up and into the hospital room with you.

While in the hospital, I got a teddy bear, a t-shirt, a bag of suckers, flowers, activity books, a few visitors, 357 calls, messages, and well-wishes, all of which I appreciated immensely for one reason or another. AND one request to have something done with my face while I was already in the hospital.

PS A lifewhile is an indefinite length of time characterized by the unease of knowing something significant has shifted yet beyond our perception. In this case, my attacker was unseen in its approach. As I speed away from Tuesday at 1 a.m. when my surgery started, I’m accumulating lessons. The biggest ones are trite and already well-known: people are essential, and life is limited. A lesser-known one is that life is always casting its net out in the world, regardless of who you are or what you’ve accomplished. Your checklist can be full or empty when it snares you.

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I took the above picture to capture that strange shoulder bone protuberance. I could feel that another layer off my body had melted during my hospitalization.

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