Ready to mend

Friday, August 19, 2011

My wife and I have spent several weeks away from home this summer, but not by choice.

We were not on a cruise, nor watching waves crash on the Oregon coast, nor wandering about Europe, nor visiting any of America's national parks. These are the things we would have been doing if we could.

Instead, we were memorizing every detail of the hospital rooms where my wife has been a patient for four of the last six weeks.

I need not explain to you that extended hospital stays these days are as rare as unicorns with gold caps on their teeth. As it turns out, one health problem precipitated another, and another, and another. It was like watching dominoes fall in slow motion.

The focus of these confinements was my wife, of course, and she could best tell you how this ordeal has left her drained.

I, on the other hand, can tell you what it's like to spend 14 to 15 hours a day at my ill wife's bedside for all of those four long weeks.

First, let me tell you about the caregivers who looked after my wife. Nurses are incredible. Both at the hospital here in Cape Girardeau and at the hospital in St. Louis, the nurses did so much more than provide medical services. They held my wife's hand and encouraged her and, so many times we lost count, hugged her. Unless you've been seriously ill, you may not know how therapeutic a hug can be.

One of the St. Louis nurses grew up in Jackson, part of the Limbaugh clan. When she found out we were from Cape Girardeau, she adopted us and made us her special project. She was there to hug us when the news was good, and she was there to hug us when the news was not so good. We will always cherish those hugs.

Helping nurses in both hospitals were more caregivers who change beds, help patients move around and cater to most nonmedical needs. Some of these techs were such special people that we wanted to adopt them. Not only did they anticipate most of our needs, they looked for ways to ease the situation we were in. That's a hard job, and they do it so well.

Besides, if we had adopted any of the techs, we would have had instant grandchildren. What a deal.

Among my challenges was figuring out how to open and close those bedside tables on wheels. I think they were invented by Satan himself, and I have the bruised and scraped knuckles to show as battle scars. By the end of four weeks, though, I was almost as good as the food services folks who brought meals three times a day.

I also learned how to operate most of the monitoring equipment in the room. Whenever a beeper would sound, someone would call from the nurse's station across the hall: "Joe, hit the yellow button." Whatever I did always seemed to work. Thank goodness.

We are home now. Recovery is slow but steady. Thank you to all who have sent cards and flowers and made cheery phone calls.

The next time we're away from home, we'd like to be able to send you postcards from wherever. Anywhere but a hospital room.

Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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