Sunday, November 12, 2006

Time and Change

Another day just came to an end. It was a good day. Most are lately. Yesterday I visited a friend who is currently residing in the same hospital that I called home for several weeks six years ago. Although my experience there was miraculous, insightful, enlightening, transforming and a host of other equally profound adjectives, there were no good days. Not a single one, not even the day I left. It took some time and a lot of pain before the days got to be even close to good, but here I am today nonetheless better – a lot better than I’ve ever been.

In many respects, my friend is in the same boat I was in. The specific nature of the medical condition that led to her hospitalization is different; so too is the magnitude of her condition. However, the fear, the uncertainty and the helplessness are no different. I’ve been there. It was hard for me to walk back into that institution. It always is. I never particularly took to hospitals in the first place and my extended stay in one sure didn’t change that. Much had changed in just the 18 months or so since I had last been there, visiting a different friend.

I have always made it a point to visit the ER/ICU when I’m in the area. Although my memory is fuzzy, there are a few nurses there that I remember and they remember me. They see a lot of patients come and go and many that go… well they go permanently. It’s the nature of a trauma center; you don’t end up there if you’re not in pretty bad shape. I was expected to be one of those that left in a permanent fashion. That I didn’t, and have since been back, willingly and under my own power, is (or was 18 months ago) still a source of amazement to my caregivers.

Like many hospitals, Washoe Medical Center, in Reno, is expanding. Indeed it seems it always is. There has been construction going on every time I’ve been there, whether my stay was a few hours or a few weeks. The floor my friend is on is the same floor I was on after they moved me out of ICU. It’s also where my other friend was 18 months ago. It used to be called the “step-down” unit and it was on the third floor. Now that ward – with my old room - is the oncology unit. I’m not quite sure why my friend is in that unit, she hasn’t got cancer – my other friend did, and he has since passed.

This time, however, there has been much more extensive activity than just the rearrangement of furniture. Everything is different, including the ER/ICU. They even changed the name of the whole hospital. New graphics, slogans, color scheme… and, it would appear, new personnel. At least that is what I was told by the administrator behind the “admitting” desk in what used to be an old, “throw-back” style ER waiting room. There used to be a door under the TV with a phone hanging next to it. In the past I would simply pick up the receiver and wait for an answer.

“ER, can I help you?”

“Yes,” I would say. “My name is Mike Althouse and I was a patient here for a few weeks back in October of 2000.”

“What can I do for you?” the friendly voice on the other side would ask.

“I was just wondering if there is anyone working today that was here during that period of time?” was my typical response.

Usually I wouldn’t even get put on hold, “Hang on just a sec… Peggy? You were here at the end of 2000, weren’t you? Do you remember a Mike… what was your last name? Althouse. Mike Althouse?”

By this time there is some kind of surprised exclamation followed by the door being buzzed open.

“Come on back!” And I hang up the phone and push the door open.

That door is no longer there. And according to the sentinel guarding the gateway from behind her desk, all dressed in her hospital garb, “Oh, there wouldn’t be anyone working here from that long ago.”

“Really?” But 18 months ago there would be - was. I suppose she was just doing her job. I asked if I could just walk back and see if I recognized any of the nurses. She asked me if I had a name of someone– I didn’t, and no she wasn’t going to just let me walk back there. There was not much else I could do. I am relatively sure there were some still there from when I was, but the admitting “nurse” (she isn’t a nurse, but they all dress like one), was equally sure there weren’t. It was a losing battle and perhaps the finality I needed.

That place was special. My stay was short, but in terms of hospitalizations, pretty lengthy. Considering my days there were 24 hours long, it felt much longer. I have made this informal and irregular pilgrimage since I left the mountains four years ago. I can’t really explain any better than to say that it was a part of me. I wanted to express my gratitude again and tell those who took care of me that their efforts were not in vain – that it was worth it and that I care a great deal.

Maybe that administrative assistant was right. Maybe all from that era are gone. Perhaps it’s time now to close that chapter in my book. Time and change are constant. Thanks in large part to the efforts of those kind and caring professionals, I am living proof.


Lee Ann said...

I used to work in a hospital. It is way different when you don't. I no longer work in a hospital, it has been about 15+ years since I have, and now I cannot stand going to the hospital for any reason.

Hope you are having a good weekend!

awareness said...

I too used to work in a hospital, but it was a rehab centre for kids. I loved it, but it had a much different feel to it than a trauma/acute care institution.

It must be very surreal to return, Mike. I can understand how significant it must remain in your thinking.......symbolic in so many ways.

As I read your post, I kept wondering if sharing your thoughts in a letter would offer you a chance to close the ER door as well as to let them know just how significant the place and the people are in your life experience and personal growth?

I don't often receive a note or an acknowledgement from the many people who pass through my office doors. It's not something I even think about until I receive a call from someone whom I had seen for one appointment a year ago for example.....or a Christmas card from someone who had been a participant in a workshop and it blows me away. Unexpected and unsolicited........very meaningful.

Just my thoughts..... :) Enjoy your evening.

Rainbow dreams said...

I spent many years working as a nurse in Accident and Emergency, and we would often think about people who had come through our department.
I'm certain your visits back meant a lot to those staff you did manage to meet up with. People, perhaps more particularly those who have survived against all odds, or who have been with us on wards for a prolonged time, do leave permanent imprints on our lives and in our hearts.
Stories like yours are the reason we keep going - they help us keep believing.
Even if there aren't any staff from your stay still in post at that unit, I'd bet they still remember you, and as you have been back, that they know you appreciate them.
It's not often that people make the effort you do, have a lovely day

Saur♥Kraut said...

Aren't you glad you aren't there right now? You have so much to be thankful for.

I'm sorry to hear about your friend. I'll keep her in my prayers.

UltimateWriter said...

I used to work in a rehab hospital and I remember a patient saying to me once, "For me there are no days and no nights, just that flickering fluorescent bulb over my head." That one line has so many meanings, it tells you all you need to know to understand what others are going through.

mckay said...

yes, time and change are constant. i understand why you'd return to that hospital to say hello and thanks to those who worked there during your stay. it's important to touch base with a place that was and people who were a part of something so significant.

i keep mentally revisiting my point in history where everything changed. it doesn't seem to move me forward, but i guess i need to relive it until i can somehow come to grips with the whole event. will i ever? i don't know.

Helene said...

Its funny what we hold on to in our lives... I bought a really scummy house once and renovated it with my spouse... I left one section of one wall with the old wall paper and scum and would say to people 'yea this is what it used to look like...'

One day, as I was giving a tour I said those words... and it dawned on me that it really didnt matter what it DID look like, what mattered is what it was looking like today. I think that it was somehow validating to me.

I bet it is similar for you (not to equate wallpaper and your illness...) I bet that since you have come so far it is a way of almost proving it... this visit was, perhaps the time when you were forced to see that you made your bed... You got well and made your life a success. You are as good as you are NOW not what you were in the past... While that makes up who you are,kind of like bits of a puzzle, the people who know you now like/respect you for who you are now... not because of where you came from. That bit gets to be your little secret inside. Something to share with people when you want... but it doesnt define you any longer.

I could be totally off here... so tell me if I am... but Its what I read into the post. =]

BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

Hi Mike,

What a moving story.

It is definitely different being on the other side of the hospital glass, from your description, which you put so eloquently.

I am happy today that you are no longer inside those walls, and are doing well, as you seem to be.

Your friend is lucky to have you by his/her side.

Michael K. Althouse said...

lee ann ~ I have a hard time with hospitals too, even before I lived in one. I can't say enough for the nurses and other employees that cared for me - they were the best.

Dana ~ I've made the return visit successfully several times now. Eveytime they expressed their appreciation on my effort to express my gratitude. I don't necessarily feel that I need to make any further attempts - I think it can be put into its proper place in history - and leave it there.

rainbow ~ It has been my experience that my returns there had exactly the effect you described. The first time was less than a year later - I was there for a follow-up operation, about ten days, and every time after that for the next four or five years, I got better. They took my picture for their "wall of fame."

saur ~ I'm pretty much glad to be anywhere after all that!

Ultimate ~ "For me there are no days and no nights, just that flickering fluorescent bulb over my head."

That's how it was.

mck ~ It was important, but life goes on, and I think the connection no longer needs a physical manifestation.

kate ~ Ya, it's kind of like that. It's like a measure of where I came from - or the depths to which I sank. I agree, it no longer has to define who I am.

BFC ~ Indeed, and my friend is doing something I didn't, asking for help.

Snaggle Tooth said...

That would make me want to go upstairs, then down another elevator to find the way back there- but that would defeat the security proceedures...

Well, you could send a card addressed "to the ER Personnel." Or call n arrange an appointment with Outpatient Services to get in n glean Info you seek...

Just not as convenient n spontaneous, tho-

Spinning Girl said...

What a wonderfuol piece. I'm so glad I stopped by here today. I am happy for you, too.