Thursday, September 23, 2010

You taught me.

So many things, you taught me.

You taught me to be self-reliant, then begrudgingly smiled called me "Little Miss Independent" when I tartly insisted, "I do it my-sef!" You taught me that I was to respect others; adults, other kids, people I thought were different from me (they weren't, I learned that from you). You treated people as you wanted them to treat you, and I saw that. You showed me the value of sportsmanship and gave me holy hell one day when I showed off after making what I thought was a great play. Well, it was a great play... but you were right. You taught me that cheating myself or letting myself down was the worst kind of cheat, and as long as I did my best, it was plenty good enough for you. You told me no. You told me no... a lot. Thank you for that.

You encouraged me to do whatever it was that I loved. My drawings were plastered all over the fridge, on the walls, stuck in the corners of your bedroom mirror. You read to me, you read with me. You came to all of my games. You knew all of my teachers. You taught me how to dig a volleyball and play shortstop. I never could throw fastpitch like you, but I think the batting stance and swing I picked up from you more than made up for that. You wanted a girly-girl but what you got was me. I'm just like you.

I learned the value of hard work from you, helping you count hundreds of dollars worth of change in tips, every Friday night. We'd sit on the living room floor, you still in your waitress uniform still reeking of grease and fried cod, and me in my jammies. You cleaned offices in the evenings so that you could pay the orthodontist $70 every month for those braces I hated so much.

You showed me I didn't need a lot of friends, just a few really good ones. You let me help in the kitchen, even though it would have been quicker and easier to do it yourself. You left me chore lists when you weren't home. You ran behind my bike, miles probably, until I didn't need you to hold me up any more. You gave me freedom and you had high expectations of me. You taught me how to swim, mostly against my will. I should have known when all the inner tubes were gone from the pool that something was up. The neighbors said they heard me screaming all the way down the street; little did they know it was because you and dad were tickling me under the arms to get me to loosen my death grip on the pool ladder. You taught me to appreciate long walks with the dog, exploring and having conversations that lasted for hours on those walks.

You told me it was beautiful when I scratched and squeaked my way through "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" for the first time on my violin. You made me practice. You came to the concerts. You tirelessly helped me practice my lines and cheered the loudest of anyone in that elementary school gym when I played Annie Oakley. You removed splinters from my butt cheek one by one, after I decided a plywood board would make a neat sliding board.

You and dad sang to me on the porch swing:

You are my sunshine
My only sunshine
You make me happy
When skies are gray
You'll never know, dear
How much I love you
Please don't take my sunshine away

You would have been 72 years old today.

I miss you but I know that you're keeping an eye out for me, still. How else could I explain that despite all the bumps in the road, I'm at the place where I'm meant to be? There were too many people at your funeral to fit into the funeral home. I will never forget a woman I knew only by her nickname who hugged me, sobbing, "She was my hero."

Mine too.

Goddamn it, you left some big shoes to fill. I'm trying.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

It's cliche`

Of course it is. But cliche`d sayings become that way for a reason - because they are true.

Bad things happen to good people.
Family man. Self-employed. Builds pneumatic machinery for a living. Experimenting currently with ways to recycle fiberglass and plastic and make the combination into something useful. Did I mention what a nice guy he is?

A shredder he's using catches his gloved hand, his gloved right hand, pulling it in and, well, shredding it. Because that's what shredders do. Calmly, he tells his son to reverse the gears on the shredder so he can pull his entrapped hand back out. I wince and tell him I'd rather not do that and damage his hand more, and call the fire department.

"Oh, you want this machine taken apart?", he asks, and deftly loosens the bolts that hold the shredder together with his left hand, while his mangled right hand remains trapped. Seconds later, he's walking up toward our ambulance, shredder and shredded, entrapped hand being supported by his other hand, looking back at me as if to say, "You coming?"

I feel silly asking patients like this to rate their pain. It's like asking the poor slob on the Weather Channel who's reporting from the thick of the hurricane to let me know if it's a little windy. So, 20mg of Morphine and the guy isn't feeling any less pain. But, you know, the guy is as stoic and as grateful and as ... nice as can be. He had every right to be pissed. Pissy. Shitty. Mean. But he's not. He asks our names, talks about his son's nursing school plans, expresses concern for his wife driving in an unfamiliar area in rush hour traffic. You ask him how his pain is, and he smiles, "It's there."

In short, he's the kind of patient you care about. You want him to do well; in fact, you wish you could just give him a do-over on the past hour of his life. You might think we care about everyone this way. You would be incorrect. Most people, I can't wait to get away from. I nod and say, "Uh huh" when they ramble on about their aches, their pains, their inflammed hemorrhoids, their goddamned bunions. The 45 minutes I spend with them is about 30 too long.

Not this guy. I fought tears as I handed him off to the hospital staff, because I knew what uncertainty his future held. I hugged him, which is something I do with a patient about once every ten years, and he smiled at me as if to assure me that no matter what, he would be alright. I believe he will be, but I'd still like that do-over for him.