By Cynthia Balderman
We just got released from the hospital, or, more accurately, my husband was discharged and I vacated the chair I occupied beside him. No more 3 a.m. checks of his vitals. No robotic beeping to disturb our restless sleep when the IV lines tangled.
I felt the passage of time differently during those long weeks. My usual cues – sunrise, alarm clock, phone calls from our offspring on their way to work, were replaced by new prompts. Shift change, meal delivery and medical consults defined the rhythm of our days.
I had plenty of time to read, but an inability to concentrate. The time passed as though it was one long day; no difference was discernible between weekend and weekday, between day and evening.
The nurses and aides were sensitive and helpful. If they were annoyed with our many requests, not one of them betrayed it. While the physicians determined the course of treatment, it was the nursing staff who were often charged with effectuating it. They hung IVs, changed sheets, encouraged ambulation, cheered, cajoled and empathized. Their jobs require intellectual as well as emotional intelligence and physical strength as well. I learned their children’s names; they met my grandchildren.
Evenings occasionally brought entertainment. While my husband was confined to his room, I made my way to the hall to meet members of the Buffalo Sabres, hum along with a barbershop quartet and take delight in the young women who timidly sang “Jingle Bells” under the tutelage of their teacher.
Despite our change in venue, some things never change. My husband and I could never agree on the proper temperature of his room, although our roles were reversed – he complaining persistently of the cold, me threatening to leave the door open if that thermostat didn’t get turned down immediately. He still grumbled that my chopped liver needed more chicken fat; I protested that the television was too loud.
Other, more meaningful things did not change, as well. Our adult children and my parents and brothers were with us throughout. One person I thought of as a good friend abandoned me in this difficult time. Perhaps I reminded her of her own mortality; perhaps, she simply needed to wallow in her own anxieties and could not set those aside on my behalf.
In her place there were many who stayed in close contact, whether in person, by phone or by email. Sometimes, my husband felt like socializing. Sometimes, he did not. But, undiscouraged, our real friends came back anyway. They talked baseball, football and politics. Sometimes, they sat quietly and supported us with their presence.
One brought coffee from my favorite place; another brought gossip about a mutual acquaintance, a third climbed the stairs with me. We spoke of mundane things, anything other than diagnoses and treatment plans. They invited me to their celebrations and to share their sorrows, knowing that I would probably decline. They asked me to lunch and to dinner. Their efforts at inclusion were uplifting. These decent people reminded us that we are not the sum total of what disease has wrought, but part of a family and a community.
My husband was discharged, well enough to recuperate at home. I have learned a few lessons from our experience – to persist in visiting the sick; to let go of expectations, even of long-term friends – not everyone is courageous enough to do the right thing; and, most important, to buy my chopped liver at the deli. That is the only place where the proportion of liver to fat is done right. Just ask my favorite food critic.
Cynthia Balderman, who lives in Kenmore, learned about more than chopped liver during her husband’s hospital stint.