Daily Archives: June 26, 2014
The other day I had my regular quarterly appointment with my pain management doctor. When I walked into the waiting room it was so full it felt like there was no air to breathe.
It was a scheduling issue, and everyone from ‘tomorrow’ was moved to ‘today’, myself included.
The stagnant air notwithstanding, I sat down on the only chair left in the room and putting my ear plugs in to listen to “Outlander” (the book is pure awesomesauce, by the way) and resigned myself to a long wait.
From the corner of my eye I saw a very sweet older couple, also waiting, chatting and laughing with one another. They looked as though they hadn’t a care in the world, but I knew that was not true, and judging by the fact that the woman was in a wheelchair, I guessed it was she who was the one in pain. Nonetheless, her eyes sparkled and her giggles at things her husband said were like a magnet to me, and I removed the ear plugs so I could watch and listen more closely.
As a writer, watching and listening is something I find myself doing all the time. Sometimes, the object of my curiosity takes offense but most of the time I’m barely noticed.
As the man spoke to his wife, she leaned forward and tilted her head. He stroked her hands, holding them gently, and I noticed her perfectly polished nails. Leaning back, I took in the rest of her appearance and noted she was probably once quite striking and even now she was lovely. Her hair was combed just so, and her outfit was quite stylish. Even her shoes – sensible flats – looked as though they were well-made. Her husband had spent the same amount of time on his appearance, it seemed. I thought that even if they hadn’t left the house all day, these two probably made a habit of looking good for one another.
Seated next to them were a couple of pre-teen girls. One of them had a long side braid, ala “Frozen”, and the elderly woman remarked on how pretty it was. The girl smiled shyly as the woman told her that she “used to have hair that long, longer in fact and he braided it for me” she smiled at her husband.
“How long have you been married?” the mother of the pre-teen girl asked.
“Sixty-five years.” the man said.
“And I think I’ll keep him.” the woman said, winking.
The room’s occupants chuckled in appreciation.
The woman turned to me and asked why I was there. I told her it was a regular visit, and she said hers was for arthritis pain, “..but you know all about that kind of pain, right?” she asked. I nodded in agreement.
“Remember when beer was prescribed for pain?” her husband asked, a twinkle in his eye.
She threw her head back and laughed.
“Beer?” I asked.
“Oh yes,” she said, still chuckling, “when my sister had her first baby, the doctor prescribed beer to help relieve pain and stimulate her milk. They didn’t know better back then. Well, one day my mama was visiting her and she was drinking a bottle of beer. Just then, the pastor from our church came walking up the path to her front door. My sister panicked, he couldn’t see her drinking! She put the bottle under the bed and then my mama, trying to be helpful, pushed it with her foot. Well, she pushed it a little too hard and it fell over, spilling all over the floor!”
“Oh my!” I exclaimed.
“So, the whole house smelled like beer just in time for the pastor to visit!”
She and her husband laughed long and hard at the delightful memory, and we all joined in.
Soon, the woman’s name was called and her husband wheeled her into one of the examination rooms in the back. I went back to my book and waited for my name to be called, but I found myself smiling at the sweet and tender moments I’d been privileged to witness. How rare and precious this kind of love is, I thought, shaking my head slightly.
A few moments passed and a middle-aged man came into the office, pushing the wheelchair of a much younger man I guessed to be in his mid-twenties at most. My first thought was father and son, and my second was what on Earth had happened.
I was called to the back by a nurse I’d never met before, and as she led me in she said, “Hi honey, did you sleep?” to the wheelchair bound young man. I couldn’t make out his answer, as his speech was slurred and difficult, but she smiled and nodded so I assumed he had assured her he slept.
“That’s my son.” she beamed at me, as if to answer the unspoken question.
I thought back to earlier that day, when my own son had visited me at work. Only he’d bounced into my office on two good legs, bright-eyed, healthy, and full of vigor.
When we got into the exam room, the nurse offered more information, “He has a pain pump, and Dr. K takes care of him for me.”
“If you don’t mind my asking….” I said, my curiosity piqued, but my sense of decorum preventing me finishing the question.
“It was ten years ago when he was just 17,” she began, her eyes focused on that day in the past, “he was out past his curfew, and knew he’d be in trouble, so he was driving too fast, hit some loose asphalt, and the car rolled end over end. He was ejected, and the car landed on him. Spinal cord severed, severe brain trauma. He’s lucky to be alive.” She finished her story, and wiped at her eyes.
“I’m so sorry.” I said, touching her arm lightly and feeling terribly inadequate.
“Oh, that was not the worst,” she said, waving her hand. “The worst is now. Even with all kinds of medication on board, he cannot sleep. He does not sleep. And now, he’s convinced his food is not going into his stomach, but is in fact entering his lungs, his sinuses… so, he won’t eat.” she trailed off, shaking her head. “We kept him home as long as we could, but we finally had to put him in a nursing home just last week.” She wiped her eyes again. “You see, I have fibromyalgia, and….”
“I have it too!” I exclaimed, and then we proceeded to spend a few minutes discussing this bizarre illness. She seemed truly happy to be able to commiserate with someone who understood her situation.
“So, you understand… I just…we couldn’t keep him home anymore.” She said, as if looking for validation from this person she’d just met.
“Of course I do, and I think you have to know when choosing what’s best for someone regardless of how you feel about it, is the right thing to do. I consider what you did a selfless act of a mother’s love.”
Her eyes misted over, but she quickly shook it off and proceeded to finish the business portion of her exam.
At the end, as she was leaving, she turned to me and said with a big smile, “He does have a great roommate at the nursing home, and we’ve begun seeing a side of his personality we haven’t seen in a long time.”
She shut the door, and I was left with my thoughts.
I’d met two women that day. Two women on different ends of a spectrum of strength.
One buoyed by the love and devotion of a man clearly in love and devoted to her.
The other buoyed by the happiness, however small, she was able to give a son whose life had been so tragically altered by one childish mistake.
Two women, both strong.
Two women representative of millions of women, all of them…all of us, strong and unique and powerful in every way that matters.