Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What to say when you don't know what to say

I'm not gonna lie - I'm due for some good news. I feel like in the past few years I've turned into "that girl no one wants to say 'how are you' to because something's probably wrong." I hate being that girl; I try very hard not to be that girl save for a few close friends who by the grace of God haven't completely deserted me (but I'm pretty sure they sigh and roll their eyes a lot when I'm not looking.)

Ironically, all of these things - stresses, challenges, situations - whatever you want to call them - have caused me to be much more sensitive to other people when they say that they're "going through it."

It's of course most prevalent on Facebook. Someone posts something about a sick family member or loss of a job or breakup with a significant other (Hey! We just summed up the past two years of my life!!!) and there's an immediate stream of supportive responses promising prayers, hugs and positive thoughts. Truly, it's nice to read. It's very nice. And I have to say, I do post stuff like my mom being ill on Facebook because my family DOES need the prayers. And if I can get 60 people who I really know, kinda know or barely know praying for her - that to me is a just godly gravy.

But what I've become a little more cognizant of is how I respond to people who are obviously in times of personal crisis. In the past, it was very easy for me to post "Prayers!" then give God a quick holler and be done with it. It was pretty simple to throw out a "How are you holding up?" or text a "Checking in!" just to let them know I'm thinking about them. And again, that kind of stuff is appreciated. Very much appreciated. When your life has become going to the hospital, going to work then going back to the hospital, you forget that the rest of the world is continuing on as status quo. You kind of look around wondering where everyone went, when you're really the one who's gone. Getting that random text or email that says "Hey I was thinking about you and wanted to check in" really does help.

Sometimes, the hardest question to answer is "How are you?" or right now, "How's your mom?" There's no easy answer for that. My usual response to both is, "Hanging in there." The real answer is too long. More than anyone wants to know. And will probably make me cry. "How's your mom?" could take hours to explain. And if you had the time and I didn't feel like I was bending your ear too far, I'd probably do it. It would be way more than you bargained for when you asked the question, but just talking it through with someone sometimes helps.

The other question that's a toughie is, "Is there anything I can do?" I ask this one myself. But I've learned through firsthand experience that I don't KNOW if there's anything you can do. And even if there IS something you can do, I realize you have a life of your own and I'm not about to ask for your help. I will say that next time I'm on the giving end of "Is there anything I can do?" I think I'm just going to do SOMETHING. Fix a casserole. Invite the kids over for a few hours. Say we're going out for drinks and I'm buying. Mow a lawn. Walk a dog. When you're in the throes of a dark and twisty time, you don't know what you need, but when something appears anyway, you're so damn thankful.

I recently read an article about various things to say to people who are going through a rough time. The best response was to someone who had just seemed to lose hope. Basically it was this: "I know you’re feeling hopeless right now, and to ask you to feel hopeful is too much. So let me carry your hope for you." It may sound corny coming out of your mouth, but to someone like me it would mean the world. It's hard to stay optimistic. It's hard to see the forest for the trees and know that everything eventually will work out or be all right or God's Will will be done. To have someone say, "You feel what you need to feel and let me carry the rest" would be a pretty incredible statement.

I'd take THAT over a casserole any day.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

"Heaven is a bit more fun tonight"

If there was ever a Godwink in my life, it was meeting Norma Mall. The craziest scriptwriter on Saturday Night Live could have never come up with this scenario.

I am the high school friend of her nephew, Mike, and we are friends on Facebook. A few years ago, as we traded witty banter on this social media network, I noticed a woman who interjected the same, quirky humor into the conversations but with just that little extra edge. It turned out to be Mike's cousin, Mary. "I like this girl," I told Mike. "Amy, Mary. Mary, Amy," he said with droll reservation. And with one click, Mary and I were friends.

In the background, Mary's mother, Norma, enjoyed reading our Facebook exchanges. Norma, who lived here in Peoria, just had a new screened in porch built onto her house. Mike, from Arizona, and Mary, from Idaho, would trade written barbs about who would be the first to grace this airy new addition.

Still with me? Because this is where it gets good. Norma noticed that I had become a new and similarly quirky member of this motley crew, and one day, I got a phone call. "Amy?" she said. "This is Norma. You're going to think I'm crazy." Funny, but I knew exactly who she was and immediately knew I'd like her, especially when she said, "Mike and Mary are fighting over who's going to be the first to sit on my porch. I'd like you to come over and sit on my porch and we'll take a picture and post it to Facebook. They'll be so jealous!"

First on Norma's porch!
I was IN. A few days later, on a bright, late summer morning, I arrived at this total stranger's house with a six pack of Guinness, sat on that porch and was inducted into the Norma Mall circle. And I never realized what a difference our unorthodox meeting would have on my life as I mourn her passing tonight and celebrate her time on this earth.

I am a writer, yet am having a hard time finding the words to express who Norma was in my eyes. I'm sure those who knew her longer could more eloquently than I. I do know that Norma was all about family. Much like my mother, she was passionate about her daughters and their families. She always knew what was going on with each of them, and her pride in them was evident by her every word. They were her world.

I remember sitting in her kitchen, sipping on the wine she insisted we have in the late afternoon (like I objected.) The power had gone out and we were chatting in the waning light about marriage, men, and living alone. She was telling me about her husband, Vern, who had passed years earlier. He used to have a room that housed his trophies, and apparently he had many of them. At one point, Norma said she asked him, "Why don't I have a room like this? Where are all my trophies?" To which he simply pointed to a photo of her daughters and said, "Right there."

Norma was one of the wisest, most humble people I have ever met. I truly wish I had met her long ago, but perhaps God brought her to me when he knew I would appreciate her the most. When I went through a tough time, I emailed Mary and said, "I need some Norma time." Her response, "Norma time is any time. She'd love to see you."

And she did. She always greeted me with a hug. Always asked about my kids. Not "how are the kids" but "HOW are the kids." And I'd tell her. She'd tell me things she saw in my kids that I didn't even see, and she'd pass along her experience and stories and wisdom in the most calming, soothing voice that would leave me reassured and retrospective.

Norma taught me about relationships - that marriages are work and living alone can be tough but liberating at the same time. She taught me that friendships are valuable and children are precious no matter if they're in your life or in your heart. She taught me that life is too short to wait around for something to happen - go make it happen yourself. She taught me that a quiet, measured word is more effective than a loud, unthought one.

Norma began blogging in October of 2011 - she asked me to come over and help her set up her page. She came up with the title and asked what I thought. I said it was brilliant. If you ever want to be moved and learn a little in the process, look up 75 and holding.....on. You'll get a small sampling of the wonder that was Norma.

Running for Norma on my 46th birthday - November 3, 2012
And Norma did hold on. Never a smoker, she was diagnosed with lung cancer a few years ago. Last November, I ran my first 5K in her honor for the Lungevity Foundation. For awhile, treatments held the cancer off, and she enjoyed her friends and traveled around the country with her daughters. Her last trip was to New York where she attended the Tony Awards, wearing a Bob Mackie outfit she proudly showed me the last time I saw her.

The last time I saw her. She needed computer help so I offered my teenage son's services. As he sat and fiddled with the machine, we chatted. She was the same Norma - reassuring, calm, funny, humble, loving. I left with a hug and a promise we'd visit again soon. That never happened.

She wrote recently that the cancer had spread and her time was short, but we were not to be sad for her, because she had an amazing life. And I am not sad for her. I rejoice for her because I know she is with God in heaven, and as her good friend said, "Heaven is a bit more fun tonight."

Though I am sad for who she left behind, selfishly including myself, I am sadder for those who never had the honor of meeting Norma, for they missed out. I don't know that there is anyone who I have known for such a short time has made more of an impact on my life than Norma Mall. And I know she is watching over those she loves here on this earth, and I hope that includes me.

I thank God and his Godwink for giving me the opportunity to know Norma and to be welcomed as an honorary daughter and sister. To sit on her porch, to drink wine with her, to be a small part of her life, to impart her wisdom, to learn from her, and to have her call me "pretty little girl." I will miss you, Norma, but rest assured, you will never be far from my heart.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

10 tips for next time you're in the surgical waiting room

So, I'm getting pretty good at this waiting room thing. Hopefully this is the last time - at least for this family member. Course, I just figured out how to get here from ICU, the North Parking Lot entrance, and the ER, so it seems a shame to let all that go to waste. Maybe I'll come back here occasionally just to visit.

No, I won't. You know why? Because I don't think people get it in places like this. Disclaimer: I understand that if your loved one is in the hospital for something dire, or unexpected, or serious, you get somewhat of a pass. Somewhat. But otherwise, I'm going to throw some tips out here just to make our little time in this big room filled with people who don't know each other more pleasurable for all:

1. This is not your living room. This is a surgical waiting room. Don't move in like you own the joint - you don't. This room and all its amenities is here as a courtesy - a favor, if you will, to you as the loved one of a patient. Don't commandeer one end of the room with your blankets, pillows, fast food bags and electronic devices.

2. You are not the only family in the room. You are sharing space with people from all walks of life and all socioeconomic backgrounds. So as you sit in your little social circle, know that when you're talking about that thing that happened to you on the toilet or or how you got pregnant, WE CAN HEAR YOU.

3. Put your cell phone on vibrate, especially if you are getting multiple texts. And if the phone has of those annoying ringtones and you look at it and don't immediately answer it, you risk me coming over, ripping it out of your hand and smashing it into itty bitty pieces. Wait. Here's an idea. TAKE OFF THE ANNOYING RINGTONE. Nobody wants to hear Verizon's version of "Down With the Sickness" at full volume. At any time, really.

4. If you do talk on your cell phone, try to keep your voice down. If you can't, take it outside. And don't jump all over me for this, but if you don't speak the language, it makes it much more annoying to listen to you. This is nothing against your culture - it's just that I don't understand you and that makes you annoying. 

5. If you are going to bring doughnuts, bring enough for everyone.

6. Just kidding. But I thought it was interesting that a guy just walked in with a dozen glazed donuts and passed them around to his family. No napkins. Remind me not to sit there when they leave.

7. Pick up your trash. Seriously. This isn't Chili's. Leaving your shit for others to clean up is not part of the package. 

8. I understand that in some cases you rushed to be here. In other cases, you know you're in for a long wait so you want to be comfortable. But honestly? Wal-Mart has better dressed patrons.

9. If your child is crying, that's OK. We get it. If your child is WAILING FOR 20 MINUTES, it is in the child's best interest as well as yours to take that child elsewhere. Also, don't get mad at your kid because he or she is getting fussy while sitting in the stroller doing nothing for hours on end. Bring them a snack, a toy, or play a game with them. Don't just yell at them for throwing a tantrum and interrupting your conversation. I will go ballistic on you.

10. Keep it down. You're not sucking down beers on your back patio slab. And watch your fucking language.

I understand that my tolerance level may be lower than most, but I really am appalled at how some of these people act in here and the disrespect and disregard they have for others around them. I keep waiting for someone to lose it and just start ripping some of these people a new one. Then I realize - that person is most likely going to be me.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Baby Bird’s Broken Wing (OR, How My Kid Stayed Out of the ER for 16 Years)

I gotta say, I’ve been immensely blessed that in the 12 to 16 years that my boys have graced this earth, we have had ZERO trips to the ER. None. Nada.

That in itself is miraculous, given that between the two of them they’ve played, at some point in their lives, pretty much every sport imaginable.  (However, the youngest aspires to be both a football player and a pole vaulter in the next year, so our odds may not be so much in our favor anymore.)

Now there have been trips to the prompt care, which I don’t consider quite the same thing. Flu, minor sprains, and a yogurt-covered raisin up the nose (did you know those little buggers expand when stuffed up a little tunnel of moisture?) are nothing compared to realizing in that split second that you may in fact be headed to the ER instead of the PC.

This is a longboard. Longer than a
skateboard. That's why it's called
a longboard.

Scene: I’ve changed into a stained t-shirt sporting a questionable saying and I’m spray painting my patio furniture black, as evidenced by my black nails, spots of black paint on my face and the fine black mist covering most of my lower torso. It’s about 8:45 Saturday night, and my younger son runs out and hands me the phone. “Brendan needs you to come get him,” he says breathlessly. “He crashed on his longboard.”

OK, I’ll admit. I didn’t panic. Number one, he was calling me himself. Number two, I’m a mean mom. I’m not gonna lie, the first thing I thought was that he was tired and didn’t want to longboard home. Yes, I was from the generation of moms who, when you bled, told you not to stain the carpet. But after hearing the pain in his voice and words like “can’t move shoulder,” coupled  by where he was at the bottom of a barricaded hill, I knew it couldn’t be good. 

I ran out of the house, jumped in the car, and sped about a mile down the road to the first barricade. His longboarder friend met me and reported that he was on the OTHER end of the closed road, to which I should have gotten back in my car and driven the three to four miles around to get to. But I didn’t. I really wanted to get to my boy. So I ran.

Now, I run – slowly and occasionally – but I’m pretty sure I set a new record for myself – at least in the “freaked out mom in stained inappropriate t-shirt wearing pink flip flops” category. Huffing and puffing, mentally patting myself on the back for not wiping out in said flip flops, I assessed my son’s injuries and determined that yes, this did not fit into the yogurt-covered-raisin-up-the-nose category and we were embarking on our first official trip to the ER. 

A few of his fellow longboarders sheepishly stayed with him as I ran back to the car and drove around to the other side of the closed road where he lay, shirtless, getting bitten by mosquitos and trying very, very hard not to cry. When we were finally on our way every bump made him cry out in agony, and I became a drunken driver of sorts, swerving around potholes while repeating, “Sorry. Sorry. Almost there, almost there.” Finally he said, “Mom. I don’t mean to be a jerk, but please just STOP TALKING.”

When we arrived at the ER, I guess I was expecting doctors to rush out with a stretcher or at least a wheelchair. Instead, a security guard watched us walk through the doors and said, “Can I help you?” I wanted to smack him and say, “Yes, we’d like a table for two by the window” but I thought that might not go over well, and my son was in no mood. He ushered him to a chair next to a desk, with me standing awkwardly behind him, then a surly looking nurse started asking him questions. 

HIM! Not me! I kept trying to interject but he was answering all of them. What am I, just his driver? I’m his MOTHER!!! Oh, right. He’s 16 now. They ask him. Plus they have to go through that whole “do you feel safe in your own home” rigmarole and find out what “allegedly” happened to his shoulder, blah, blah. Fine. I’ll just stand here in my stained, inappropriate t-shirt and misty black legs and keep quiet. I was still out of breath from running anyway. 

That's gotta hurt -
road rash and some good swelling.
Once we got into an ER bay and the doc arrived (looking very tan and around 12 years old,) my son proceeded to tell him what was wrong and where NOT to push. At one point he stopped the doc and said, “Wait, wait wait. Here’s the deal. That hurts. Don’t touch it.”

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what happens when you shelter your kids from ER visits until they’re 16. 

X-rays revealed what we pretty much suspected – a fractured clavicle. I could say “broken collarbone” but I like to say “fractured clavicle.” Say it. It’s fun. Fractured clavicle. Say it five times fast. Fractured clavicle. Fractured clavicle. Fravled clac… see. It’s hard, isn’t it? 

I asked to see the x-rays, but Doogie didn’t show me. Not that I disbelieved him, but since he was so tan and so 12, I felt the need, as a mother, to approve his diagnosis.

The nurse came in and proceeded to tell me how to clean my son’s road rash when we got home. “Ummmmmmmm……..,” I said slowly, mustering up every ounce of prissiness I could while wearing a stained, inappropriate t-shirt, “since he’s HERE, and he’s really not a very good PATIENT, and he’s kind of SENSITIVE to PAIN, do you think you could MAYBE do that for me?” In my head I’m thinking, “It’s 10:30 on a Saturday night. We’re the only ones in here. In the ER. Where you fix people. I do NOT want to go home and deal with this.”

She reluctantly agreed (what the hell?) and dutifully sprayed and patted and scrubbed and blotted despite my son’s pitiful screams and grunts of pain, all while telling him if he didn't take care of them and they got infected and she saw him back here she was going to clean them with steel wool. I suspect she had boys of her own at home. All I could think was, “Hey, nurse lady, better you than me.” 

You'll fly again soon, son.
After bandaging him up, doling out some pain meds (she refused to give ME any) and applying a sling to his broken wing – because you can’t do anything else for a fractured clavicle other than hold your arm in an L-shape for a few weeks, we were on our way - bruised, battered, and completely exhausted - and so was he.

The hardest part of all of this – apart from what my poor kid went through – was that he didn’t want his momma. Well, maybe he did, but not in the way he used to. He didn’t want me to comfort him, or cuddle him, or tell him it was going to be OK. In fact, he basically told me to stop talking and leave him alone. Too proud to cry so I couldn’t kiss away his tears, too old to need the snuggles he used to crave when he was fevered and coughing, too tall at 6’2” to pick him up and carry him to bed. So I did what any mom of a 16 year old boy would do – I made him a pizza at midnight, took it into his room with a bottle of Gatorade, handed him his iPhone and turned off his light. I left my door open and the hall light on in case he needed me for anything. Just in case. 

It’s going to be a few weeks before he can move that arm – and probably a few months or more before he’s longboarding again – which is fine with me. It’s going to take at least that much time for me to recover from the whole experience. But I’m thankful that we’ve gone this long without a trip to the ER – I know families who seem to be on a first-name basis with the doctors on call there.  After my stunning debut there the other night, I’m considering keeping a change of clothes in my car – and maybe an extra pair of running shoes.