In Sickness and in Health…
This past weekend, I spent two days as a patient at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Towson. This was not a planned event, but an emergency procedure to remove from my body an acutely inflamed appendix. I am still processing the events of this weekend but wanted to reflect on how hospitals have been a very large part of my life… I feel familiar and comfortable walking into a hospital. I happen to like hospitals.. there is an energy, sense of urgency that is found in no other place. The goal is not to make money or acquire possessions, but simply to make lives better, to save them, to bring them into this world.
Most people, however, do not like hospitals. This is quite understandable. Hospitals are full of sick and dying people, and most people do not like to think about disease and death.
Before I tell the tale of my appendix, I wanted to share the circumstances in life that brought me to feel so familiar and at ease in hospital settings.
I have been acquainted with hospitals since I have been 5 years old. When my cousin was born, I was five, and I thought going to the hospital meant you came home with a baby. Five is also the age when my mother was first admitted to a hospital, with broken ribs, as well as a broken spirit. She attempted suicide by jumping out a window.. she survived, but for the rest of her life would spend much time in and out of psychiatric institutions. I was only told initially that she broke her ribs, from a fall and was able to visit her while still in the medical unit of the hospital. I was disappointed she did not have a baby brother or sister for me to bring home.
My paternal grandmother died in the hospital from a stroke when I was around 10 years old. I picked up the phone when they called for my father. He was mowing the lawn, and I went outside to tell him his mother has taken her last breath.
My maternal grandfather died in the hospital when I was 12 years old, from lung cancer. He literally withered away.. he was unrecognizable… He smoked Lucky Strikes all his life. (If you love someone on this earth, please don’t smoke, if not for your sake, then theirs).
I began volunteering in the psychiatric ward of the nearest hospital in my home town in NJ when I was in high school. I worked on the unit on Sunday afternoons. I was contemplating being a psychology major in college, so I thought I should expose myself to all walks of mental illness to gage if this is what I wanted to do with my life. It smelled on the psych ward, it was a mixture of body odor, cigarettes, and Mr. Clean. There was also a Sunday on that unit that I volunteered that my mother was a patient, that was definitely uncomfortable and even a sense of embarrassment to me.
There were countless visits to my mother at various private and state psychiatric institutions in New Jersey throughout my childhood and adolescence. I just remember observing the other patients and sensing their disconnect to the world and a sense of them being on way too much medication. And again, the smell that persists only in a mental institution, body order, cigarettes and Mr. Clean.
When I was 20 years old, my 60 year old father was admitted to the hospital for chest pains. He suffered a heart attack in the hospital following a balloon angioplasty. Upon release he began a regimen of running daily, eating healthy and never smoking.
At ages 31 and then at 35, I was a patient in medical hospitals for the true reason I thought they existed, to have babies. My son Grant was born in Mt. Kisco Medical Center in West Chester County, NY. We both almost died. The placenta separated, which is very rare and dangerous, but luckily, following an emergency c-section, we both survived the experience. He is the love of my life.
When Grant was 2, we experienced an emergency room visit, after he fell in his room and landed on a box with a sharp edge and cut himself above his left eye. This was a very bloody injury. The poor little one had to be held down by three adults in order for the stitches to be put in place.
Having my son Aidan almost four years later was a bit scary, I was afraid of having another traumatic birth. But he arrived, on his due date and via vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC), which is not most woman’s (or doctor’s) choice. But I was determined to have a birth experience, and not a medical procedure. Another love in my life!
My last surviving grandmother, Sophie, died three years ago at the age of 91. Her last year on this earth was one of decline. She had been widowed for approximately 30 years and I feel died not of old age, but of a broken heart from missing my grandfather for so long. The last time I saw her in the hospital, she appeared, child-like, frail, barely able to communicate and quite frankly ready not to be here on this earth anymore. The day she died, I had the image she was on a beautiful cloud somewhere dancing with my grandfather, the love of her life.
Two years ago I had an emergency room visit to St. Joe’s due to a trapeze injury. I did a back bend to warm up for a trapeze class and heard a pop in my abdomen. Stupidly, I proceeded to do few tricks on the trapeze rig and realized I damaged something in my body. This required a visit to the ER, a CT scan and resulted in a torn rectus abdominal muscle. After ignoring the doctor’s orders to not do yoga for a month and after refusing to take the narcotic pain medication he prescribed, after one month my abs were strong and flipping around the trapeze.
I currently work at Sheppard Pratt Hospital in Towson, where I do drama therapy on four different units, ages range from 5 years old to geriatric patients. The different diagnosis ranges from depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. I work with patients creatively, writing, doing improv, working on scenes, voice and movement. I love walking onto the Sheppard Pratt campus, although many patients are full of despair and hopelessness, it is a place of healing, warmth and compassion.
Before I proceed on to the latest ER visit and my observations / complaints about Western healthcare, I am curious to hear your comments, stories about hospitals. Any stories about experiences with hospitals in other countries? Thanks for reading and hope you share your thoughts.
Be healthy and happy!