Saturday, August 29, 2009

No other way- Reflections from a Thursday at Grady

I'm a movement by myself
But I'm a force when we're together

- from Ne-Yo "You Make Me Better"

"Sir, were you ever on any pain medicines before today?" I asked a patient newly admitted to our service this week. He had just been hospitalized for severe abdominal pain, and was requiring more pain medicine than expected.

"No, he wasn't on no pain medicine," my patient's wife answered all while industriously wiping off the tray table in front of his hospital bed.

"Was so!" he retorted quickly, shaking his head at his wife.

"No, Daddy, you wasn't on no pain meds," she said calmly as she settled into the bedside reclining chair. I noticed a bit of swelling around her ankles. Tempted to ask her a few questions about her own health, I quickly reminded myself that she wasn't the patient.

He looked back at me and shook his head.

"Yes, I was on pain medicine, doctor." Looking toward his wife, he said, "Mommy, get that list of my medicines for me. Two of 'em was for pain." Mommy mumbled audibly that he indeed was not on pain medicine as she diligently filed through her weathered, oversized pocketbook for a folder filled with a stack of papers. Like clockwork, she pulled out a blue printout from the pharmacy that itemized the medications filled on his last prescription and handed it to me.

"One of 'em was for pains in my stomach and the other one was for pains in my feet from sugar," Daddy instructed. I looked over the paper carefully, and along with several other heart-related medications, there was a pill for acid reflux and another for the nerve-related pain of diabetes.

"Well, it looks like y'all are both right," I spoke through the smile creeping over my face. I knew that they were both equally convinced that they were right and the other was wrong. "Sir, the purple pill you take for acid in your stomach does help the pain, but probably doesn't qualify as a pain medicine."
"Told you," Mommy injected now laying a blanket over her husband that clearly was not a Grady-issued linen.

I chuckled out loud. "Not so fast, Mommy. This pill that he takes for the neuropathy in his feet is a kind of pain medicine. We call it neuropathic pain, which is really just a fancy way to say nerve pain. Neither medicine is a narcotic medicine, which is what I was thinking about when I asked. But either way, y'all are both right."

They both smiled and winked at each other. It was endearing. "How long have y'all been married?" I querried.

In unison, they answered, "Thirty-seven years."

"We worry each other to death, but wouldn't have it no other way," Mommy said with a twinkle in her eye. She had now reclined the chair and elevated her edematous ankles.

"Mommy, you been eating soup again? Your feet look like play-dough they so swoll up!" Daddy announced right in front of me. "She got some heart troubles, too, so she don't have no business eating soup."
"Low sodium," she recanted, "Low sodium. That means it don't have that much salt, right, doctor?"
"Nawww, they only write that on stuff you ain't got no business eating in the first place to trick you into thinking you can eat it, right doc?"

He had a point. I sort of liked Daddy's take on it.

"What? That don't make no sense at all. Of course, you can eat it if it has low sodium," Mommy continued. They both looked over at me simultaneously, and caught the amused expression on my face. They both collectively laughed.

"Told you we worry each other to death," my patient said while looking at his wife and her puffy ankles.

As if on perfect cue, they winked at each other once more. With a look of reciprocal admiration, Mommy added,"Yep, and we wouldn't have it no other way."

One of the best things I have learned from my patients at Grady is the true meaning of "for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer", and especially "in sickness and in health." Sure, I have seen patients languish alone for days with no visitors. But what a delight it is to be privy to a glimpse of lasting, loving marriages day after day! My patients are not all on street drugs or homeless without next of kin. Countless numbers of them are just like "Mommy and Daddy", standing vigil over one another in the hospital whether it be for something as minor as allergies flaring up, or something as devastating as a debilitating stroke or advanced cancer. And something about seeing this over and over again helps me see my own commitment to my husband differently. In a world where marriages are often fleeting, these patients give me something to look forward to. . . .even if it is several decades of "worrying each other to death."

Early this morning, I watched Harry sleeping peacefully. I kissed his forehead, pulled the covers over him, and thought about my patients. Then I thought about the last five years that we've spent worrying each other to death. I whispered to him, "You know what, Daddy? I wouldn't have it no other way."

1 comment:

  1. This is magnificent... you are truly a gifted story-teller.


"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

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