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Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The twilight zone

I took one look at my mom today and instantly knew she was operating in the twilight zone that surrounds life in a hospital. You don't know what day it is, whether it's day or night, if you've eaten a meal or which doctor told you what news.

Unfortunately, we know this particular experience at Metro well. My dad received a hip replacement there seven years ago. It was November and I was with my mom during the surgery. When we saw a man wheeled out of the recovery room, she got up to follow. "That's not dad, that's an old man," I said. But it was my dad. His sparse salt-and-pepper hair was swirled in what looked like a bad combover. And his complexion was gray. He had lived with hip pain for so long that it was a near miracle to arrive at their house on Christmas Day (a mere five weeks after surgery) and see Charlie hauling a load of firewood in from the garage with his trademark red sweater and khakis, all robust and grinning.

My mom was operated on for cancer at Metro on Feb. 1, 1999. We received the news from her surgeon saying that her diagnosis was changed from ovarian to lymphoma, and that lymphona was a "better" cancer. (Better meaning there were more treatments available.) When they wheeled her into her room, barely concious, she looked like a child, with her petite frame taking up only about half of the bed. Charlie was crushed as he looked at her, a giant incision running from her breast bone to her lower abdomen. It was all any of us could do to hold ourselves together—for mom and for dad.

Charlie looks at my mom, after 41 years of marriage, and still sees the young women he met in the 8th grade and fell in love with at 19. Until recently, he carried her measurements (circa 1963) to assist in any shopping. Jen and I had to finally break the news that, though his mind's eye had held her at a size 4, she was in fact no longer.

I was scheduled the day after mom's surgery to deliver my Michael at Fairview Hospital. I still have a National Geographic map of Ireland, Scotland and Wales that has written on the back side in my dad's beautiful penmanship, "Michael Charles, 10:23 p.m., 7 lbs., 12 oz." Dad was my only visitor (besides Danny and the boys) in the hospital. He arrived early the morning after I delivered and sat holding Mikey, his fifth grandson and namesake, and soaking up his newborn smell in the quiet of the maternity ward. The nurses knew my mom was in Metro and took many extra Polaroids for my dad to share with her. It was one of the great, peaceful moments in an incredibly harried time.

And now he's back in Metro again, this time in CICU. As I looked at him sleeping today, I remembered how he could make me feel so special, with a squeeze or a comment. We were vacationing in Virginia Beach and had spent the day swimming in the ocean. I was freshly showered and sitting at a picnic table outside our camper by the light of the kerosene lantern. Dad, Chris and I were going to play cards. He looked at me and said, "Wendy Ann, sea water becomes you." What a beautiful thing to say to an awkward teenager. Charlie always was good with words...

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