“Today explore the subject of illness…”
Room to Write by Bonnie Goldberg, pg. 139
I’ve been terribly lucky. And I knock on wood, throw salt, what have you, that my family and I will remain that way.
When I think of illness, I think hospitals. In my family, all of my family including my still-new husband and in-laws, everything else is just an annoyance. No one sees a doctor about a cold or a flu or in Eric’s case even a broken toe. It isn’t until things get real bad that the pig-headed stubbornness of the Olsons, Millers, and Nabitys is pushed aside. I’ve only been to the hospital for a family member’s illness twice. And only three times has there been need of such extremes. For me at least.
The first time was during my freshman year in college. My grandpa, who had been suffering from a perpetual sour stomach and eating Tums like penny candy, had been found pale in bed one evening by my grandma. The many tiny ulcers that had been forming in his gut finally caught up with him. Though he had lost a great deal of blood, he didn’t faint but finally decided he was feeling too weak and went to UNMC. I don’t remember being called about it. I remember being taken home that weekend and visiting at the hospital. I remember that awkwardness I get around people who are sick. Its an odd sort of embarrassment for the person, seeing them not at their best. I was worried of course, but by the time I was there, the doctors had fixed Gramps up and all would be fine. One thing that does stick out in my mind was how worried Oma was. My grandparents have a relationship that borders on violence sometimes, both so tempered and strong-willed, but I could see how much my grandma loved my grandpa. And that was striking to me. That two people could still truly love each other for so many years.
The second time was the very next year, nearly the same time of year even. This time it was my mom. Since the birth of my brother ten years before, she had been having problems with her periods. The cramping was bad. I remember days when I was a kid that she couldn’t hardly get out of bed. She did though. There was me and my brother to take care of. She had gone to a couple doctors about it. One said to have a hyserectomy. The second opinion put her on drugs that helped for years. But then… I don’t know all the details of that one either. Like so many other things during that time period, it has been over-shadowed. My parents had been fighting, broken up, back together, broken up. Entire lives swirled around their maelstrom. This time I was more anxious. My mom had to have a hyserectomy. A procedure more invasive than how they had handle my grandfather. And I was angry as well. By this time, so many evil things had been said. Words and arguments hung in the air between me and my parents. Sitting in the waiting room on stripped chairs, the day dark and rainy, I couldn’t bring myself to look my father in the eye. I was sad but venomess. My mother came through the surgery fine. I expect to have similar problems. When the twinging of my right ovary became a definite pain, I didn’t hesitate to go to the Health Center. I had never had a pelvic exam until that day, but the nervousness that surrounds that sort of thing was waylaid by thoughts of worse. It’s nothing they told me. Middelschmartz, its called. Many women have it, they assured me. But, in my literary mind, I’m thinking it’s foreshadowing.
In October of 1997, Nebraska was hit by a major early blizzard. In October of 1997, Oma had a stroke. She had been out snowshoveling. She always did things like that. Snowshoveling, mowing the lawn. Things she was sure that my grandpa could not possibly, in her mind, do correctly. The snowstorm was about two weeks before Halloween. When my mom called, I was watching TV. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I had just gotten home from work and was jazzed about watching the Halloween episode. I had a Hot Pocket in my hand when I answered the phone. My mom gets this lilt in her voice when something is very wrong. It’s a on-the-verge-of-tears voice. I know it well. Strokes are bad things and when the word was spoken I broke down. I left dinner on the TV beside the muted screen. She tried to calm me down, but she didn’t know much about how bad the stroke was. My mind feared the worst. There was no way I would be able to come home to see her in the hospital. There was still snow everywhere. I finished my dinner after I hung up and stared blankly at the TV. I wondered why in the world Xander was a commando and then felt immediately guiltily and shocked that I was watching TV while Oma was laying in a hospital bed 60 miles away, maybe damaged for good. I turned off the TV. There was no one I felt comfortable enough with to call and talk to about it. I had moved out of the dorms. Tania and I were at odds and she was busy with law school. A month later I would have called Eric, but right then our first date was a couple weeks in the future. And Oma, my one ally and comfort in any of these type of crises was laying in a hospital bed 60 miles away… It was a mild stroke, thank whatever god there is. She regained all her movement, though the whole ordeal depressed her. She had to face age for the first time and it peeved her off.
What will be next? I’m afraid to even think. My grandparents looked so much better the last time I saw them. More vibrant then when we left Nebraska. Even Eric noticed it. But I have more family now. More frightful possibilities. It occurs to me after writing this that I feel like I have dodged bullets. I feel like I’m tempting fate, that luck will run out. I fear the next time I will have to be in a hospital.