Wednesday, January 25, 2012

"Take two and see me in three days"

My folks were tough.  When the three of us children were growing up, we weren't allowed to complain.  Illness and injury received scant sympathy, unless we were in agonizing pain or on our death bed with a serious ailment -- for which eggnog was the typical prescribed remedy.  Injuries were met with "tape it up" and illnesses "just wait 'til the fever subsides." Everything had three-day waiting period before actual medical attention was considered.  Until she was in treatment for lung cancer, my mother never spent a day in bed with a complaint, and no affliction ever kept Dad from his duties until a case of shingles in his seventies.

As parents, Stephen and I tried to be more reasonable; we listened to our children's health concerns, tried to validate and reassure them, and treated them with whatever attention the condition required, whether minor or life threatening.

Our daughter Kathryn has her own special family medical file, however.  An often silent observer and companion to Olivia's frequent hospitalizations, ambulance trips, emergency room visits, and complicated procedures, she became knowledgeable about medical protocol and diagnosis. She developed a kind of hypochondria, announcing the onset of a terminal case of a variety of diseases, requiring immediate attention by a specialist.  We'd insist on the family "three day waiting period," during which a recovery would miraculously occur.

When she left home and took one of her first apartments in the big city, she showed she had a flair for decorating and furnishing tastefully on a limited budget.  When we first visited, we saw her bookshelves neatly filled with both classic and contemporary authors, and DVD sleeves tidily set to one side. Handmade pottery and artwork was displayed with throw pillows, adding a cozy touch to the couch along one wall.  We took note of a neatly arranged fan of colorful printed materials on the living room floor, just as one would arrange a pile of magazines on a coffee table.

It was a pleasure for us to see our daughter so self-assured and happy in her new home, beginning her venture into independent adulthood. We imagined her lying on her floor perusing her magazines full of fashion, home decor, celebrity gossip, and so on. But when we looked closer, we realized they weren’t even magazines at all. Each one was a booklet or glossy pamphlet that represented a different disease:  Diabetes and YOU; Understanding your Pituitary; Advances in Glaucoma Treatment; Handling your Headaches; Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: CTS; Controlling Irritable Bowel Symptoms; How to deal with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome at Work, and more. Free from our dismissive health care approach, she was finally able to explore her many dormant but deadly conditions.

Several years ago, Stephen experienced an acute case of hiccups.  It was during a long road trip from New England to Nebraska, on a side trip to Niagara Falls.  We'd been driving for most of the day and arrived at the parking area at nearly midnight.  We'd hoped to see the dramatic falls at night, since our only previous visit years earlier had been during the day.  Unfortunately, the nighttime fog was especially thick, and thoroughly obliterated any view of the waterfalls.  Disappointed, we crept along a side road hoping to catch a glimpse of any lights on the water, but the fog was as unrelenting as Stephen's frustrating case of hiccups, which after two hours was making him nauseated.

The fog was so thick we couldn’t see any road signs or even the lines on the road. Stephen inched forward, craning over the steering wheel trying to see anything at all, while hiccuping painfully and noisily. Eager to relieve him from his distress, I suddenly burst out shrieking, "STOP!!!!"

And he did!  He slammed on the brakes in complete panic, we lurched forward against our seat belts.  The tires screeched as he desperately scanned the foggy road for whatever danger we had just avoided, certain we'd narrowly escaped cascading over the actual waterway, running over an unseen tourist, or worse.

"Jesus Christ, WHAT?  What was it??" Stephen asked, intensely alarmed. I brightly replied, "Oh nothing, I just wanted to help you stop hiccuping! And look, it worked!"

It did work.  But he was mad for three days.

1 comment:

  1. Somehow you glossed over how inappropriate -- and dangerous -- it can be to suddenly scream frantically at a person who is both unwell AND making his best single-minded effort to drive a motor vehicle safely in difficult conditions. Some might even call that crazy. Not me, of course. Other people. But reasonable people.