Home Nursing

Not my mother

Not my mother

When sick, Mom maintained a stoic silence and went to bed, telling my siblings and me to move our squabbles beyond her hearing; so we dutifully went outside when thumping one another became unavoidable.

She expected the same bed rest and silence from us when we complained of swollen glands, stomachaches, or ingrown toenails, “Go to bed. You’ll feel better after a nap.” Her job description didn’t leave time for entertaining us or clucking over our earaches and bee stings.

One day Mom heard howls coming from the yard where Barbara had taught Blaine and JL an exciting new game in which she threw rocks and they dodged them. When Mom went outside to investigate and discovered the crooked, bloody mess that used to be Blaine’s nose, she pinched it into shape, staunched the bleeding, applied tape and told him to go take a nap. She then advised Barbara to run away from home and returned to her ironing.

When a chronic problem, unusual symptom, or something she couldn’t fix prompted a visit to the doctor, she enforced any recommendations with rigor. After we bared our behinds for penicillin shots, we stayed in bed until well, swallowed pills so big we didn’t need breakfast and huddled beneath blankets breathing the pungent fumes of a vaporizer. As directed.

I’ve had sinus problems my entire life. I sometimes imagine the thought process that accompanied my creation: “We’ve given this girl sturdy feet. Let’s even things out by equipping her with flawed sinuses.” One winter, our family doctor told my mom to irrigate my sinuses daily and showed her how to do so. That night, she filled our all-purpose hot water bottle with a saline solution and attached a tube to it with a special nozzle I had to stick up my nose.

She held the contraption level with her head, pinching off the tube, while I bent over the bathroom basin, then let ‘er rip. Oh, the caterwauling and grief. Water and mucus spouting from my nostrils and mouth, I gagged and pleaded; but the water continued to flow. So I pulled the nozzle from my erupting nose and threw it in the basin.

“Janet, you have to do this.” She leaned over, reinserted the tube, and held it firmly in place as I wept. We did this dance for two weeks, as prescribed. I eventually accepted my fate with stony-faced dignity, and my siblings quit clustering around the bathroom door for the evening entertainment.

We couldn’t look to Dad for sympathy or coddling either. He had robust health and didn’t fall prey to common illnesses, so he reacted to the sicknesses of his loved ones with indignation and expressed his worry as anger: “Oh, get up, there’s nothing wrong with you that a little fresh air or work won’t fix.”

Naturally, I inherited Mom’s no-nonsense bedside manner punctuated with Dad’s irrational irritation: “Why doesn’t he just go to bed?” I wonder as Joel wheezes and snuffles around the house, giving me hourly updates on his symptoms.

But the mother who tenderly cared for my sister, Carolyn, during her childhood struggles with polio and rheumatic fever; and the father who visibly worried about Carolyn and checked on her as soon as he got home from work are part of me as well. I learned from my parents to respond to serious illnesses with attention and sympathetic care.

Perhaps the secret of good home nursing is knowing when to nurture kindly and when to stick the nozzle back up your screaming daughter’s nose.

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Moments of Clarity

 

janet-and-grandchildren

Throughout my life, I experienced moments of clarity that occurred without fanfare or expectation and illuminated my future: moments of insight that arrived unbidden and surprised me with their power.

At fourteen, rather than going home after the church youth meeting as instructed by our parents, five friends and I took a joyride through the countryside in an old Ford. I climbed into the back seat with the Anderson sisters as we defied parental authority and took a joyride through a lake-tinged night.

The newly-licensed driver, the oldest among us, chattered nonstop, her ponytail swishing as she turned her head to look around, waved her hands for emphasis and ignored warning signs about an upcoming curve.

The sisters — made anxious by the speed, the darkness and the disapproval we’d face should our parents discover this crazed ride — held hands and worried in silence. But a sudden understanding liberated me and filled me with anticipation: I had lived my life based on the expectations and conventions of others; but as I traveled into my future, I would have the power of choice. My decisions, wise or foolish, would decide my future. Sensing my coming independence, I laughed aloud in the window-wind of the back seat.

At twenty, I walked across the grounds of the Wyoming State Training School with my special-needs charges: a group of happy, chattering female residents. We were returning to the ward where I worked and they lived after attending a 4th of July party where everybody danced every dance with total joy and abandon. We strolled beneath the fluttering leaves of large ash trees that filtered the light of a mellow moon and softened the lines of the institutional buildings we passed.

My mind preoccupied with thoughts of a recent break-up with a boyfriend I’d once thought perfect, full of self doubt and bleakness, I hardly noticed when Yvonne, a large woman with garbled speech, multiple disabilities and the mental age of a child, moved to my side, put an arm around me, smiled broadly and pointed at the gentleness of the glowing moon. Then, in half-swallowed words I had learned to interpret, she said, “I love you, Mom.”

In that instant, I knew as surely as I’d ever known anything, that throughout my life love would come to me from many different sources, that I would love and be loved in return. I slid my arm around Yvonne as we walked together through the shimmering night.

At sixty, sweltering in the heat and humidity of a Midwest summer, I sat on a chair shaded by an over-arching pecan tree, glad my husband Joel and our daughter Jenny were fitting and cementing stones to form a patio, while I had the easier task of entertaining grandchildren.

One child sat on my lap holding a picture book he wanted to hear “one more time, please, please, please,” while a toddler, fiercely determined, scrabbled and squeezed onto my lap as well, demanding “Me, too!”

I opened Grahame Green’s Jabberwocky and began to read.

When I married Joel, I immediately liked and became friends with his mostly grown children. Then, as they had children, I became a grandparent, responding, as grandparents do, with patience, pleasure, and love.

But always, unconsciously, I held something back, kept a part of myself in reserve, felt I was an interloper. Then, on this heat-slick day, holding two sticky boys on my lap, smelling their sun-warmed hair, I realized I had never been happier, that I loved and would protect these children and their siblings, that I was as totally committed to them as I would be if my blood ran through their veins.

Such moments of enlightenment don’t come to me often, but when they do, they enrich my life.

Stresses of the Season

janet-stressedYears ago, my friend Judy invited me to drop by for a visit the day after Christmas. When I arrived, I found her draping wet laundry around her kitchen and wiping away tears. She wasn’t crying about her dead dryer.

On Christmas Eve, she and her husband were helping her recently married son and his wife prepare dinner in their new home when her son said, “Why don’t you let Mom fix the gravy, Bev. She knows how I like it.”

In response, Bev burst into tears and said to Judy, “I’m sick of hearing about your perfect Christmases, your perfect cooking, your perfect dinners. Why don’t you go home? Here, take my car. I’m sure you’ll drive it perfectly.” Then she grabbed her keys, threw them at Judy and ran from the house, leaving an open-mouthed family, a half-cooked turkey and a doomed merry little Christmas behind.

“I felt like I was in a country-western song,” Judy told me, “It was terrible.”

More recently, friends and I discussed the anxieties of gift giving: “I need guidelines,” said one, “What do you buy for the grandchildren you loved when they already get too much for Christmas? What do you give babies who have no concept of Santa and would rather chew on a cardboard box? Or teenagers who have demanding taste in clothing or want specific, expensive technology?”

Another friend added, “My husband and I buy things for our children and grandchildren throughout the year, when they need it; we also help finance school trips and events, and we’re happy to do so. We spent a lot last year, so we gave less expensive gifts for Christmas. And I felt guilty the entire season.”

Fortunately, we have media experts who tell us how to glide gracefully through the holiday without exploding into hysteria, eating a pound of peanut brittle, or crawling under a bed. Their advice flows freely: Get enough sleep. Make a list of tasks to be accomplished and stick to it. Stay within your budget. Relax in a bubble bath before your guests arrive.

Right.

They also warn if we deny ourselves the foods of the season, we’ll binge later on stale marshmallows or stray chocolate chips. Instead, we should enjoy the goodies that come our way by sampling them: take half a brownie and a taste or two of ice cream.

Seriously? Might as well ask a flea not to bite.

Despite such expert advice, most of us experience some stress during the holidays. We over-schedule our lives and become cranky as we rush about. We grow too weary, or drink more than a sip or two of eggnog and then say things we regret. We wonder about gifts we receive — elf house slippers or salt-and-pepper shakers from Branson — and worry others won’t like the gifts we chose for them.

We also wonder why we don’t feel the joy of Christmas we did when young: everybody happy, everything beautiful, each moment perfect. Experts answer this one correctly: the wonder of childhood Christmases cannot be duplicated; nor were they perfect.

I remember seeing a photograph taken by my aunt when I was eight — the year I asked Santa for a red-headed princess doll — that shows me using a blonde baby doll to bludgeon Bob as we battle fiercely in front of a tree tilted awkwardly to one side as though trying to escape.But, in my memory, 1950 was a perfectly joyful Christmas; and I wish the same for you in 2016.

Thoughts on the Man I Married and Other Odd People

Joel Sheridan

I’m often surprised by the habits of others: My mom and dad ate pickled pigs feet and beef liver with gusto. That’s abnormal. My sister doesn’t collect anything: no quilts, snow globes, Madam Alexander dolls or baseball cards. That’s odd. In college, it boggled my mind when my roommates postponed studying for a test until the evening before and then pulled an all-nighter. I shook my well-rested head in disbelief as they stumbled into class, bleary-eyed and confused.

My uncle wrote a weekly column for his local paper. Each week he sat in front of his typewriter the day before the column was due and waited for inspiration. When I picture him—sitting, waiting, clock ticking, deadline looming—I fight hysteria. I don’t know how he found the time to debate using a instead of the in the third sentence of the fifth paragraph of his ninth revision.

The man I married twenty years ago has his peculiarities as well, one of them being the way he watches TV. When we’re watching a show together, he invariably surfs other channels during every commercial. By the time he finds his way back to the show we’re watching, we’ve missed a pivotal segment and so watch the remaining segments in a state of confusion.

Another bone of contention we chew on is the amount of lighting necessary for happy living. As darkness falls, I busy myself drawing blinds and switching on lights and lamps. Then Joel wanders in, starts a diverting conversation, dims the lights and turns off the lamps.

Even the kitchen where I chop, sauté, and simmer his dinner is too bright for him. If I drop my guard, he extinguishes the overhead lighting, leaving only the glow of the under-counter lights to illuminate my cooking. It’s difficult to chop vegetables when I can’t distinguish my thumb from a parsnip; sometimes, when bending low to check on the soup’s simmer, I blister my nose.

My husband believes the best defense is a good offense, so when he senses my irritation with his choice of lighting, he says, “Why do you have to have it so bright all the time? The house looks better in low light.” He could be commenting on my housekeeping, but I prefer to think not.

We also have our smaller issues: I put things away. He likes tools, clothes and potato chips left where he won’t forget them. I sigh when he questions my tendency to take things to the thrift store. He grits his teeth when he expresses a preference, “I like the chair better in front of the window,” and I respond dismissively, “I know you do, Joel.”

Despite these differences, we usually accept one another’s oddities as minor nuisances, insignificant when compared to the many important values we share and the many ways we like each other.

But the next time we go to a movie, and he interrupts an intense scene to ask what other roles the lead actor has played, I plan to insist on a fair share of the popcorn. That’ll show him.

Stitched, Scanned, and Restricted

thecliparts.com

thecliparts.com

Recently, I came across one of those anonymous sayings that pop up on social media like prairie dogs in Texas:

Cherish your health:
If it is good, preserve it.
If it is unstable, improve it.
If it is beyond what you can improve, get help.

And I remembered.

Walking with vigor and strength through an afternoon of erratic March weather, I felt light-headed, thought, “Whoa,” and caught a close-up glimpse of my scuffed shoe next to dirty snow.

I came to in a park a block away: my heart thumping, my vision crystallized, my walking faster. I looked around. How did I get here? Unable to remember, I continued striding across the snow-ruffled grass of the park, puzzling over my wet, muddy jeans and blood-stained jacket. What happened to me?

At home, I looked in a mirror at the ugly havoc on my forehead and mainly felt relief: At 5:00pm near a busy intersection in a town full of helpful people, I fell on my head, thrashed about in a muddy gutter like an upside-down turtle, scrabbled to my feet, and walked home, billowing blood, with no witnesses — and thus no need to explain my clumsiness or to pretend pluckiness. Whew.

Joel came home, looked at my head, and we went to the hospital. As the doctor stitched my forehead together, my comedienne husband asked if I would be too traumatized to cook dinner. Ha. Ha.

The next morning, I looked like I’d walked on the wild side: a blood-encrusted, cross-stitched wound, shades of purple, black, and green like the aurora borealis and a squiggle of red eyeball peering through massive swelling. Joel, ever happy to celebrate my life events, emailed a close-up photograph to family and friends. They all called, forcing repeated confessions of my inability to walk and think at the same time.

When the stitches were removed, an intern gave me good news: “Wow! Cool! Looks like the stitches stretched out a couple of wrinkles.” Perhaps he could team with my husband as the new Abbot and Costello.

Eventually, I stopped dwelling on my plummet to earth and my inability to remember. I thought I misjudged my step, turned my foot or tripped. So I was taken aback when my family doctor said she feared an underlying cause for my scarred forehead — potentially more serious than a lack of grace. She recommended tests and a cardiologist. I trusted her, so I agreed.

As I waited for the tests to be scheduled, I experienced strange symptoms: pressure in my nose, twinges in my chest, lightening striking my brain. Was that a hiccup or heart failure? Could a faulty aorta be causing my painful big toe?

But a second conversation with my doctor disconcerted me more than my imaginings: “Janet, I talked with the cardiologist; he said you shouldn’t drive until you’ve had the tests and see him. You could blackout again and harm yourself or others.”

Because I feared being a little old lady who passed out and drove through the window of a Denny’s restaurant, I obeyed. Grounded for four weeks, I was monitored, scanned, x-rayed, and stressed. Electrodes and wires became my fashion accessories and please-hold-still-and-don’t-cough my new pastime.

Finally, only one procedure remained before I could reclaim my car keys: a test of the electrical current in my heart. If problems were found, I would awaken with a pacemaker.

A pacemaker? Me? Ridiculous. I cherished my health. I worked to protect it. I did things to improve it. How could I need help?

Self-perceptions can change overnight. But that’s another story.

Sound Advice?

Most of my writing workshop instructors etched write what you know on their foreheads. I believed them. Stephen King didn’t. Nor did the authors of Harry Potter, Cold Mountain, The Lord of the Flies and The Hobbit. So, unsure of the general applicability of the advice, I hesitated to share it with my students. Then Nathan Englander, a Pulitzer Prize finalist for literature, addressed my incomplete understanding of the concept, resolved my conflict and informed my teaching:

“Write what you know isn’t about events. It’s about emotions. Have you known love? jealousy? longing? loss? Did you want that Atari 2600 so bad you might have killed for it? If so, it doesn’t matter whether your story takes place in Long Island or on Mars – if you’re writing what you know, readers will feel it.”

Often, young writers in my classroom clutched their pencils and wore pained expressions as they struggled with an assignment; so I’d help them discover any knowledge, experience or emotional involvement they had with the topic. I used a technique I first tried with 4th graders who had to write about farm animals during a practice for district-wide testing. Some of my students lived on a farm. Many did not.

I wrote the topic on the board and added key words for my connections to it: “When I think about the assignment, farm animals, I remember visiting my uncle. His dark, smelly coop full of squawking chickens scared me. I picture horses running in a field and think of how I wanted one when I was your age. I also remember a talking cow on a TV commercial that made me laugh.

I told them I now had three ideas I knew I could write about and added, “I think I’ll write about cows. They still make me laugh. Can you tell me some funny things about cows I could use in my writing?” I heard about mooing cows, stubborn cows, drooling cows, cow patties, bucking cows and flies on cows. When Dix bellowed, “Yeah, and teats on cows,” I decided to move the lesson along: “Thanks for helping me. I have lots of ideas about cows for my writing.”

Next, I asked them to tell me about other farm animals and how they felt about them. I accepted and probed their responses before giving them time to write. They created vivid and lively stories, so we assembled them in a class book, which they read and reread all year. On occasion, I thumbed through it as well and always read my cow story.

As I continued to use the association technique, I noticed age and environment impacted the connections students made. When rural elementary children in Utah brainstormed ideas on the topic of light, they quickly offered sun, moon, stars, sunset, birthday candles, and Christmas tree lights. The first connections made by junior high students in Carson City, Nevada, included traffic lights, head lights, casino lights, and lighting a cigarette.

But, always, the best writing resulted when I asked my young writers how they felt about the associations they offered and why.

Soon, I, too, had write what you know etched on my forehead.

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Seventh-grader Dean allowed me to use his connections to the topic January in teacher workshops. His resulting piece was rated advanced on the district assessment. Can you guess what he wrote about?

How Big Is Your Vehicle and How Powerful Do You Feel?                       

 

female trucker

 

My mind boggled when I heard an NPR report about a study published in the Journal of Psychological Science. Researchers found that most people feel powerful when they sit behind immense desks, in sizeable SUV’s, and on overstuffed chairs. So, evidently, while I’m sitting in a commodious recliner, I forget I’m a senior citizen with sciatica and think I’m Henry the Eighth.

Furthermore, according to the research, when we feel powerful, we tend to lie, steal, cheat and commit traffic violations. So my truck’s to blame for my tendency to park illegally? And my chair’s responsible when I assure Joel dinner will be ready in ten minutes when I know it will be thirty?

My head buzzed with questions: Does our tendency to abuse imagined power depart once we’ve exited our easy chair, six-foot desk, or four-wheel-drive vehicle? Or does it last until a week from Saturday? Also, does our own size matter? Who would be more likely to speed and ignore stop signs when driving a Humvee: Jennifer Aniston or Shaquille O’Neal? And finally, did all the research subjects lie, steal, cheat, and park illegally, or did some of them specialize?

I’d specialize. I’d lie. Or, better said, I’d resume lying. But while I’d like to blame a desk, car, or chair for the lies I’ve told during my lifetime, doing so would be like saying mountains make me feel small and insignificant; therefore they cause my overeating.

Is that the face of a liar? Couldn’t be.

When young, I never thought, “I’m feeling powerful today, so I’ll tell Mom that Bob made me eat all the cookies” Rather, I told lies to escape punishment. As I teenager, I lied to entertain, persuade, smooth awkwardnesses, and avoid hurting my friends’ feelings.

My worst lies flowed, not from power, but from weakness when I felt unimportant, disappointed in myself, or fearful of losing my parents’ approval. I regret those lies.

I forgive myself for social mistruths — my puffed-up term for little white lies. I’ll never tell a friend, “Yes, your butt looks big in those jeans, but, really, your butt is big.” A relative who habitually runs late will never know that while I wait for her, I want to scream, swear and attack her doll collection. And when an apologetic stranger runs over my toe with a shopping cart, I’ll choose to respond, “No problem; I’m fine,” rather than prolonging the encounter by telling the truth: “It hurt like hell, and I’ll have a bruise until Christmas.”

My regrettable tendency to ease situations by lying has decreased as my years have increased. I no longer tell my doctor that I followed her advice when I didn’t, the trooper that I thought I was going the speed limit, or my siblings that I don’t care if I lost the game because they cheated. Mostly, these days, I only lie to myself, and I’m ashamed when I do so.

One more confession: I’ve always been innocent of the claims made in the Journal of Psychological Science. I never, ever, told a lie because I was behind a large desk or sitting in or on any object of considerable size. Unless you count my posterior.