Pretty unintentionally around the beginning of last October, I ended up trying out our highly-rated regional medical facilities and their personnel. I cried helplessly on my last view from the stretcher that wheeled me in from the entrance of Johnson City Medical Center to its Emergency Room
by the expanse of purplish-blue and green-gray mountains that ring Tennessee’s Washington County(photographs), but that scenic angst was short-lived as each hospital room has pleasing views also. The first displayed the main ETSU campus against a similar lofty backdrop. Quillen Rehabilitation Center’s room a few weeks later offered floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall window vistas of changing autumn colors and shapes in a carefully landscaped private garden featuring an oriental-style bridge and meditation waterfall and resting benches of natural woods along its curving walkways.
Physician and nursing care is dependably excellent and interestingly humane, even occasionally delightful. For instance, one jovial R.N. I called The African Queen wore sparkling earrings on a classic head with an outstanding coiffure and woke me for meds or tests by throwing all my covers off of me. The neurosurgeon maintained his affable cool even when I scrreamed to be let loose to my bed from an unwelcome chair.When I yelled at the nurses to give me morphine for post-operative pain, they responded with calm elan to my shrill,”What’s wrong with that??” to their negative reply of,”No, it’ll put you out,” which turned out to mean that I’d stop breathing completely (a concern related to a "no-CPR" order in concordance with my Living Will that life and death be left up to only God's extraordinary means) if given any heavy sedation due to a generally weak overall condition.They talked of their spouses and children, shared photos and stories, responded with relief to humor, and made and told their own jokes throughout two major operations and anesthetizations, pneumonia, bronchitis, and the fixating of a consecutive total of nine IVs, numerous blood-samplings, insertion and maintenance of three catheters and catheterizations, and two feeding tubes, administration of one "wildly abnormal" EKG, a catscan and two MRIs, a few chest x-rays and three swallow tests amidst the regular measuring of vital signs and delivery of essential medications via hypodermic needles, capsules and tablets.
Neurosurgeon Dr. Evans explained that the medical terminology describing what had gone wrong with me was that I’d had “a very bad stroke.” Or possibly a series of them. That had adversely effected the left side of my whole body, including tongue and epiglottis. And left field visual acuity and judgment.
Fortunately, by every test administered via rehabilitation specialists -- including a wittily pleasant licensed out-of-state Christian clinical psychiatrist -- and other subsequent experiential interactions, my cognitive functions remained unimpaired, enabling continuing personal care and professional artistic/technical endeavors.
Back to nurses… One small representative of that profession turned out to be Zulu from South Africa by way of the Midwest. She has an infant daughter a few months old whose name in English means ”Mother of the Ark of the Covenant.” Another is a young single mother who’d doubled up on shifts so she could buy her son’s Christmas gifts but worried about the time she was missing from him during the holidays. An older one’s husband works as a Milligan College research professor in Mathemetics and Physics. Their grown children visited from out-of-state during the holidays. Another close to retirement age announced on pushing the button on the bed that raised my head,”Going up…” and we reminisced about the sweet days when elevators had hand-operated, cross-hatched metal doors and doormen who became familiar figures in our lives. Some of the nurses are male, a definite plus from our days of fighting for gender-equality across professions. One of those was a golden-skinned Philipppine who asked drily, when I’d again slithered inadvertently into a scrunched ball in the center of the hospital bed, “Are you comfortable like that?” No, but I wondered later if he conjectured it was something else odd about those Americans he didn‘t quite yet understand.
Along that vein, a few male neighbors have pitched in with daily living assistance from cleaning and pet care to dish washing and grocery shopping while others, mostly female, have cooked meals.
Meantime, hospital volunteers who'd moved into the area from northern states brought into my rehab room three friendly, attractive and well-trained, caringly-groomed canines for patients agreeable to their company, which I was, and provided a choice from gift piles of home-sewn "lap quilts" in varied designs and color schemes. Following a preliminary home visit, the physical and occupational therapists asked me to paint and sign a ceiling tile in the rehab "exercise room," which I did using materials provided and a design they had liked from my residence. In terms of native origin, personnel there seemed a mini-U.N or Congress. Including home health care, representatives from Pittsburgh, Richmond, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Buffalo,Memphis, Chicago, Manhattan, Winchester, Baltimore, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Abingdon Virginia, North Carolina, Indiana, Wisconsin, Harlan and Hazard Kentucky, and overseas nations like Lebanon, Venezuela's Margarita Island and India have attended my needs, expertly and often entertainingly, over the past few months, as well as from such Tri-Cities locales as Carter County, Parrottsville, Erwin, Mountain City, Greeneville, Kingsport, Jonesborough, Gray, Rogersville, Elizabethton and Milligan.
Both Centers are demonstrably devoted to the concept that wholesome healing has a spiritual and arts-related component. Some hallways and patient rooms are enlivened by innovative murals created by local painters; others display related separate paintings. Of the five multi-denominational clergy on staff, I was fortunate to meet and talk with three, at my invitation, who were truly and warmly helpful in my accommodating to that circumstance. The oldest, a rotund gentleman of sweet disposition, asked me on his departure if there was anything he could get for me that I needed. Jokingly, I responded,"A mimosa," referencing the festive mixed drink of orange juice and champagne to which he replied with innocent concern, "I don't think they're blooming now. Anyway, they don't grow often around here." Meeting then on the plane of shared meaning, he explained that he'd never tasted alcohol in his decades here.
The story of “The Wet Magnolias” requires some background detail. From too lengthy a time in bed, my longish permed hair had matted into an uncompromising flattened bun toward the crown of my head. Healthy specimens of the female of the species cannot abide coiffure conundrums of that magnitude without consultative negotiation and practical address. So, it was at the insistence of the entire nursing staff that my best friend arranged for “ the cutest little beautician” in Johnson City to tackle the mess atop my head. Red-headed, theatrical-looking Beth Ann, a single mother of three from seven years to four months who could stop traffic at any given corner just by standing still, arrived with the implements of her trade in a bag slung over her shoulder and assured us that she’d do her best, which turned out to be an excellent and very short haircut for me. Which she insisted needed shampooing. My best friend then obligingly pushed me in the wheelchair into the large shower area of the bath while Beth Ann wielded the hand-held metal spray water hose over toward the general direction of my head -- all three of us completely clothed, and giggling. And emerging utterly soaked through and through. When I asked Beth Ann what I owed for her trip from the city and her time and expertise, she answered that she didn’t know and it was up to me, that we all need to help each other as much and as often as we can. How’s that for a good Christmas spirit, an adventure, and a perfect holiday tale to share?