Illness as a Second Language

Illness has a language all its own. Health care has a culture all its own. In the past, I spoke the language fluently and felt right at home in the hospital’s fishbowl atmosphere. I’ve shared a great deal about my transitions to writing and realize just how much I’ve changed. I’m not that gal in whites with rubber soled shoes, sporting a white cap anymore- for a really long time. This is where I insert a *big sigh*.

A dear friend of ours became ill about a week ago. Well, that’s not really true. We found out she was ill last week but she’d been feeling her symptoms for about a month. Finally, hauling her feverish body to the clinic, she saw her doc; he took one look at her and sent her by jet (really by bus) to the hospital. It was a few days later, in a bored febrile state, she called us. I ran across First Avenue and spent some time with her. We laughed, between awful coughing fits, about “hospitals” and “powerlessness over others,” conveniently forgetting about powerlessness over ourselves. We did lick our lips over the cannelloni and carrot cake muffins I brought- that she looked forward to munching on for a late night dessert.

A couple of days later, we returned to find her in the intensive care unit, intubated, intentionally paralyzed with medication so she wouldn’t fight the ventilator and really, just plain old, awfully sick. We met her son. He had spoken to the doctor and hadn’t really understood the medical jargon he was offered. I tried speaking with the nurse, who blushed, shook her head, and said she couldn’t explain anything to me. I was not a relative. She refused to talk to me. Forget the fact that her son was standing two inches away from me. He knows I’m a psychiatric nurse practitioner. Understood I hadn’t done bedside nursing for many years but that I had at one point. We both understood laws of confidentiality. My fellow nurse quickly drained some tubes attached to my friend, washed her hands and scooted far from our little group- whose coats filled the one chair at the bedside.

We were allowed to close the curtain and do a bit of energetic healing work for her. We were grateful for that. When the doctor came, he explained some things in Medicalese. I interpreted as well as I could. The sense of alarm, bewilderment and suspicion had already taken root.  Simple answers to regular people would have done a world of good. Too bad that hadn’t happened.  We rang our hands a bit. We whispered loving words in our friend’s ear, they say the hearing is usually turned on when the person is in a comatose state. We hugged and went our ways.

I went back the next day. This time I was without my friend’s son. She looked worse. I put on my required mask, went in and prayed really, really loudly and did some more energy healing. There was a load of medical and nursing staff there but I knew it would be useless to try to obtain any information.  One nurse asked me who I was; I told her I was a close friend. She zoomed by me to get onto her next task. I wished I could tell her that I am really “that patient’s” adopted spiritual daughter, that I have a PhD in Nursing, that we love our friend and that I promise to call her son and daughters and share everything they want because they don’t understand Medicalese…that… that…  Instead, I picked up my bag and coat, went to the bathroom and ran cool water over my face, hands and the back of my neck. I said another prayer and went home. There is no ending to this story. Yet.

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