Monday, July 28, 2008

On Interstate Dining, 80s Music, and Caregivers…

This weekend we completed our first road trip of summer 2008—twelve hours to Michigan for a family function, and twelve hours back just in time to pick up the dogs at their kennel and get to work.

Radio stations and rest stops are the only things that break up the monotony of long car rides—well, that and crossing the Canadian border each way. I know all about the tips for eating gluten-free while traveling in the car, and I dutifully pack nuts and trail mix, bottled water, and fruit.

(I’m irrationally militant about consuming greens at every meal, and after doing this route for a few years now, I can vouch for the Lee, Massachusetts service area with a Fresh City and the Pembroke, NY service area with a Fuddrucker’s as A Chronic Dose-approved salad stops.)

While we may have stocked up on gluten-free snacks, we forgot to bring our iPod adapter or CDs so it was all radio, all the time. In a freakish coincidence that defied station, state, or even country, every single different station that came in played 80s tunes—REO Speedwagon, Chicago, and lots more. Seriously. The songs totally brought me back to my childhood, to driving around in my mother’s cream station wagon, my legs sticking to the leather interior in the summer’s heat.

But we heard one song that has a particularly vivid and visceral memory: “The Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News. Whenever I hear it—and this past weekend was no exception—Bam! I’m five years old, a couple of weeks into my several-week stay in isolation due to a serious staph infection spreading from my ears to my brain. It’s brashly sunny in my white room overlooking the Charles River, and I am bored.

There was a playgirl on my floor named Mimi—I’m sure that wasn’t her official title, but that’s what I called her in my head—and since I couldn’t go to the playroom with the other peds patients, she brought special toys and games to me. One time, she brought a small radio and played that song. I still remember her strawberry blond curls and pale skin, still remember the effort she made to bring a little bit of fun into my life.

(As an aside, it’s no irony that the summer before college I volunteered with the Child Life department at Boston Medical Center, where I learned how to engage in therapeutic play on an in-patient floor…and it’s no coincidence that I loved it.)

Anyway, all of this road trip reminiscing is going somewhere, I swear. Clearly I had hospitals and caregiving on my mind this morning when I read this post on Running a Hospital, a note from a family member of a hospital patient who wanted to highlight the exceptional care certain nurses and physicians gave her relative.

I’ve always said it’s the nurses who make or break a hospital stay, and I firmly believe that. They are the ones who attend to our immediate needs, who spend a lot of time reassuring family members and answering questions, who are our advocates and caregivers, and whose gestures, however big or small, can make such a difference in our quality of life as inpatients.

I’ve had nurses who’ve stayed late to give me chest PT when respiratory therapy couldn’t make it, or who brought decorations and festive platters of baked goods and flowers from their own holiday celebrations to cheer up the floor. I’ve had nurses who’ve made me laugh when I desperately needed to, who’ve made me feel comfortable despite extremely uncomfortable symptoms and circumstances, who’ve treated my friends and family as warmly as I would.

I’ve also turned a sharply trained eye to the nurses in charge of the people I care about. Like the letter-writer in the post I mentioned, I’ve appreciated—and remembered—the nurses who soothed their anxiety, prioritized their worries, and responded to their concerns and fears with dignity. I’ve taught several sections of nursing students, and I am always impressed with their passion and enthusiasm for patient care, passion they bring to their classroom discussions and their research projects.

So while the weeks I spent in isolation as a little girl aren’t the best memories I have, certainly, the memory that classic 80s tune conjures up is a good one—it reminds me that for however overwhelming the hospital can be, there are doctors, nurses, physical therapists, child life specialists, and many others whose actions remind us we are people, not solely patients.

Speaking of nursing, interested in basic information on the nursing shortage or chronic illness nursing programs? Check out these links. Just a little bit more summer reading…


Unknown said...

did you drive through Sarnia or Windsor on our way? I was born and raised in Saria

Laurie said...

We go through Sarnia every time--I've grown to love Sarnia because once we hit it, it means we're almost there!

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