Being Mom at the hospital

We took Monkey to the ER on Saturday for trouble breathing. He was admitted to GPU for about 48 hours. He’s still sick and on oxygen, but stable enough that we were able to bring him home. So, instead of the post I was going to write this weekend (about politics and creativity), you get this one.

I should say I’m relieved to be home, and I am. Hospitals are in many ways unpleasant places, with lousy food, scant privacy, and near-total dependence on nurses who change every 12 hours for better or worse. No one enjoys being wakened multiple times during the night to have their vitals checked (having your baby/toddler wakened is even worse!). I can rant all day about such irritations as waiting half a day for the hospital pharmacy to give permission to give his own medication from home, doctors who don’t bother to look at the chart, the nurse station hanging up on my call (yes, that happened), and so on. And yet … every time we go home after a hospital stay, however brief, I feel a sense of sadness, almost nostalgia.

I’ve gone through different theories as to why this is. First I thought, maybe it’s because I’m lazy. Maybe I like having other people do things for me. This doesn’t make much sense, though, because when Monkey is the patient I still have to do most of his care; in fact, it takes more work to keep him comfortable and entertained. Besides, not being allowed to do things oneself can be extremely frustrating. So then I thought that maybe it was because I’m a horrible, sadistic person who likes being in places where people, including my own child, are suffering. My therapist didn’t care for this theory (too morbid, apparently). So then I thought, maybe it’s because when I’m in the hospital I go into survival mode – all my energies are focused on things like eating, sleep if possible, and advocating for medical care. Everyday stressors are pushed aside and forgotten. I enter a parallel universe where everything is either an immediate life-and-death matter or totally unimportant, so that once those life-and-death things are taken care of I can just collapse and stare mindlessly at the TV, perhaps drooling a bit.

I think this last theory is part of it. However, something else clicked for me this time around. I realized that when Monkey and I are in the hospital, we’re normal. Our experience is normal. The medicalization of our life isn’t isolating, because everything at a hospital is medicalized.

When I come home and Monkey is still sick or recovering from surgery, I am forced to re-enter the loneliness of the non-medicalized world, where no one knows or cares how you’re “satting”, where toddlers don’t need therapy to learn to eat, where children think shots are the worst thing that can happen to them at a doctor’s office. At home, I take charge of the medical care that I’m not allowed to do in hospital: I change the dressings, I hook up the equipment, I measure the drain output. At home, I am both Mom and Nurse.

At the hospital, I’m just Mom. A slightly overeducated mom who uses medical terminology, but still really just … a mom.

There’s a certain relief in that.

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