Making the Best of Bad Situations

Vicki here on this January Tuesday, reflecting about a few experiences from last year.

I wish I could say that my three trips to hospitals in 2011 were merely visits of the information-gathering sort. You know, field trips to soak up the medical atmosphere so that I can describe it more accurately for readers of the Darby Farr Mysteries.

Unfortunately, my journeys were actual medical emergencies. The first was during the long holiday weekend of the Fourth of July. My husband and I had just been to a cookout and were watching  Camden’s fireworks explode over the harbor. I checked my voice mail. A second later I went from admiring the pyrotechnics display to hearing my brother tell me he was at a hospital in Burlington, Vermont, with our mom. She was in severe abdominal pain, they had no idea why, and she was about to undergo an operation.

I left as soon as it was daylight, dodging small-town Independence Day parades as I traversed Northern New England. Shortly after lunch, I was by her bedside, watching as she struggled to recover from a colon obstruction and the removal of 30 inches of her small intestine.

Fletcher Allen Medical Center in Burlington is a teaching hospital, one where my uncle was once on staff and where many of my cousins gave birth. Mom was in a semi-private room, with a woman about my age who’d been a star college basketball player and seemed much, much, sicker than her 74 year old roomie. The doctors made their rounds trailed by groups of students who looked fresh-faced and much more cheerful than you’d expect. The doctor joked with them, they ribbed him back, and I reflected that this was not the stressed-out student-teacher relationship often portrayed on television.

As it is in many hospitals, the nurses at Fletcher Allen are its heart and soul. They wear brightly colored scrubs and patent leather Dansko clogs and carry pastel water bottles when they go on break. The television in their lounge that week all about the Casey Anthony murder trial, and I can tell you, the staffers at that hospital did not like the outcome.

My second sojourn into the realm of the hospital happened in the fall at my local hospital. Poor mom had the bad luck to undergo a second obstruction, although this time the surgery and recovery were much easier. Thank goodness! It felt better to be in a familiar place, both for her and for me, until I had my encounter at the candy machine.

I’d gone to purchase a snack while waiting for mom’s surgery to end. I was standing with my dollar in front of the machine when a young guy rushed up behind me, too close for comfort. I could see him moving in a jittery fashion on the balls of his feet, swinging his head back and forth as he looked up and down the empty corridors. I felt an electric rush of fear.

Quickly I backed away from the machine and kept retreating down the hall, muttering that I did not know what kind of candy bar I wanted. He glanced at the machine, back at me, and then hurried off, his hands jammed in the pockets of his sweatshirt.

Talk about scared — I was shaking! Later, two hospital employees urged me to find security but at that same time my mother’s surgeon was ready to talk, and her condition trumped my fear. The guy was most likely high and probably hoping I’d be the source of more funding for his habit. Little did he know that dollar clutched in my hand was all I had.

My third hospital visit, just before Christmas, was for my own mystery diagnosis, and thankfully consisted of just a few hours in the ER. I’ll leave that one for another time. Writers being writers, we take our moments, even our most harrowing ones, and try to spin gold from their straw. I know my hospital visits from 2011 will “come in handy” as I write, and yet I’m hoping they remain my only medical memories, at least for a while.






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3 Responses to Making the Best of Bad Situations

  1. Poor Vicki! However, I know you find consolation in the fact that really, there isn’t any experience bad enough that a writer can’t make use of it.

    • Vicki Doudera says:

      Yes, Julia — and that is some consolation, isn’t it? Some weird version of the old Yankee saying, “Waste not, want not” !

  2. MCWriTers says:

    So true, Vicki. I remember being in an MRI machine before my back surgery, and thinking about how I would describe the experience. In the end, I decided it must be what it would be like to be inside an engine block. Even a root canal becomes research–into extreme fear and pain.

    It probably makes us seem crazy to others, but it’s all grist for the word mill.

    Glad you’re okay, though.


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