Christmas in the hospital
I am going back "home" for Christmas. Going back to Iowa. I and my fiance are going to make the long trek across the snowy prairies to be with my family. There are long roads in that 11-hour drive. Sleepy stretches. Radio static. But it is important that we go.
On Friday, my mother called me at work, her voice shaking. Air waves carried the sound of her sobs as she told me that my uncle, her younger brother, had had a stroke. Three strokes, in fact. Three strokes in 12 hours.
He is 47. In perfect health. He is an excellent athlete with vertical leap and natural talent. He has a 9-year-old son, one of my many cousins. He has two daughters, one of whom was just married three weeks ago. A wife. A house. A job. A life. And now, currently, he rests in a hospital bed, bandaged and attached to machines that filter oxygen, fluids, and nutrients through his limp form. His right arm and right hand are paralyzed, perhaps for life. He is subdued, sedated. Each day my mother calls me with tears just barely hidden--"This is not fair," she tells me. "I'm the one with the health problems. I'm the one with issues. He is in perfect health. It should be me in there, not him. It's not fair," she sobs. "It's not fair."
There is a photo of my cousin, the one recently married, dancing with my uncle. A daddy-daughter dance. Their smiles, his toothy grin, haunts me. I have not yet seen my uncle, but I fear seeing him abed, inanimate and without a smirk.
My uncle is not the only one who resides in a hospital now, either. My adoptive grandfather had surgery this week as well. Three cancerous spots were removed from his "good" lung. And, lastly, there is my father. After two decades of distancing myself from him, I am trying to construct some sort of relationship with him. Though our relationship is far from perfectly functional, I was shocked and stunned--and wholeheartedly distracted--when I learned that he was in the hospital with a serious infection in his foot and leg. For three weeks, he battled the infection, nearly losing his foot in the process. Even now, he must remain cautious.
This month has been about hospitals and infections, accidents and health issues. My family--my mother's and my father's side--have been in waiting rooms, ambulances, offices. They wait. They ask questions. They worry. They cry. I think of my family constantly--huddled in a waiting room together, talking, reading, trying to play games. They pray. They think. They are both positive and questioning.
Here, in Indiana, I am anxiously helpless. I can do nothing. I cannot be anywhere. I sit and wait to hear from someone. I am eager for updates, improvements. "How is he?" "What did he do today?" "What do they think will happen?" "Did he make it out of surgery okay?" "Mom, don't cry." "Mom, if this is the year our family spends Christmas at the hospital, so be it. We will be stronger, closer, for it, despite the tensions now. Christmas is what you make it to be with the people you are with."
And so, I'm going. We're going. We're loading up the car and driving to Iowa, if only for two days. It is worth it. It is utterly, entirely worth it. It is necessary.
Originally, the fiance and I had planned to surprise my family with our presence. I had thought of several ways to break the news to my mother (who, despite my misleadings, is still too smart for her own good). She knew of my arrival even before I talked to her, even before she opened up my silly letter--the one with a Taboo-style "name that Christmas carol" game I had etched out.
"Frozen Precipitation Commence" = "Let it Snow"
"Monarchical Triad" = "We Three Kings"
"What Wedding Bands are Made of" = "Silver and Gold"
"What Every Band Needs."
I laughed. "Most likely true, Mom." I sighed. "But no."
I guffawed as I pawed my fridge open, searching for a snack. "That is not a Christmas song." I clenched the phone between my ear and shoulder.
"Then I don't know."
"You're not trying."
"I don't want to," she sarcastically breathed into her end of the line.
I sighed. "A band needs someone who plays an instrument."
"Ah, yes. 'The Little Drummer Boy.'"
Over the phone, she played the game with me, matching answers to questions and making correct assumptions. The last clue said, "What I Want to Tell You Over the Phone." The song? "I'll be Home for Christmas."
It was a fun idea, though a bit wasted, given that my mother had already purchased food for Christmas dinner and begun planning for the fiance and I to visit.
"The easiest one was for 'O Christmas Tree," she said.
"Ode to a Douglas Fir?" I confirmed. "Of course."
And so we went on, talking of trees and food and road trips and work schedules and job prospects for the fiance. My uncle and my grandpa and the family and hospitals and more food and and trees again.
In what is possibly the most scripted segue, I entered my Christmas tree into a contest. The contest is sponsored by my bank, which is located in my hometown back in Iowa. The winner receives a gift basket with $100 worth of goods (most likely gift certificates and whatnot). If I end up receiving the honor, I intend to share it with my family, for they need aid, things, support more than I do.
I ask you now, in the gentlest way I can, to please vote for my little tree. It would mean so much to me if you did so ... and I cannot even begin to express my eager gratitude. I honestly do not want to trophy this contest for the sake of boasting. To me, it is not a popularity contest--it is a charity event. I don't want this for myself--I want it for others. I want it for my family. I want to be able to share a little something, help them in any way I can. This is one of the hardest things we have ever had to face--especially at this time of the year, especially when the fresh and happy memories of the wedding are so close. Please ... help.
If you choose not to vote (admittedly, you have to "like" my bank's page in order to vote), that is okay. No one is obligated to. If you believe I am pushing self-promotion, then, please, refrain from voting. I will tell you this, though: if I do win, if I do receive the gift basket, I will post here whatever you wish. More photos? Done. More journal-like entries about my fiance? My family? My friends? I'll do it. I'll share my thoughts about blogging. Focus on disposable cameras and film. Create a series about handmade businesses I enjoy. Share photos of my past, my childhood. Exhibit my attempts at poetry. Or model for you a photo of me wearing a cat sweater. Truly--whatever it is you wish me to do--I shall share.
In short, I just need help so I can aid my family ... being 600 miles away from a heartbreaking emergency leads to nothing but helplessness.
If you wish to, you may vote here. However, if you are unable to spare a few minutes on Facebook, then I ask only for your thoughts and prayers. For my uncle, for my uncle's family--his wife, his children, his siblings, his nieces and nephews, even his parents, my grandparents. For my dad. For my fiance and I--our drive there. And, truly, truly, truly, thank you. Thank you for whatever it is you can spare.