Years ago, I was preparing for my first rummage sale to help the homeless shelter at St. Paul's Lutheran Church. As the piles of donated goods slowly filled the portico off sanctuary, a space that was usually empty, still and sacred became filled the bric-a-brac of many times and nations. These were the "extra things," the things easily given away to help those who had lost all they had. As I sorted and priced item after item, A lovely woman with an assured stance, strode into the room with a box. "I no longer need these," she said. I gave her a tax receipt and laid the box aside. Later that evening, I began to sort through the box. It was mostly books. In the box was a newlywed's guide to cooking for two, a book on how to please your man and an adult board game bought from Spencer's Gifts.
I chuckled at the game and priced it at a dollar.
Then I pulled out more books: a hardback book about how to know if he is cheating, a guide to navigate divorce, a dog-eared paperback on grief. The chuckle died upon my lips. Finally, I lifted out a book about positive thinking and a hardback about being a single empowered woman. I smiled at the final titles, and looked down all that was given.
This was a life in a box.
Life is filled with transitions such as the ones represented by this donation. Some times such transitions span years and decades. Sometimes they span only weeks. In hospital settings such transitions often end the same way, with a life in a box.
My husband Fred Holliday II was hospitalized for 11 weeks in five facilities. He had 46 ambulance transports during that time. He went through many transitions of care. And I did a painting focusing on one of them and it was called 73 cents.
In mid May of 2009, Fred was in a rehab facility in Maryland. We were placed there so Fred could learn to walk again after being bed-ridden for 6 weeks. Fred had metastasis of the lower spine and pelvis. He had also suffered a metastatic break to his left hip that pinned via surgery. He was under going a second series of radiation and had just begun chemotherapy. He had been taken off his Dilaudin infusion pump and oral steroids and had been placed on percoset.
He was in excruciating pain.
As a span of days past, Fred grew weaker and weaker. He tried so hard to walk in rehab, but it was almost impossible. The rehab had been designed for post surgery and accident victims. It was a place where pain was good. It was a place where you were supposed to eat in the cafeteria, and if you stayed in your room you were fed last. Fred could barely sit up let alone stand. But he tried so hard.
On Saturday May 16, 2009, I was with Fred in his room. I had brought my painting supplies with me and painted beside him on the rice sheets that would make the painting "The Medical Facts Mural." I looked much like the day Fred first met me 17 years before. I knelt on the floor painting, my hair pulled back with paint brush in hand. I was even using the same brushes.
I looked up at Fred to share this memory, but he was sleeping. He had been sleeping most of the day, I began to worry that he might need a blood transfusion. I pulled out his medical record and counted the days between transfusions. He had had a transfusion about every 14 days. Today was day 15 or 16.
I brought the medical record with me to the nurses station and asked for a stat CBC. She looked at me and said the tech had already left the facility for the day and would not be back till tomorrow morning. I showed her Fred's record and again expressed my concerns. She said she would ask a tech to come over from the hospital. The hospital was less than 50 yards away on the other side of the parking lot. The tech arrived within two hours, blood was drawn and the lab results did show that Fred was in need of a transfusion.
"Okay, when do we begin the transfusion?" I asked. "Oh, we don't do that here," the nurse responded. "You will have to get him transfered to a hospital, and that won't happen till Monday because we are understaffed." Did I mention the hospital is less than 50 yards away?
By this point we had done over 40 ambulance transports, and many of these transports were done by an amazing company called Team Critical Care. I carried their phone number with me everywhere I went. I called them up and asked what paperwork was needed for a hospital transfer with ambulance transport. They told me what was needed, and I went back to the on duty nurse. I asked nicely for the needed papers for the ambulance team. She printed them out and then I asked for my own copy. She said "We don't do that." I told her I understood that she was not supposed to give me my own copy, But couldn't she do it secretly in our room? After all, I was very aware of the dangers of lost paperwork during transfer.
She gave me my own packet.
The ambulance arrived and we were driven across the parking lot. We were admitted through the ER and waited six hour to get a bed. When we got up to the floor I asked to see his inpatient Medical Administration Record. I compared it with my own copy. The hospital had an error on the dosage amount on a drug Fred was taking. I pointed it out to the doctor. She then corrected the record.
I stayed with Fred through the night as he was transfused. The next morning was Sunday. I asked about transport back to rehab. The staff person at the nurses station told me "Good luck, we have 70 patients to discharge and one discharge nurse on duty." So I called Team Critical Care once again, and once again they talked me through the process of gathering all the necessary papers.
Thank God for Team Critical Care.
We transfered back to rehab. Usually, after transfusion Fred was happy and rosy cheeked, but not this time. He was tired and he still seemed pallid. As I sat with him that morning I wondered what would happen next.
Not long after the Doctor who had overseen Fred's transfusion in the hospital came over to the rehab. She was concerned. She said Fred didn't really belong in rehab, he belonged in hospice.
I looked over at Fred with tears in my eyes. It was time for another transition.