Thursday, June 29, 2006
Free Shuttle To Hospital
At major cancer hospitals like MD Anderson and the Mayo Clinic, there's a rash of hotels that cater to people's families who have nowhere to stay (many have travelled from other states and countries) during usually grisly and extensive treatments. My family did its time (prison terminology is not an accident) in Houston at MD Anderson in a rickety hotel that advertised "Free Shuttle to Hospital!" with a death-trap elevator that rattled the entire way to the twelvth floor where we stayed. My mother's operation (a fourteen hour ordeal) had been scheduled for the fourth of July weekend, a holiday that I have always, at best, loathed. I hate loud noises, parks, picnics, and still have trauma from the early seventies when my daddy set himself and his avocado-green polyester pant suit on fire with a Roman Candle (luckily for him, we were at good old Possum Kingdom Lake and he jumped in and didn't get burned -- the suit, however, was a goner). Houston in July resembles what I imagine to be hell -- sweltering with humidity, temperatures nearing or surpassing 100 every single day. One never knew how to dress -- the hospital itself felt like a tomb (a/c turned to sixty to protect the machinery) and outside was a sauna, a sauna in a sprawling urban city full of traffic problems.
My mother survived the operation (she had to stay in the hospital over a month, however, and make many returns in the remaining years of her life), and my father, sister, and I became familiar with the hotel -- the Arabic woman dressed in full burkhas who sat at the pool every night after the men had gone inside, the hotel clerks with their gallows humor (floods in the midwest killing dozens of people on the news illicited the following response -- Ha! Nobody lives forever!), the other patients who passed in and out with bandages and ivs trailing, well enough to leave the hospital, but under strict orders not to return home for a certain period of time. I saw a couple on their honeymoon who stood behind a man with half his nose removed and see them look at each other as if to say, Why didn't we go see Steve and Edie in the Poconos? On the fourth, I didn't remember the holiday, but my sister did and told me to wake her up if I saw any fireworks. I stayed up that night reading and kept hearing this loud thumping noise that sounded as if somebody upstairs was falling down, over and over again. I looked up from my book after nearly half an hour, thinking, this is bullshit until I realized the sounds were the fireworks! The whole window lit up with color -- I could tell this was the finale of the show, and I hadn't woken up my sister, and we'd missed it all. I might have let her sleep -- there wasn't much left, but I couldn't stand the thought that she wouldn't see anything. We stayed silent and unmoving for the last few minutes, the time where the whole sky exploded in front of our window, and we stood in front of it, seeing stars, as if we'd been hit.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Until he died, they hadn't taken into account how many times a week they saw him." Jill McCorkle, Creatures of Habit
1 part grapefruit vodka
1 part pomegrante juice
Serve as a martini and garnish with lemon.
Benedictions and Maledictions
First published in Natural Bridge:
This Final Bath
Part of our job is to clean the bodies,
my sister told me. When someone dies,
we take care of them before the funeral
home arrives. She hadn’t known about it,
this final bath. Past all caring, you could
do anything you want, no need for gentle
gestures. Still she checks the water’s
temperature, out of habit or love, waiting
until it becomes warm enough not to be a shock.