Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Snippet of a memoir: Waiting rooms

Part of this post was first published on this blog on Feb. 15, 2012. My post on Monday about OCD and health stirred up some memories that I wanted to share, and what I had written over a year ago was a starting point.

When I was a child and teenager, I spent a lot of time waiting.
Some of this waiting happened in actual waiting rooms, places of calm in the midst of the sadness and fear of hospitals.
I was surrounded by sickness growing up. I’m the youngest of three, with two older brothers. My oldest brother is 11 years older than me. My next oldest brother is two years older.
My next oldest brother was born with spina bifada and clubfeet. As a result, he had to have multiple surgeries as a child and spent a lot of time in the hospital.
My father had a major stroke when he was 54. I was 12 at the time. His speech and movement were badly affected, and he had to retire from his job as a rural letter carrier for the post office. Later that same year, he suffered a blood clot in one of his kidneys and almost died before the kidney was removed.
My mother also had her share of illnesses and hospital visits.
So the waiting rooms in the hospitals in the nearby city were very familiar to me.
The nicest one was a large room that had real furniture, like you’d find in a private home. Chair railings ran along the wall. Paintings covered the walls.
There were volunteers stationed at a counter, and they helped visitors find their way around the hospital and answered general questions. They were usually women who wore pink-jacket “uniforms.” They were called “Pink Ladies.”
Though people came and went, there was a hush over the room. No one spoke loudly or laughed or cried where you could hear. It was like being in a church.
When I was 7 or 8 years old, when my brother was ill quite a bit, my parents would leave me in the waiting room while they went up to be with him. In those days, at that hospital, children under 12 were not allowed to visit patients.
I always had a book with me, and I would sit in one of the nice green armchairs, my always-present purse tucked up against me, and read. Sometimes I would look up and stare at the paintings or the signs on the wall and on the swinging doors that went back into the main part of the hospital.
One night, I wasn’t kept waiting downstairs. I was allowed to go up to my brother’s hospital room.
My mother came down to the waiting room and led me back through the swinging doors into the part of the hospital that was usually forbidden to me.
I don’t remember what she told me at the time, if anything. But I had heard enough talk to know that my brother was very sick.
I remember walking into my brother’s room. He was lying in bed. He was very pale. He lay as if exhausted. He didn’t look at me.
My mother lightly pushed me towards the bed.
I stared at my brother. But I didn’t know what to say. So I didn’t say anything.
I stood there for probably just a couple of minutes, and then my mother took me back downstairs.
Years later, my mother told me that the doctors were afraid that my brother wouldn’t live through surgery scheduled for the next day. So permission was granted for me to go to his room to see him. As my mother put it, the nurses “looked the other way” as she led me to his room.
My brother made it through the surgery fine.

Remember the concerns I expressed in my post about OCD and self-doubts about health?
It has become clear to me that I have a difficult time believing I’m sick “enough,” injured “enough,” because I’ve seen a lot of illness in others, especially family members.
I was the lucky child. I didn’t have physical disabilities. I didn’t have serious illnesses. I was the one fortunate enough to be waiting in the waiting room.
It’s not an earth-shattering realization, and I don’t want to start complaining about my every pain. I’m grateful for my overall good health.
Of course, for all my good physical health, even as a child I was beginning to show signs of mental illnesses: OCD and depression.
Those illnesses were more hidden, though. Less talked about.
Perhaps some of us who have dealt with low self-esteem, perhaps as a part of depression, have this way of thinking: other people are worth concern. We’re not.
That’s not a healthy way of thinking. All of us are worthy of concern from others and ourselves. It’s OK to ask for help from others. It’s OK to express our pain and sadness.
And what a blessing it is to know that someone is listening. Thank you, my dear blogging friends, for listening.

32 comments:

  1. Sounds as if you went through a lot growing up...which makes it even more impressive that you have become the wonderful person that you are. You're an inspiration my friend.

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    1. Thank you, Keith. I appreciate the kind words and encouragement.

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  2. Oh Tina I think Keith says it perfectly. HUGS B

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    1. Thank you, Buttons. Hugs back to you. :-)

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    1. Elizabeth, thank you. Right back at you.

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  4. "lean on me, when your not strong and i'll be your friend. i'll help you carry on"....that's what friends are for!!!

    we are all climbing a mountain, of one sort or another!!

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    1. Ah, Debbie, one of my favorite songs. :-) Thank you. And you're right--we're all climbing.

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  5. Of course you are worthy of concern from yourself and others! I can understand that what you went through as a child, however, could make you feel differently...Great post, Tina!

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    1. Thanks, Janet. I appreciate your kind words and your encouragement. :-)

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  6. This is such a powerful post that I remember reading part of it before. Yes you are worthy.

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    1. Thank you, Lisa. The piece just called for me to work on it again.

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  7. i had very little exposure to hospitals as i was young - and the few visits i had made me scared of them.

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    1. I'm glad you didn't have a lot of exposure. Of course, hospitals are great places to be when you're sick or family is sick, but not necessarily comfortable places to be. Thanks for your comment.

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  8. My heart breaks for that little girl who spent so much time alone while others were tended to. While it couldn't be helped, it feels as though you had to grow up too soon. And you're right, the mental illnesses are less obvious, so there wasn't a way for others to recognize that you also needed attention and care.

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    1. Thank you for your understanding, Nadine. In some ways, I did grow up pretty quickly. But that's OK now.

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  9. What a heart-felt piece of writing! I'm glad you shared it. It must not have been easy to grow up with sickness all around, but it sounds like you were very patient and made use of the waiting room space. I agree with you that you should never dismiss your own needs by thinking that others are more important. Without you, there would be no others. I don't like to go to the doctor. I avoid it at all costs, but recently I've decided that it is good to visit the doctor or take care of myself when I don't feel well or something is not quite right! Good for you for honoring and taking care of that part of yourself that needs your love and care!

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    1. Thank you, Katherine. It's not always easy to remember to take care of ourselves, is it?

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  10. Beautiful and touching post, Tina. All the waiting you have experienced is a blessing in that it has made you the beautiful person you are today: patient, kind and understanding. As far as being sick or injured "enough", there are always people better off...and worse off. Great post!

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    1. Thank you, Linda. You have such a kind heart. :-) It is good to remember that others are going through things, too.

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  11. Tina, thank you for sharing this touching insight. I was always the one others didn't feel they needed to worry about - because my illness and problems were not as visible as others in my family. But I know that I was loved, and that's what I choose to remember most. Reading comments on your blog give evidence that you too are loved, perhaps more than you might know. Thank you for your inspiration! ~Becky

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    1. Becky, your comment touched my heart. Thank you so much.

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  12. This post is so needed. Thank you.

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    1. I'm glad if it helps, Anna. :-) Thank you for your comment.

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  13. I'm so sorry for the pain you suffered as a child. I realize you didn't have physical pain, but when others in our family are sick or hurt, we suffer too, especially if we are children confused by everything around us. And yes, you are worth being cared for and concerned about.

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    1. Thank you, Sunny. I appreciate your words.

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  14. This is such a wonderful post Tina as I recognize so much.
    My siblings were in hospital often too.
    My one sister nearly didn't make it through her first year, my brother had cancer and my other sister had numerous operations as well.
    But my psychiatrist tells me that OCD is a true handicap and so you must never under estimate what you all had to go through yourself.
    You are an amazing woman Tina and I love your posts! They always hit home.

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    1. Klaaske, thank you. I'm glad that the post resonated with you, though I'm sorry your family also had a lot of illnesses.

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  15. You have great insight Tina, it is interesting to me how our family environment and dynamics has such an impact on how we grow, feel and relate as children and adults. My children were all healthy but even with periodic colds and flu, as a mom and dad, your time and attention goes to the sick child and I imagine a serious illness requires a lot of energy (and emotional healthly) parents to be able to balance care to the sick and equal care for the needs of your healthy children. I felt overwhelmed sometimes just keeping up with three healthy kids.
    I tend to downplay the seriousness of OCD when it comes to myself, not other people though. I think in many ways I never feel sick enough either , nor do I want to put other people out, that is a huge fear of mine. (a poignant result of my own childhood) I had a bike accident once and the ER doctor asked me why I didn't call an ambulance. (My bike light was actually embedded in my hip) I told him I figured I was still breathing and had all my limbs so I didn't think I warranted an ambulance. My empathy for other people is way stronger than what I have for myself.

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    1. Thanks, Krystal Lynn. Yep, I understand that tendency to take others' problems more seriously than our own. I, too, have much more empathy and patience with others than with myself.

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