Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas

Every time I turn on television I see some reporter standing in front of Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas and yapping endlessly about the ebola crisis. Eric Duncan was being treated there for ebola.  Duncan died.  Then two nurses who cared for him developed ebola.  The nurses were taken away to Georgia and Maryland.  The reporter is still standing in front of Presbyterian making comments. The hospital is criticized for not following proper procedures.  The hospital’s rebutts that it followed CDC guidelines. 

And so on and so on. 

One thing the hospital can not excuse is that when Duncan first came to the Presbyterian emergency room, he was sent home with a prescription for antibiotics. 

Since moving to Dallas in March, I have gone to doctors in satellite building at Presbyterian.  It is the closest medical center to the retirement home where I now live.  So far I’ve driven there for appointments with a dermatologist and an eye doctor.  My new glasses made me see double, and I had to go back several times before they got it right.  Now when I drive out the gate of my home, I scarcely have to think as the car turns automatically towards Presbyterian.

The hospital is in a lovely area of North Dallas, surrounded by tree-lined streets with lovely big homes.  White Texans are paranoid about black people.  Rich Texans who live near Presbyterian are still angry that the government built “welfare” apartments – like the one where Eric Duncan lived – in their beautiful neighborhood.

The first time I went to Presbyterian it was in an ambulance.  During the week before I moved, I did not feel good.  Stressed out and losing sleep over packing, I became over-tired.  On my first night in the new apartment I woke up at 2 a.m. violently ill, throwing up and gasping for breath.  After a few days of being unable to eat I called our “care concierge”.   John Maden called 911.  EMT’s came and took me to Presbyterian. 

At the hospital I had to wait.  Unless you are having a heart attack or stroke, you always have to wait in American ER’s.  A young resident ordered a bunch of tests.  The staff changed shifts.  After another long wait, a different doctor came in and said, “We are sending you home.”

“I’m sick,” I cried.  “I am really sick.”

“As long as your vital signs are normal,” the doctor said.  “We can’t keep you.” 

The ambulance brought me back to The Churchill.  This is “independent living.” I was alone. I felt sorry for myself.  I climbed back into the recliner and did not get out of it to eat or sleep for two weeks.  It took another two months to recover from the virus, or whatever it was that made me feel so wretched.  I lost 25 pounds.  My trousers are falling off, and I still have not bought new ones.   

I find it curious that rich (like me) or poor (like Eric Duncan), Presbyterian did not look for the cause of our distress because we were not “critical” when we first went to the emergency room.  Fortunately for me, I recovered.  Unfortunately, the treatment Duncan and I both received at Presbyterian is typical of America’s health care system.  The best in the World?   

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Should I Have Died at 75?

    There is a lot of talk about an in the Atlantic titled ”Why I Hope to Die at 75."  At age 85 I disagree with much of what Ezekiel Emmanuel said. 

    Maybe I should have died at age 60.  I had breast cancer.  The surgeon came into my hospital room after the mastectomy and told me, “It has spread to the lymph nodes.”  I thought it was a death sentence.  The doctor sent me to a great oncologist.  Six months of chemo and six weeks of daily radiation.  I pulled up tumble weeds in my backyard in Albuquerque.  The result:  lymphadema in my right arm.  The swollen arm in its custom-made sleeve looks ugly but does not hurt.  And 24 years later I am still here. 

    At 75 I was felt good, did whatever I wanted, traveled.  Went to China, Thailand, and twice to Russia.  Went to Europe so many times I lost count.  Then at age 80 my kidneys quit filtering and I had to go on dialysis.  Now it is a big deal to go from Dallas to Fort Worth.  But I write this blog.  I just finished writing another book and sent it to the publisher this week.  I am glad to be alive. I enjoy every day. 

    Other old ladies tell me their children call every day to ask how Mom is doing.  I feel lucky if my children call me once a month.  All live far away.  I am in Dallas.  Martha is in Chicago.  David is in Southern California.  Both are overwhelmed by demanding careers, caring for spouses, and problems with their own children   Karl, in Arkansas, has his own problems.  I have always been independent.  They are accustomed to my taking care of myself.  I’ve been trying to convince them that, in spite of my active lifestyle, I am an old lady who can not do all the things I used to do. 

    Now my family is coming for Thanksgiving.  Martha and David are taking time off from their important jobs.  Martha is coming with husband Don and all three sons, big men, all over six feet tall.  Don, Doug, and Richard are electrical engineers. Joseph is still in college. David is bringing his son, 14-year-old Adam.  Karl called to say he was sorry he couldn’t come, too.

    I wonder:  What kind of parent am I to my adult children?

    One paragraph in Ezekiel Emanuel’s article stopped me cold.  The author (he is Ron’s brother) wrote about parents:

    “Whether estranged, disengaged, or deeply loving, they set expectations, render judgments, impose their opinions, interfere, and are generally a looming presence for even adult children.  This can be wonderful.  It can be annoying.  It can be destructive.  But it is inescapable as long as the parent is alive.  Examples abound in life and literature: Lear, the quintessential Jewish mother, the Tiger moms.  And while children can never fully escape this weight even after a parent dies, there is much less pressure to conform to parental expectations and demands after they are gone.”

    I am thrilled that my family is coming for Thanksgiving.  It will be wonderful to see them, but will they be glad when I die?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

An Abused Wife

This is going to be a very long blog.  Perhaps I am being self-indulgent, but I need to tell this story.

The media is full of outrage over abused women.  People ask, “Why does a woman stay with a man who beats her?  I know.  I was an abused wife.  I never called the police.  I never signed a complaint.  I put up with it for 27 years.

I loved Wally, and I thought he loved me.  When we were first married and I went with him to Chicago, I was not prepared for the situation in which I found myself.  His mother was an ignorant woman, with only a third grade education and who said to me, “You are in Chicago now.  You must do things our way.”. 

She criticized everything I did.  If I slumped under her barrage, she said, “Look at you!  Sit up straight!”  If I sat up, she said, “Oh, you look so stiff.”

She said I was a slob and a bad housekeeper.  Several times a week Wally echoed her in shouting at me.  “There is dust on top of the refrigerator.”  He called me names I never heard in my parents’ home.  

I thought he did not want to disappoint his Scandinavian mother with his choice of a wife.  They really believed I did not know how to clean house.  Before he came home (sometimes quite late), I picked up the children’s toys and vacuumed and dusted the living room every night.  This did not stop the verbal abuse.  Wally came home and irrupted in a torrent of rage. “There is a dust bunny in the back of the closet.  Your house is dirty!  I won’t put up with this.”

Only one time did Wally speak up to his mother.  As he shouted at her, the pitch of his voice became higher and higher.  I was appalled and said, “Wally, don’t speak to your mother like that.”  His mother said, “Yes, Wally.  Shout at me like a man!  You sound like a girl.”

At first I thought all this criticism and shouting was a cultural thing.  In my parents’ home no one ever raised their voices.  The strongest language I was permitted to use when I was really, really angry was to say, “Darn!”   It was a relief when I was upset to say, “Damn!”

The first time the abuse became physical  was when I became pregnant for the first time.  In addition to constant verbal abuse, Wally slapped me around.  The entire nine months was hell.  I told myself, “He is just nervous about taking on the responsibility of a father.”   Karl was born.  Wally was thrilled with his baby son.  There was no more physical abuse for many years. 

Wally was transferred from Chicago to Detroit to Dallas to Philadelphia.  Most of that time he did not even shout at me.  I thought contact with other business men and their wives had shown him a better way to behave.  Then we moved back to Chicago, and the verbal abuse began again.  I thought, “He has problems at work, and he’s taking it out on me.” 

Then the abuse  became physical.  The night he put his hands around my throat and choked me, I finally realized: “Unconditional love is not going to work”.  I saw a lawyer. 

I did not tell Wally.  I was working as a real estate agent.  One night I went out to see prospective clients about listing their house.  I did not get the listing.  Feeling low, I went home.  As I walked in the door, Wally, who had been sitting drinking Scotch in the den, jumped up.  He socked me so hard I fell down.  He started kicking me in the ribs.  David, in the next room, heard the sound of blows and came out in his pajamas.  He saw me lying on the carpet while his father pummeled me over and over.  In tears David said, “Stop, Daddy, please stop.”  

Wally said, “This does not concern you, David.  Go back to your room.”  

David: “Stop!  Stop!”

Wally stepped back.  He looking dazed and drunk. 

I stood up and said, “David, put on your clothes.  We are leaving here right now.”

Wally became contrite.  He begged me not to go.  He promised it would never happen again.

For the next year Wally and I went to Arlington Heights, Illinois, every week to talk with a psychiatrist.  Once the doctor gave us “homework.”  We were to go to the ice cream shop.  I was to order whatever I wanted.  Wally was to order something else.  I was to eat whatever Wally ordered for me, and while I was eating, he was to explain to me why I should prefer what he ordered over my choice.  After supper the next night, we did exactly as the doctor prescribed.  I ordered a double dip chocolate cone.  Wally replaced that order with a maple sundae with caramel sauce. 

As I tried to eat the damned thing, I said, “Wally, have you ever known me to order maple or caramel? You know I don’t like those flavors.”   

Wally said gruffly, “The doctor told me to order something different.”

Why hadn’t he ordered the brownie treat or a strawberry sundae or even a simple butter-pecan cone?  I knew why.  I would have been delighted with any of those, but Wally would never do anything to please me.  He wanted to punish me for my supposed sin of being a bad wife.

Soon after that the angry outbursts began again.  He made fists and shook his big hands in front of my face.  I was terrified that hitting and choking would begin again.  When he finally calmed down, I said, “I’m going ahead with the divorce.”

“Why?” he said.  “I haven’t hit you for over a year.”

I said, “I can’t take any more of your anger.  I simply can’t take it.”

We were divorced.  I still loved Wally, but I could not live with him.  I thought he understood that.  He didn’t  He married Dee.  He broke my heart.  I think he was having an affair with her for the last two years we were married.  I now suspect that he was having affairs since the first year we were married.  All those nights when he was “working late.”  His way of dealing with his cheating was to convince himself that I was a bad wife who deserved all the abuse he heaped on me.

Since the divorce, I’ve had a wonderful life.  First I moved to Albuquerque, crying all the way for the 1,000 miles from Chicago.  Within two weeks I went to the Senior Center there, where I started having more fun than I ever dreamed possible.  Then I met John Durkalski, the kindest, gentlest of men who devoted the last four years of his life to making me happy and whose estate now enables me to live in luxury in a retirement home in Dallas.. 

Wally’s anger turned to pure hatred.  He convinced himself that I was a bad woman who had mistreated him.   David refuses to tell me all the horrible things his father said about me.

Wally developed lung cancer.  The doctor came into his hospital room and told him, “Wally, you are dying.”  

Wally said, “No, I am not.  I’m going to lick this thing.  I am not going to let Ilene have my Social Security.”

Two weeks later he died.  That was 17 years ago.  His Social Security check has been deposited in my bank account every month since.