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Mommy Nearest

13 Jan

I’ve been asked by more than one reader about my mother.  Apparently she’s missing from my blogs lately and people are curious about my very complicated and volatile relationship with her.  It’s like reading a book and there’s a protagonist and you’re just so curious about what really happened to them.  I’m not sure if in my case if it’s more Patricia Cornwell or Stephen King.  The truth is, I haven’t spoken to my mother since October.  Now, before you judge me…..

The last time I saw my mother was at my aunt’s deathbed.  I held my aunt’s hand and watched as she succumbed to the cancer that had been periodically visiting her body for the last fifteen years.  She was ravaged by pain and regret and although we had a falling out, attributable mostly to my mother and my desire that my aunt stop enabling her prescription pill habit, we were able to communicate both our love and our sorrow before she passed.  I comforted my mother in her sorrow and ignored her painful outbursts aimed at my aunt’s husband and myself.  It was time to put aside petty things.

I thought the pain and the sorrow of losing her sister would be enough to make my mother realize what she was inflicting on her children and her grandchildren.  She was not speaking to my sister.  My sister had been angry and said angry words, and according to my parents they were unforgivable.  They decided to never speak to my sister again, and in doing that had not spoken to their grandchildren either.  I played mediator for a period of time, and had clung to a small vestige of hope that all of it could be resolved.  I talked my sister into visiting the hospital with me while my aunt was still cognizant enough to know she was there.  I watched from the doorway as my mother snarled at my sister and rolled her eyes and the disgust was palpable.  My sister’s egregious act was by telling my mother and my father she was angry, she was hurt and they had caused it.  For this, my mother could barely even look at her as she sat crying at my aunt’s bed side.

I was certain death would be the catalyst to bring us all together.  After all, hadn’t my sister and I forgiven my parents so many things?  There were instances of neglect that were so painful, and yet we saw past them.  We had overlooked my mother’s drug addiction for years and had forgiven my father for enabling it.  Surely, words spoken would not be the straw that broke my family’s back.  Yet, even in the tragedy of death, they could not see beyond their own selfishness.  First one, then two holidays past and they refused to see my sister or their grandchildren.  I pleaded and ranted at my father, and still he held steadfast.

So, how is my mother?  To be honest, I have no idea.  I haven’t spoken to her in three months and neither will I.  It seems cold dead hearted to abandon my parent when she needs me the most, but I’ve extricated myself from the guilt I’ve carried all these years.  I cannot have a relationship with her while she’s on drugs, be them prescription or not.  It has been her decision to not speak to my sister and her grandchildren.  Now, she’s locked up in her house, sleeping in a recliner when she’s not watching Law and Order and I can’t imagine a more miserable existence.  I once believed loving her could make a difference, but it hasn’t nor will it ever.

I’d like to say at least I have my father, but I’m no longer speaking to him either.  His choice has always been to allow my mother to erode our family.  He has chosen not to see his grandchildren.  He has chosen to disown my sister.  There was a time when I understood his pain, but those are bygone days.  The history speaks for itself and my parents have to live with the choices and decisions they made.  It sounds harsh and simplistic, but it’s anything but.  I’m a parent and I love my child more than my own life.  I cannot imagine she could say something so egregious I would cut her out of my life.  I cannot imagine saying to her that her pain and the words she may say in it, are unforgivable.

I’ve thought a lot about this.  After all, I was grateful I had sat at my aunt’s bed side and said goodbye to her.  I was grateful I heard her apology and I was able to give mine.  It’s beyond sad to waste moments that could be spent loving and understanding each other.  But I hug my sister, this woman who was once this baby I loomed over in her crib.  I had loved her wholeheartedly.  She was a prelude to the daughter I would one day call my own.  She is a beautiful soul, yet in so much pain directly caused by my parents.  They did not keep us safe and did not protect us.  She wears the open wounds of someone who longed for comfort and never received it.

It is a miracle neither of us are drug addicts or in prison.  Instead, we turned to each other and found the comfort in our family of two.  Our family expanded with our children and we swore we would do things differently, and we have.  Our children have never felt alone in the world.  We had each other.  I remember laying in bed at night, whispering to each other in the room we shared, trying to cheer her up with funny stories.  She deserved better.  I deserved better.

So since my father insisted I had to choose a side, I did.  I thought of my sister crying in a hallway with my mother smacking her and my father standing feebly by.  I had pulled my mother off her and demanded my mother to leave.  She didn’t and my father didn’t make her.  But in that moment, we became all that each other ever had.  So if my parents can’t forgive my sister for the words she said, then they have chosen to be alone.  We are surprisingly happy and well adjusted.  Not having to watch my mother slur her words and lash out while high on drugs is a relief.  Not having to wonder why my father didn’t and doesn’t do more to prevent it is no longer an issue.  We have each other.  Maybe that’s what got us through it all.


It Arrives

17 Jul

Cancer has always been on the periphery of my family.  My great grandmother died from it, my grandmother Tumor died from, yes, you guessed it, a tumor.  My aunt had colon cancer at thirty five.  It’s always been there lurking.

Now it has invaded my immediate family.  My father recovered from surgery, the tumor was small and supposedly all gone.  It has not invaded the surrounding tissue or lymph nodes.  He’s home from the hospital and resuming life, albeit with the knowledge he had cancer.  It was there and now it’s gone.  Gone.  Stay gone.

I would be remiss as a human being for not wondering when it’s my turn.  When does the Russian roulette of junky genes call my number?  My new attitude has been “if it’s not happening right now, it’s not happening.”  A mantra I’m repeating over and over as I lay in the dark blocking out whatever negative thoughts might try to creep in my conscience.  It’s not happening to me right now, so it’s time to concentrate on my father, on my daughter, on this life I’m navigating.

I keep telling myself I’m different from my family.  I have never smoked, and they all were heavy smokers for at least 20 years or longer.  I’m a vegetarian.  I attempt exercise.  I meditate.  I try to wash whatever bitterness I have on my skin off in the shower.  But it’s still a roulette wheel isn’t it.  If it’s my turn, then it is.

I’m not going to change the life I’m trying to carve out because of fear.  Fear has never been a friend of mine.  It’s led to rash decisions that have reverberated through my life.   I won’t allow fear to dictate my future.  Or cancer.  

I am the captain of my own destiny.  Or something profound like that.


7 Jul

Tomorrow is my dad’s surgery.  We’ll find out whether or not his cancer has spread and whether he needs chemotherapy.  As usual, I am blindly optimistic and steeled to deal with any bad news.  It’s almost silly I will be sitting in a room for hours with my mother whom I am still not speaking to.  It’s not enough to bring us together.  Only one thing will and she knows it.  But I’ll be there for my dad before he goes under and after.  I’ll thank him for being the person who gave me the ability to sail through life relatively unscathed because I will undoubtedly find humor in everything.

Cancer is unfortunately a fact of life now, but it doesn’t have to be our entire lives.  It’s just a small stitch in a quilt of so many good things.





26 Jun

Just as I began my search in earnest for my love of all things food, my father is diagnosed with colon cancer.  It was a devastating blow to all of us.  There is the worry and concern for my father, and then the worry and resentment my mother is in no way able to take care of him.  There was one day of complete worry about the future for him or if there would be one.  Then he saw his surgeon and hope sprang eternal when he was informed he would have a less invasive surgery and basically resume a normal life.

My sister and I sat at the table with our parents, and we both pleaded the case for healthier eating.  My father is the type to eat a dinner, a second helping then a bologna sandwich an hour later.  Their cupboards are stocked with chips, sweet treats and enough carbs to fuel the Boston Marathon.  Their freezer is overflowing with frozen food and ice cream.  My sister and I insisted he needed to change his diet not only for this latest health set back, but also because of his twenty year battle with heart disease.

The first thing my mother did is angrily insist his diet does not need to change.  Our relationship now is cold and distant, there is resentment and anger simmering between us like a volatile moltov cocktail waiting to explode at any moment.  There have been several times I’ve pleaded with my mother to not bring boxes of Ho Ho’s and Twinkies into the house.  She insists my father should have more willpower and be able to not eat the things he shouldn’t.

When I first returned to Kentucky, I began cooking healthy foods for my father.  We attempted a strict heart healthy diet in hopes of helping him lose pounds quickly after yet another heart stint was necessary.  My mother doubled her efforts to bring home his favorite fatty foods and by the time I moved out, the diet was long forgotten and he had returned to enjoying fried foods with mom again.  My mother also refuses to smoke outside despite begin informed by a Cardiologist she should for my father’s health.  

So, I thought about food again but this time as a way to nourish and heal the body.  I’m making double steel cut oatmeal this morning and I wish I could convince my father how it’s not only healthy, but delicious.  I believe the biggest obstacle to my father changing his eating habits, is indeed my mother.  She likes the attention on her and her illnesses.  Yesterday, when we sat at the table, she began crying and everyone there completely ignored her.  Within seconds, her tears were dried and she stomped off to another room.  My father’s health has now become the focus of our attention and she does not like it.

I’m now not thinking about my love of food, but what it does for my body.  When I eat healthy, I feel healthy.  With the gene pool I’ve been cursed with, it’s more important than ever that I am mindful of what I do put in my body.  It’s not enough I’ve given up meat and maintain a vegetarian lifestyle.  I’ve given up coffee and have replaced my tea with decaf.  I’m insisting my daughter make healthier choices.  Who knows maybe by example I can convince my father to replace his ice cream with Greek yogurt.  

Wishful thinking.


10 Apr

Badger was in only one word that could possibly describe him at that very moment, despondent. He sat in the dankness of his hovel, his stomach rumbling as he had eaten the last of his honey and clovers the night before. He had been hiding for days from Chick, who showed up every morning for breakfast and every morning he peeked out of the burrow to watch her waddle away, her beak ducked sadly.

For days they had been the best of friends and the fizzy feeling in his badger stomach had made him fall asleep with a smile only a badger could manage. He didn’t think he would like having a friend who poked and prodded his feelings so much. He didn’t think he would like having a friend who could talk about the color green or a dandelion she had sat watching. But he did. He looked forward to when he would hear Chick humming as she walked and the little fluff of her feathers she did when she saw him. She thought he didn’t notice, but he noticed everything about her.

She taught him about ducks and he taught her about badgers. When they walked along the creek, she floated in the mirror of the water and would look at her reflection and think there is one all the other animals know, and then there is the real Chick I know. In return, he let her see the real him behind the fur and the growling exterior.

He knew in his heart Chick’s heart was full of the us that was. Yet, sometimes, they would sit on a patch of grass and the bees buzzed and the birds flew and she would ask him to tell her something important and the words would get stuck in the fizz of his stomach. He would get grumpy when he became tongue tied and twitchy when she poked a certain feeling too hard. He had not known ducks were so sensitive and Chick would drop her wings in a sad way and he would feel the change between them.

One morning, when Chick had huffed away having only asked him what his favorite flower was and he wanted to tell her it was not really a flower, but the honeysuckle bush that tasted as sweet as honey but smelled so much sweeter, but the words jumbled on his tongue. What did she think? He was a badger after all. Badger’s had certain behaviors and who was she to huff about them?

“Friendship is impossible.” Bear, the squirrel who lived above the honey hive, said as he piled acorns in a pyramid against the root of the tree.

Badger harumphed and watched the field to see if Chick would make the trek across the dew dotted grass that morning to yet again be turned away.

Bear clucked his tongue and shook his tail. “I know badgers are stupider than squirrels, but you Badger are the stupidest of them all.”

Badger growled and snapped his jaws. “Leave me alone, Bear.”

“Squirrels know a lot about love, Badger.”

“You don’t know what you are talking about.”

“The world is big, Badger.” Bear continued, balancing another acorn on top of an already lopsided and wobbily pile. “I was up in my tree and I heard her chirping about other ponds. You’re afraid she’ll go away to another pond and you’re afraid all these things about you that make her huff away will mean she will never come back.”

“Why can’t she just let me be me?” Badger sighed, no longer interested in arguing with Bear. Squirrels were smarter than badgers after all.

“Because one day she’ll have to move to another pond, and she is afraid too.” Bear clucked his tongue again. “And she’s afraid you’re so comfortable hiding in your hole you won’t want to venture to other ponds with her.”

“Why can’t she just stay in one pond and things never change between us?”

Bear walked over to Badger and patted his shoulder. “Just like the seasons, we change Badger. If we don’t change everything would always be the same and we would never meet ducks named Chick or see snow on the tree limbs or seas of flowers.”

“I make her huff and I think I hurt her feelings.”

“She makes you harumph and she hurts your feelings, but does that mean you don’t want to be her friends?”

Badger sniffled. “It never does.”

“Squirrels are smart.” Bear tossed an acorn over his shoulder and his entire pyramid of the nuts collapsed and rolled into the leaves. Bear shrugged. “Things fall down and you get a chance to rebuild it. Every time you make it a little stronger and a lot sturdier until you get it figured out.”

At that moment, Badger knew squirrels named Bear were the smartest of squirrels. He moved closer to the edge of the hill so he could look down and see it all stretched out before him. He could see Chick then, her black and yellow feathers lit by the sun as she made her way toward him, stopping to sniff a flower to watch a bug. But she was coming toward him.

Instead of hiding, he sighed heavily and waved sheepishly. At least he thought he waved the way a sheep would. Chick fluffed her feathers then and he knew no matter about the huff or the harumph, she still wanted to tell him about green and dandelions.

“I’m sorry I don’t always understand you.” She said as she sat down next to him.

“I’m sorry sometimes I stop trying.”

“I saw a grasshopper with dark green wings.”

Badger smiled and the fizzy feeling in his stomach made him feel warmer than the sun ever could.


2 Apr

Badger awoke one morning and lazily climbed the tree next to his burrow.  There, on a high branch, was the beehive and he reached his paw in and scooped out the sticky honey he could find there every morning for breakfast.

“Thank you, bees.”  He muttered, as he slid back down the tree trunk to sit on the patch of grass and lick the sweet sticky confection from his fur.

Across the meadow where the badgers lived, he watched a family eat big juicy earthworms as they lounged in a bed of flowers.  Badger frowned as he watched the flowers trampled on and worried about earthworms beneath his feet and whether they would someday be some other badger’s breakfast.  He sighed heavily and shook his head.
From a very early age, he had realized he would never fit into his badger clan.  His father had told him, “You don’t think like a badger.”  and he knew it was true.  He didn’t think like the others, feel like them, or even begin to understand them.  So, he burrowed his home far enough away from the others to be left alone.  Alone was much better than that feeling of never belonging.

As he sat watching the others, he heard a rustling in the tall grass behind him.  Immediately alert, he turned to bare his fangs, even though in his soft heart he knew he would never be able to fight a predator.

“I like honey too.”  Came a small voice as a dark downy chick waddled from the weeds with a bright yellow face and stopped right in front of Badger.

“Aren’t you afraid of me?”  He asked curiously.  All the small farm animals were afraid of him.

“No reason to be.”  The chick walked over to a drop of honey that had fallen from Badger’s paw and began licking it from a blade of grass.  “I’m Chick.”

Badger harrumphed, “I like to eat my honey alone.”

“No one likes to be alone.”

“I do.”

“Do not.”  Chick fluffed out her soft feathers and shivered in the sunlight.

“Why aren’t you with your family?”

“They’re eating worms and playing in the water.”  Chick tilted her head.  “I don’t like worms or the water.  I get left behind a lot.”

Badger laughed, his belly full of honey sloshing pleasantly.  “Every duck likes water.”

“Not me.”

“But you’re a duck!”  He exclaimed.

“I don’t have to be like all the other ducks.”  Chick tucked her webbed feet beneath her and sat down in the shade beneath the tree.  “I like to sit and watch the clouds and the bugs on the flowers.”

“Well, I like to be alone.”

“But you don’t have to be.”  Chick gave him a duck smile.  “You have me now.”

Badger huffed with agitation, “But I don’t want you around.  You walked over to me.  I never asked for you to show up here.”

“Funny how those things happen anyway.”

Badger growled and stomped down into his burrow.  He would usually laze in the sun for hours in the morning, but with her presence, he would simply stay inside his hole until she left.  Taking deep breaths of the earth scent, he thought himself clever.  She would leave soon and he could go back to enjoying his aloneness.

“So, this is your house?”  Came a soft voice from the darkness of the burrow.

“Ducks do not go down into holes!”  Badger exclaimed angrily.

“I’m not like all the other ducks.”  She said again and he felt her brush against him.  “I’m usually afraid of the dark.”

“Then leave!”

“Come outside with me.”

“I told you, I want to be alone.”

“But now that we found each other, why would you?”  Chick walked up the burrow and he could see her in the sunlight streaming through.  “The day just started and we have so many things we can do.”

Badger sniffed and shook his head.  Why couldn’t she just leave him alone?

“You’ll see.”  Chick declared.  “We will be great friends because we are more alike than not.”

“But I’m a badger and you should be afraid of me.  I don’t like to be around other animals and I can be grumpy.”

“But you’ll like being around me.”  Chick said, and Badger realized he did.  She was irritating and a know it all, but he could tell he would like being around her.  She didn’t care he didn’t eat worms and she would not care if he was grumpy and lazy.  She would like him just because.

“But one day you’ll grow up to be a duck and you’ll leave.”

“I’ll grow up, Badger.”  She tilted her head and regarded him as if she had known him his whole life.  “But I won’t leave.  We finally found each other, why would I leave?”

“Because I’ll hide in my burrow sometimes and not want to come out.”

“Then I’ll just have to keep talking you out.”  She held out her wing for him to grab as she walked out of the burrow into the sunlight.  “See how wonderful it is out here.  Imagine the fun we can have.”

Badger looked around the meadow where the other badgers lay beneath the sun and the birds flew from branch to branch.  He looked down at Chick who didn’t like water, but for some odd reason she liked him.

“I could get some more honey.”  He suggested.

Chick nodded,  “And we’ll share it.”

Badger felt a lump in his throat he had never felt before.  He finally wanted to share his honey with someone else and as scary as that was, when he sat in the grass the honey tasted sweeter and the sun felt hotter and the sky seemed bluer and he felt happier than he ever had.


26 Feb
  1. Lie only to children.  Adults should be able to handle the truth.  There should be more of it in the world.

  2. Smile at everyone you meet.  It can change their day and eventually the world.  One grin at a time.

  3. Be passionate about something.  Being passionate about someone is not the same.  Really embrace and want to be something, whether it’s a better person or a vegetarian.

  4. Learn a new word every day.  You don’t have to use it, but you have to learn it.  Language is a lost art and should never be forgotten.

  5. Eat a sticky fruit tart at least once a month.  Close your eyes and savor it.  It will change your life.

  6. Do not worry about what will happen in the future.  You will most surely bring it about.  Instead, concentrate on what you want to happen, whether it be to win the lottery or buy a house.  Do not surrender the dream of what can be.

  7. Use the word “whilst” more.  Just because it tickles your tongue.

  8. Drink green tea every day.  Not just because of the health benefits, but because Japanese tea ceremonies should be acknowledged.

  9. When you love someone, tell them.  Yes, they probably already know, but say the words.  Do not dilute them with insincerity.  Mean it from every cell of your being.

  10. Don’t just say you love someone.  Show them in the small things you do.  You do not have to send flowers daily or buy jewelry.  Remember a book they wanted to read and bring it home on a Wednesday.  Wash their favorite coffee cup perched on the edge of the sink.  Suffer through a ballet or a sports event because it means the world to them.

  11. Travel beyond your hometown.  It is important to see the world, to experience new foods and smells and people.  Eat pie in every place you visit.  Remember to smile at everyone you meet.  You are an ambassador your kind.

  12. Do not take yourself or the world too seriously.  It is okay to laugh at politically incorrect jokes and self-deprecation.

  13. Keep looking forward whilst (see it is easy to use!) nostalgic for the past.  You cannot undo what has occurred.  You cannot atone for wrongs or sidetrack regrets.  However, you can let them go, and accept they are the threads in the quilt of life you will one day drape around your shoulders.

  14. Never act your age.  Do not surround yourself with people who act older than their years.  Wear blue jeans even in your eighties.  Never accept you are past your prime.  Scoff at the notion of middle age.  Invent a new era.

  15. Brush your teeth twice a day and floss regularly.

  16. Browse the news but do not devour it.  There is death and destruction all around you, acknowledge it and mourn, but keep moving on.  You are doing your part to change the world, one smile and recycle bin at a time.

  17. Recycle.  Stop using plastic water bottles.  Think about the soil you are leaving for those who follow.

  18. Be charitable.  Whether it is a weekly tithe or a dollar in a tip jar, give to others what you can.  Give your time, your resources and your empathy.  You need to know you aren’t the center of the universe, at least not to anyone but your dog.

  19. Have a pet.  Whether it’s a dog, cat or a rock, have something to take care of that will return the love unconditionally.

  20. Laugh.  Every hour of every day.  Be grateful for those things that make you happy.  Even when you are crying, remember a funny joke.  Sorrow is good, but it is impermanent.  Happy is forever.

Take Two Aspirins and Never Call Me

9 Jan

Right out of high school, I decided I wanted to be in the medical field.  Phlebotomy seemed interesting enough even though it meant taking blood from squeamish patients.  I wanted to make a difference, or make money or something in between so I applied for work at one of those emergency clinics.  In all honesty, I had decided even at the tender age of seventeen to lead an interesting life.  Being in the medical profession seemed interesting enough according to the hour dramas playing on television at the time.  I think my parents were just encouraged I might meet a doctor.

So, I became a receptionist at the clinic that entailed smiling politely at patients, demanding their co-pays before treatment, taking their initial vitals and then filing their complicated insurance form that required knowledge of physics and astronomy.  I was also required to wear white nurse pants and any form of colorful smock sure to hide any curve beneath it.  I even had my own stethoscope.

My first day, I marched in, my pants starched enough to encourage chafing and a bright blue smock sure to bring out the blue of my eyes.  I, cold dead hearted, was going to make a difference.  Patients would leave my desk shaking their head in wonder at how pleasant their trip to the doctor had been.  As I brought my first patient, a young girl there with her mother with possible flu back to the first exam room, I was drunk with my own capableness.  At least I was until I stuck a thermometer into her mouth and the girl promptly projectile vomited down the front of my pretty blue smock and white nurse pants.  Her neon orange upchuck dripped down into my new white nurse shoes as I stood in shock fighting the urge to return the favor.

As her mother offered apologies, I fled to the bathroom where one of the nurses threw a pair of scrubs my way that were two sizes too big.  After a quick bath in the sink and wearing the scrubs, my shoes squishing water down the hallway, I remembered an important detail.  I was very squeamish.  In my life, there had been a couple of instances of my sister arriving home bloody, and both times, I fled the scene.  There had been the hamster blood bath that left me breathing into a paper bag with my head between my legs.  I should have probably taken that into consideration when I picked the medical profession.

Never one to quit, I hung in working twelve hour shifts and Sundays for two years.  As a parasitic writer, the interesting lives of those who worked there and visited during times of illness and injury were enough to overcome my flight or fight instincts.  There was a constant stream of patients in distress and moonlighting orthopedic doctors who were working in the clinics to pay for exorbitant malpractice costs.  There were also three full time doctors who worked during the morning hours.  One was old enough to be my great grandfather, one was young enough to be interesting but married, and then there was Wayne Newton.

We called him that because he looked like Wayne’s doppelganger, complete with orange tan and dyed black hair.  Although married, he thought himself somewhat of a ladies man.  His specialty was pap smears and he did more than any other doctor there did.  As required by law, one of us had to stand in the room with him taking notes while he flirted with every vagina spread eagle before him.  Pap smears were the one and only time we were not allowed to interrupt him when his wife called.

Every day became a parade of stitches, colds and pill seekers.  The pill seekers we recognized right away.  They knew exactly what was wrong with them and exactly what prescription would help.  We were trained to take their pulse while they complained of pain.  Fast pulse, meant probable pain, but if it never changed, then they were more than likely faking it.  The pill seekers were sent to the emergency room or simply turned away without their drug of choice.

One day a woman came in seeking Oxycontin.  She said it was the only thing that helped her severe back pain.  While I was taking her temperature one of the doctors wandered in and told me I was needed at the front desk.  I stepped outside to be informed the woman was wanted by the police for passing fake prescriptions.  We had to keep her in the office while waiting for the police.  Suddenly, a routine crackpot became heart racing interesting.  It was decided to do an x-ray and when I informed her of such, she became fidgety and insisted she had many and just simply wanted her prescription to leave.

Fearing I would be the one responsible for her leaving, I did one of the things I had been trained to do in medicine.  I lied.  I nonchalantly informed her if she got the x-ray then the doctor would add refills to the prescription rather than having her come back for more tests.  She acquiesced and within minutes, the police were on site and taking her out in handcuffs.

My favorite doctor was a teddy bear of a man who was even more squeamish than I.  He was a resident orthopedic surgeon and had little or no bedside manner.  If anything, he appeared to be frightened of the patients and would have to psyche himself up to enter the rooms.  He was also the one who seemed to get every STD and yeast infection for miles.  He finally stopped working in our office after a week that included a woman with a diaphragm stuck firmly in her vagina, a young girl with herpes and four penile smears to test for Chlamydia.

After a few months, I was still eager to go to work.  One of the reasons was a bi-weekly patient with multiple personality disorder who came in specifically to see one of the doctors.  Married, with children, it was obvious her psychological disorder was not being faked.  Her entire demeanor changed depending on what personality she was that day.  There was the slutty girl who wore tank tops even in winter and who came in for pregnancy and STD tests after a weekend of debauchery.  There was the haughty older woman with a posh British accent who wore silk scarves and suffered from migraines and food allergies.  On occasion, the patient’s husband would bring her in as the little girl who stuck foreign objects up her nose or cut herself with razor blades.

It was all very interesting and tragic, until the day she came in as a personality we had not seen before.  She was bruised and scared, her hair hanging wet around her face.  She called herself another name and claimed she was possessed by the devil.  Upon examination, the doctor realized she had burned herself with cigarettes on her thighs and was psychotic.  She was taken to the mental hospital by ambulance and we did not see her for another six months.  When she returned, she was the little girl and her husband informed us she had been childlike for months now.  The last we heard, she was hospitalized again after being beaten in an alley.

The people I encountered became fodder for my short stories and poetry.  I became desensitized to their plight as I dissected it in my writing.  I enjoyed my work, but not the toll it took on my ability to empathize.  There is a certain detachment needed as you hold down yet another child for stitches or inform a wife her husband was more than likely cheating because she now suffered from herpes.  Sometimes, you saw people on one of their worst days, and you had to let go what happened to them after.

It was not until I was sent to the emergency room to fill in for someone on maternity leave, did it begin to wear on me.  For every patient with a foreign object shoved up their rectum, there was a gunshot or a car accident.  I began to see every day life as something to survive and not to enjoy.  The final straw came when I was eventually sent back to the clinic.  After a string of car accidents and bloody deaths, I was ready for cough, colds, and women who had douched with Lysol.

A friend of my sister had come in with her mother who had the flu for a week.  We took a chest x-ray and once it was developed, even untrained to read x-rays, I could see what the doctor was shaking his head over.  There were tumors on her lungs, cancerous looking tumors.  I turned to see this middle-aged woman who thought she was going to get a prescription for cough syrup, and instead she was facing lung cancer.  We called her attending physician and he refused to interrupt his dinner to come in.  I thought of how heartless it was when he had been treating this woman for years.

I stood outside the room while the moonlighting doctor, trained in setting broken bones, was stumbling over his words as he advised her to go immediately to the emergency room.  She asked time and time again if it was pneumonia and finally he said, I see something on your x-rays and I think it needs further testing.  She walked out of the room, all the blood drained from her face and we called her husband to take her to the emergency room.  The next morning, I turned in my two weeks notice.

What I learned is there is a certain detachment required for seeing the worst of what life has to offer.  I have great admiration for doctors and nurses who can treat injury and disease every day and function in their own lives.  I have had surgery, have been to the hospital for injury, have taken my daughter to the hospital, and every time I feel the same emotion.  There are worse things to happen to each of us, and it really is about setting aside the fears and living life to its fullest.

I never dated a doctor during my time there, but I did learn life lessons.  Never douche with Lysol, never stick objects into your rectum that will be the subject of ridicule when you are in the emergency room to have it removed.  Trust me, your x-ray will be on the wall in the break room.  Always wear your seat belt.  Never cut a bagel toward you.  If you have a good vein for giving blood, please tell the technician before she sticks your other arm three times.  Do not dwell on all the bad things that can happen to you, your angst does not prevent them for happening.  Laugh as often as you can, because it’s been said before.  It really is the best medicine.