Betty Duffy


Sunday, May 30, 2010

All the Glories that the Lord Has Made (and the complications we could live without)"

---Sufjan Stevens

I'm not much of a nurse. What I thought was "coming along nicely" was actually a raging infection, and on his follow up visit, my husband was readmitted for several days to the burn unit at Wishard for intravenous antibiotics. The professionals took over his dressing changes, and I was now responsible only for bringing him coffee and hot yeast donuts from Long's Bakery, which is blessed close to the hospital.

We celebrated our anniversary in the hospital playing gin-rummy on his adjustable bed-side tray and eating take-out steaks from Weber Grill. Felt pretty awful traipsing through the ER (which I had to pass through to get to the burn unit) with my hot steaks and yeasty donuts because the ER is full of sick, injured, and underprivileged people.

They are hanging out in the ER in the wee hours on rainy nights because it's dry, or because they've been hit in the face with a crowbar. Wishard is a county hospital so they turn no one away. Other patients on the burn unit have been in meth-lab explosions, or they have fallen, drunk, into a bonfire, or in the winter, they have frostbite.

The entire campus of the hospital is non-smoking, and there are signs everywhere that say, "Don't even think about smoking here!" and if that's not a siren song, I don't know what is. Under every sign, someone is lighting up; the toothless man with the oxygen tank attached to his wheelchair, the woman in the pretty woman wig with lesions on her exposed arms and cleavage, the man with the yellow moustache, all shaking their fists at their circumstances and the powers behind that bossy sign. They will not be controlled.

Got me thinking about addiction, my addiction to coffee and whatnot, and that feeling of waking up thick-blooded and knotty, and all it takes to loosen up everything inside is a few sips of something bitter and hot. I have a want. I am satisfied. And such instant results are within my control. When life is killing you slowly and certainly, as seems to be the case with most of the patients here, it's no wonder people hang on to their addictions.

I passed through my old neighborhood on my route to and from the hospital, a chunk of bungalows on the edge of the city surrounding a Catholic Church and school. It was a sweet little neighborhood of blue collar Catholics, bohemians and homosexuals, divided from a very depressed area by an invisible line sharp as a Henckels just west of Euclid Street.

Crossing that line on Michigan Avenue puts you on the Miracle Mile of Indianapolis--a stretch of road dotted with liquor stores, Mexican groceries and check-cashing. Otherwise, the windows are boarded up and people wander the sidewalk looking a bit dazed until you hit another invisible line between the women's prison and Tech High School. There, degeneration becomes gentrification.

Occasionally, there is some bleed between the lines, as when a dear friend and neighbor of mine woke up one morning to find a body someone had dumped on the sidewalk in front of her house. Or the time my kids were mesmerized by the helicopters circling overhead, engaged in a stake-out at a house down the street from us. The man who killed a family of seven in a robbery/ break-in had been in hiding at his girlfriend's house up the road.

It was that break-in/ murder that slung-shot us way outside the beltway when we made the decision to move. I am a coward for my kids' sake, and I can't tell you what a relief it was when I could walk out of my driveway without seeing a single threatening-looking person. Then again, I don't see many people now at all.

Back in my old stomping grounds, with my kids tucked safely away in the country, I feel an affection for the Linwood Kroger where I shopped (and where a cop was shot in the head). The Missionaries of Charity have a small shelter up the road for women and children. And my favorite thrift store, source of the majority of my wardrobe, is on the corner of Tenth and Sherman (murder central).

Injury is only a temporary equalizer, a foretaste of the great one. I could light a cigarette under the no smoking sign with my weeks' companions, the wig woman and the toothless man, then take the elevator back up to my husband's room, sit next to him on the adjustible bed and watch "A Wedding Story" on the flat screen. In a few days, we both would walk out of this joint, and we'd drive through Indianapolis to see the activity that's rolled into town for the Indy 500. A Rolls Royce sits in front of the Canterbury Hotel, and at the Conrad, a Ferarri.

Then we'd jump on the interstate to go pick up the kids at my parents' house where the evening sun was shining on the white barn, and the haflingers and belties grazed in the field. Dad and I opened up the beehive and were pleased to see a fair amount of honey. A gorgeous night, we all agreed. A gorgeous night a world away where injured people, minor setbacks aside, typically do heal.


Hope said...

Happy belated anniversary.That burn sounds painful. I hope he heals quickly.
Walking through ER sounds sobering. As does your trip to your old stomping grounds.
I have a hard time reconciling that kind of stuff.

BettyDuffy said...

Thank you Hope. And I saw that the very encouraging comment you wrote on my last post was still there when I put it back up.

Hope said...

I saw it, too. I wonder if there is a comment purgatory?

JMB said...

I'm sorry about your husband's accident. One of my children broke a femur on a trampoline and it was 10 weeks of body cast, surgery, hospital stays, external fixator, surgery, rehab, wheelchair, tutoring, rehab. I don't know how we survived, looking back, but we did.

Talking about addiction, I think the beauty of an addiction is that you realize how helpless you are. I have struggled for years with a smoking addiction and honestly, through the grace of God (people think I'm crazy when I say this) it was taken away from me.

Rodak said...

Great post. It has reminded me that to be truly alive one must consistently be able to keep in mind that we are all dying "slowly and certainly." Some of us just a bit more slowly than others.

Jus said...

E -

Hoping to solicite the prayers of you and your for my father - can not find your e-mail at the moment. Info on the blog.


BettyDuffy said...

Absolutely Jus. Praying now.

Sally Thomas said...

I like that Sufjan Stevens song. Yeah, those complications . . .

I have often felt like a wuss for living the places we'v lived in the last few years. All my family live in the inner city, albeit in the fairly affluence-padded inner city, which is all about people walking their dogs and going to nice little cafes for breakfast. We bought our first house in the suburbs, albeit the old suburbs, which stood very much on a line just the other side of which some serious blight kicks in.

Still, it was the burbs, the little ticky-tacky mid-century burbs, with all the attendant intimations of boringness and escapism and probably racism, too. The rest of the family used to complain about having to drive "all the way out" to our house. It was twenty minutes when we drove to their houses, but maybe the trade winds were against people driving in our direction.

The thing was that the only houses we could afford in their part of town -- which we did basically like -- were in neighborhoods not padded by affluence. My brother, before he got married, bought a house in one of these neighborhoods; he integrated his block, which was a point of pride, and his house was quite nifty though he did get broken into twice in a very short period of time, and as soon as he could after meeting his future wife, he moved all his valuables to her more affluence-padded (and large-dog-inhabited) house.

Anyway, I think they all found our investment in a 1960 ranch house in a "boring" neighborhood inexplicable if not outright suspect, but like you, I'm a coward for my kids. I don't care what diversity experiences they might be missing out on, as long as they're also missing out on opportunities to be the witnesses, victims, or perpetrators of violent crime.

Now we live in a quiet little town, which amounts to much the same thing as our old neighborhood, though the house is the same era as those inner-city houses we liked before. Part of me wishes we'd moved all the way into the country, too, though I really love where we are. And around here, it's people from way out in the country that you see in the emergency room at weird hours . . .

Anyway, I'm totally with you on the cowardice thing; I think that's what might also be called "prudential judgment."