Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Stuff that makes my day

There is nothing like walking into a meeting for a job you thought you were volunteering to do, and finding out that you're being paid to do it -- and handsomely at that.

I am still trying to get used to the idea that people are interested in what I know -- and even willing to compensate me for sharing that knowledge.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Thought for today



Thursday, July 17, 2008


Pain is a curious thing. It softens us, makes us less likely to resist receiving input from the world around us. Ask anyone who is suddenly freed from acute or chronic pain and they will tell you that they emerge with sharpened senses: Colors are brighter, smells are sweeter, food has a more intense taste. We are at once more perceptive and more malleable.

Emerging from a period of intense stress can have the same effect, but it extends as well to our perception and reaction to our environment and those who share it.

I am on the roof of the hospital over at University; the buildings on this campus are more accessible than on my own and this perch affords me a view that extends perhaps 10 miles in all directions. I am always amazed at the beauty that exists in the structure and architecture of this city, which has been the object of so many criticisms and so much ridicule over the years. Seeing it from a height allows me to ignore minor flaws: I can appreciate the aesthetics of the interplay between granite and sandstone without seeing that the storefronts of the buildings are vacant; the construction fences and barrels look like carnival banners when I am not inconvenienced by the traffic they block.

Being up here also lets me see out to the lake, some four miles north of here. The wind is blowing in from the north, carrying the smell of water to me. The August algae blooms, which will give the air and water here a distinctly “organic” smell later in the summer, haven’t started yet: the clean breeze today speaks of renewal. Coupled with a new appreciation of the beauty I cannot see when I am feeling strong, the total effect relaxes me, makes me breathe a little deeper, slows my pace and reminds me that there are priorities in this world that are bigger than my own.

Not everything from last week has resolved yet, but I am speaking less, walking more, and making my decisions more slowly and deliberately this week. It is a good thing.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Third Circle: Wednesday

The cab pulled up to the curb and the four of us got out. It had been a productive day and the banter on the way to the airport had been lively and good-natured. After nearly 18 months working together on the program, I knew the histories and favorite jokes of the three uniformed men who, each in turned, kissed my cheek goodbye.

Jeff turned to Phil. “Man, I’m not used to seeing those stars on your shoulders yet.”

Bob laughed. “Yeah, you have to refer to him as General Shit-for-Brains now.”

Phil blushed and chuckled. “I can always count on you jokers to keep me in my place, can’t I?” Jeff, Bob and Phil had been together in the active reserves for at least 10 years, as nearly as I could tell. Between the three of them, they had logged nearly 80 years in the military. Phil had been promoted to General for less than a month, and he still didn’t look like he felt quite comfortable in his epaulets.

A silence descended between the three of them. Then, Bob and Jeff took a step back, stood at attention, looked Phil in the eye and offered a crisp, respectful salute. “We’re proud of you, Sir.”

Phil humbly saluted each of them in turn. “Colonel; Colonel”

Jeff and Bob each picked up their bags and headed down the concourse. Phil placed his hand on my shoulder and gave me a wink. “See you in Tampa next month, right?”

“You bet. Be safe going home, Phil.”


The line at the ticket counter looked to be at least a half hour. I was suddenly very grateful that, when I arrived at the airport this morning at five-OMFG-nine this morning, I had checked in for the return flight. I grabbed my briefcase and sneaked into a suddenly short line in security.

I found myself staring, motionless, down the C concourse. Fatigue descended on me like a stifling August fog, and for a moment I could not remember where I was supposed to go. A mass of humanity made its way past me on both sides: hurried, purposeful, focused, glancing only for the briefest of split seconds at the barefooted, middle-aged woman who stood at the security checkpoint, holding a pair of peep-toe pumps.

I slowly made my way down the concourse, vaguely aware of the colors and sounds and smells of the shops as I walked past. Lavender, paper, cheap fabric. Spotting a Mexican place up ahead, I briefly considered a quick bite and a drink before I got on the plane.

My phone rang; as I went to answer it I noticed the blinking voicemail symbol in the corner. How had I missed a call?

S was nearly crying on the other end. “ I got in an accident. K and I are OK. Everyone is OK, but I think I totaled the other car.” He went on to recount the details; I didn’t hear them. They were OK. Right. They're Ok.

“You both are OK? You’re sure? The other guy is OK, too? That’s all that matters. We can replace cars. We have insurance. This is why we have insurance, Love. Don’t worry. It’s going to be OK. Looks like God made you buy that scooter for a reason, eh? You’re sure K is all right? Does she want to talk?”

S had to hang up; the insurance guy was on the other line. I turned around and headed back into the Mexican place. That Margarita suddenly looked a lot more appetizing.

Checking my messages, I heard Annie tell me that my attempt to transfer her to my hospital had been successful, and one dear friend was going to take over the care of another.

For the first time this week, I felt like things might be OK for Annie.

An Irish couple sat down at the next table. Their accent carried over the din of a hundred conversations, like an unlikely flute in the midst of Manhattan traffic. The phone rang again. It was Karen. “Beth, where are you? I’m having a crisis.”

“I’m in New Jersey.”


“You’re telling me.”

“No; I mean, I needed you to come out and have a glass of wine with me.”

“If you can wait a minute, I’ll drink a margarita while I listen to you. What’s up?”

“I’m just so depressed. I really thought Greg was going to propose this weekend. What’s wrong with me? Why isn’t he asking?”

I stopped short. “Wait a minute. I thought you told Greg, in no uncertain terms, that you wouldn’t marry him if he asked you. Remember?

“Well, I did. But I thought he would still want to marry me. I want him to want to marry me, you know? I just think he's being stubborn, not asking me to marry him.”

I paused for a long moment. “Hang on a minute, hon.”

Setting down the phone, I picked up the margarita that had arrived in front of me, and drained it in two long draughts.

Clearing my throat, I picked up the phone again. “You are a sad, sad bucket of fries. I gotta catch a plane.”

Leaving a $20 on the table, I turned off my phone and headed down the concourse.

Before I continue...

I am fascinated that, if you Google "Newark Airport Dante Inferno Hell", it returns about 200 pages of results.

I actually said to someone today, "If I have my choice, I'd rather be the evil stepmother from Snow White, than Satan. It would suck to be Satan."

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Second Circle: Tuesday

“Doctor? I’m sorry; did you hear what Mrs. Smith just said?”

I regarded the Neurology resident who had just ordered Percocet for Annie. I had just spent 2 hours with a group of 1st year Orthopaedic residents, trying to convince them of the importance of tracking outcomes for orthobiologic implants, and my head hurt. “She said that Percocet is ineffective on her pain. Codeine-based pain relievers don’t work for her. She needs a Morphine base, like Vicodin. She also just told you she’s been throwing up all day. She needs an injectible.”

He looked up from his chart, “Are you a nurse?”

“No, but I play one on TV.”

He looked back down, “Well, let’s see how this works out.”

“Doctor, I hope you understand that our next stop is the ombudsman office for a pain management consult.” I gave him the look – the one I normally give my daughter when what I want to convey is, “Go ahead. Push me just a little farther.”

“Doctor, Mrs. Smith is a cancer survivor and has been in this facility before for this same issue. She knows all the floor nurses here by name. Give her a little credit for knowing what will work with her body and what won’t.”

For a few moments, we sized each other up. It appears that my best “I’m ten years your senior and not a woman to be trifled with” look finally prevailed. He spoke over his shoulder to the nurse, “Fine; give her 2 of Valium, IV,” and walked away.

I smiled. “Thank you.”

I’d only been in Annie’s room for about 10 minutes, on my way back from class. She’d just been released from Neurology ICU and looked significantly better than she had 12 hours earlier. A quick assessment of the room told me Rick hadn’t been by to drop off her overnight bag or her cell phone charger.

“You need me to run by your house?”

She looked up for a second. “Sarah will stop by later on today. Don’t worry.” I was skeptical, but decided to drop it for now.

My pager went off.

The Boss wants you in his office at 2:00. BTOIYA.

My assistant, Carolyn, had included the abbreviation for “Be There or It’s Your Ass.” We both are fans of Allison Pearson.

I knew that Dr. M, my direct boss, was out of the office. I responded.

Bruce Springsteen is in town?

Her reply came swiftly. God, no! THE Boss. Don’t be an idiot!


For the last six years, I had carefully worked to ensure that the hospital CEO had no idea who I was. A man whose first public act, upon assuming the mantle of Chief Among Hospital Dictators, was to paint every single wall in all nineteen buildings white, he had replaced the rich collection of 17th century Asian pottery in his office with a large glass bowl, filled with perfectly sharpened #2 pencils. He also was known for firing nurses and other personnel on the spot for wardrobe infractions. His was a gaze I carefully avoided fixing on me.

However, the day before, I had contacted his administrator. We were planning a short public reception for an important visitor, and on the advice of our government relations group, I had requested he say a few words to open the ceremony.

BTOIYA. This did not bode well.

“I gotta go, Sis. Call me if you need anything.” I kissed Annie quickly on the head and started back to my own campus.

As soon as I left the hospital building, my cell phone went off.

You have 4 new voicemails

Bean, it’s me. My dad fell and it sounds like he’s punched a big hole in his arm. I just called 911. Call me!

Bean, I need you to call me. Dad fell. He’s cut his arm to the bone. We’re going to meet the ambulance at the hospital.

Beth, it’s Carolyn. S is trying to get hold of you. Sounds like your father in law fell and hurt himself.
It was accompanied by a text message with her cell phone number and the message 911.

Beth, its Julie. What the Eff is going on with Dr. C’s office? He just torpedoed the entire reception on the 25th! Said it was a total waste of time! Call me!

I looked at my watch. It was 1:45.



Mr. H, the Senior VP of External Affairs, was waiting for me outside the CEO’s office.

“Sir? Can you tell me what’s happening?” My relationship with Mr. H is an odd one. A distinguished man in his mid-50’s, he insists that people call him by his nickname, “Pudge”. I have always found myself unable to address anyone over the age of twelve by a nickname like “Pudge”. Besides, the man wears suits that cost more than my monthly mortgage payment on a 5-bedroom house. I call him “Sir.” He regards it as a charming affectation of mine and I’m happy to leave it at that.

“It’s 1:58. I was hoping we’d have a few minutes to brief before we went in. Didn’t your assistant find you?”

“I was in a clinical care area, Sir. Long story. Just got the message a few minutes ago.”

“Never mind. Just don’t say anything.”

“You can count on it, Sir.”


I had to hand it to Pudge. They don’t call him The Master for nothing. Turns out there was a breach of etiquette in the approach of the Boss – apparently, depending on the type of thing being requested, it needs to come through one of the VP’s or it gets crushed like a Styrofoam cup. The conversation was left with “Go ahead with your little event, but keep it spare.” Spare. Got it.

I called my husband.

“Where the hell have you been? We’ve been trying to reach you for two hours! Don’t you ever check messages?!”

“Long story. How’s your dad?”

“Well it’s a good thing he wasn’t having a heart attack or anything. I think he’s OK. Sliced the hell out of his arm, but they’re gonna stitch him up and release him. I swear, Bean, it’s getting harder and harder to rely on you for things.”

Arriving home and entering the house, I slipped in a huge puddle of urine, soaking the suit I’d planned to wear on Wednesday’s business trip.

The message light was flashing on the home phone.

Hey, hon? The dogs need walked when you get home.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Week in hell

Ladies and Gentlemen, may I have your attention please. For those of you awaiting flight 825 to Cleveland, we have been informed by Air Traffic Control that our aircraft has just departed Cleveland. We are projecting its arrival here at approximately 7:34 local time. We have some weather working its way east, so we have not yet been informed of our projected departure time westbound.

It is 6:50 pm. My flight was due to depart approximately 15 minutes ago. The monitors had initially projected our departure for 15 minutes from now, which resulted in my having to literally guzzle down the quin-schnozzle-strength margarita that arrived 20 minutes late to my table at the overcrowded Mexican restaurant I left 4 minutes ago, and which is now rapidly souring in my stomach. And the air conditioning is not functioning in this concourse.

In L’Inferno, Dante takes us on a tour of the nine circles of hell.

Circle Four is located in Newark Airport.

How I arrived here is a rather interesting story.


The First Circle: Monday

Annie and I slowly made our way out of the Board Room, where we had just narrowly avoided a hostile takeover bid, launched by the facility that holds the lease to the daycare center we have jointly run since 2002.

Fighting back a combination of giddiness and nausea, we discussed the possibility of moving the center into the new high school being built across the street. After three years, we might finally have the opportunity to integrate the curriculum to include GED and parenting classes to serve the 40% of our families headed by high school drop-outs.

I hugged Annie. “You did good today, Sister.”

She pulled back and looked me in the eye, “Only because we’re a team.”

I turned to leave the building. Five seconds later, I heard the sound of books hitting the lobby floor and turned just in time to see Annie come down, hard, on the hip she broke last February. Her head followed quickly, so quickly that it was clear to me she was unconscious well before she hit the floor.

Eyes fixed on the ceiling, her body twisted with the seizure. I turned her so she wouldn’t choke on her tongue. “Annie? Annie, stay with me honey. You’re OK. Stay with me.” I screamed to the reception desk, “Call 911!”

After 30 seconds that felt like 30 minutes, Annie’s storming brain finally released her body. I held her as she stared at me, wordless, still unable to control her movements. Tears slowly welled in her eyes. Her right side lay limp; her left side tremored slightly. It was then that I realized she’d been slurring her words a bit as we said goodbye.

I kissed Annie’s head and dialed Annie's cell phone.

“Sarah? It’s Beth. I work with your mom at the center. Baby, I need you to call your dad right away. I think your mom's just had another stroke.”


The CAT scan showed two minor bleeds in Annie’s occipital lobe. I had recited the litany of her medical history to no fewer than six people in the last 2 hours. “She has Lupus. You need to be careful, because it makes her veins fragile. No, you can’t stick her in the left arm; she’s a breast cancer survivor and they took her lymph nodes. Yes, she broke the hip on Valentine’s Day. Yes; she’s had minor hemorrhagic stroke before. The last one resolved last August. No; I don’t know if she’s on anti-seizure medication. No; I’m just a friend.” In the meantime, I had held Annie’s hand through the unbearable pain of a broken hip and nine more seizures. After each seizure, she had said the same thing. “Please. Please don’t leave me.”

“I won’t leave you,” I promised her.

“How will we save the school now, Beth? How can we do it? How can this be happening?” Annie started to cry again.

“We’ll figure something out. Don’t worry now. We’ll make it work. Please don’t cry. It’ll bring another seizure. Don’t worry. Just get better.”

The nurse touched my shoulder, “The LifeFlight will be here in about 15 minutes to take her over to University.”

Annie’s gaze shifted to her husband, Rick, who had arrived an hour earlier, and who since then had offered little in the way of information and nothing in the way of comfort to his terrified wife. Annie started to cry. “You’ll come and see me there this time, won’t you? I get so lonely and scared there. Please, Rick. Please come and see me at the hospital.”

Rick held her gaze for a moment. Then he turned and walked away.

Annie looked back to me and I fought back my own tears. ‘Hey, I’m teaching a class at University this month. I’ll stop in and see you after class each day, OK? I’ll even sneak you in a decent cup of coffee and some cheap romance novels.” I winked at her.


“You can’t get any closer than this, Ma’am.” The LifeFlight paramedic yelled into my ear and held out his arm, as we walked out onto the roof. I kissed Annie on the head. “Love you, Sister. Don’t hassle the nurses too much, OK? I’ll come see you tomorrow.”

“Thank you,” Annie mouthed to me in reply, as her hand slipped from mine.

The throbbing of the helicopter beat deeply within my chest as it lifted off the roof. I was grateful for it; it almost gave me an excuse for the pain that tore at my heart.