Candy-StripingMay 14, 2008
I was a candy-striper here, twenty-one years ago. I walked these very same halls in my pink-striped pleated dress. I loved that dress. To me, it had the cachet of historical reenactment. I was sure Florence Nightingale had worn something similar, when in fact I was wearing polyester circa 1986. But I loved the way I looked in the mirror. I looked like someone who knew what to do.
We had to wear white shoes with the dress. I was desperate to have a pair of big, clunky, brilliantly white nursing shoes, but I only had a pair of white tennis shoes from the discount store that had a thin red stripe running along the sides. I was ashamed of those red stripes.
The volunteer Auxiliary Ladies frightened me. Most were the age of the average patient, but they were so loud, so lively. Working in their pink pantsuits, monitoring flowers coming in and out, directing people to the right beds: it was their social hour. They had cocktails after their shifts. I wanted to be like them, but I was about sixty years shy of being able to join their ranks.
My favorite part was pouring water. Keeping the water jugs full. I was good at that. I liked writing down how many cc's I poured, enjoyed encouraging hydration (still do). I liked delivering food trays. I liked the little old ladies who didn't really know who I was but wanted to chat anyway. I was painfully shy (hard to imagine now), but I tried to chat back.
My least favorite part was seeing people in pain, people who somehow thought the fourteen-year old in front of them could actually help them, could give them medical advice, could help them to the commode. I would apologize and scuttle backwards like a candy-cane crab. I'd fetch a nurse and feel stupid.
Mom's still in the hospital today. She has congestive heart failure, atrial fibrulation, and extreme hypercalcemia. She might be doing a bit better today; I'm not quite sure. She ain't getting out of here today, that's for sure. It's hard. Knitting is good. Nurses are even better than knitting, I tell you that (one in the ICU showed me the shawl she was working on in her down-time (Mom was their only patient that night) -- it was good to bond with a knitter).
While I'm writing this, Mom is asleep and I'm showing Bethany how to knit socks on two circs. What do people do in the hospital without knitting? Unimaginable. Thank god Mom doesn't have a roommate yet. Most people, we understand, watch TV in the hospital. I can think of almost nothing worse. Movies, sure. But no TV. It seems like such an assault.
The Auxiliary Ladies are still out in full force, although they're less intimidating now, and now they're the age of my mother. One yesterday pointed out that tiny little mama lying in the bed took up almost no room, and then she commented that she, herself, was about the same age and size as Mom. For four seconds I was fiercely jealous that this tiny 67-year old volunteer was running around delivering flowers and Mom was lying in the hospital bed.
I haven't seen any candy-stripers walking the floor, although yesterday I saw one getting ready for her shift in the volunteer room. Looks like they don't wear dresses anymore, something that they're probably glad about. The girl was about fourteen or fifteen, and she sat alone in the room, wearing a pink striped shirt and white pants. She held up her cell phone and took a picture of herself. She grinned at the camera. If I'd had a cell phone back then, I'd have done the same thing.