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JACK SMITH

Hospital Stay Reaffirms the Strength of a Marriage

August 09, 1993|JACK SMITH

We checked out of Huntington Memorial Hospital the other day after 32 days of uncomfortable residence in the medical intensive care unit, the progressive care unit and the rehabilitation wing. My physical therapists worked hard on me; they say I can walk, but I point out that it is only for a short distance and very precariously. In time, they say, if I keep to a regimen of exercises, I will eventually walk like a man.

My wife stayed with me the whole time, though she was a squatter. She slept in my room on a cot, but when meals were served to me she didn't get any. Sometimes she stole my leftovers; sometimes she ate in the hospital cafeteria; sometimes she had lunch at home when she went back to do the laundry and feed the dog and the cats.

It could not have been easy for her. She had to fetch all my props--my cough drops, my urinal, my nose spray, my TV Guide, my water, my paper, my book, my glasses and numerous other articles that were always being misplaced beyond my reach.

Every night she was awakened at least four times by nurses who came to take my blood, give me pills or give me an insulin shot. Every time I went to the bathroom either she or a nurse had to go with me. The first thing you surrender when you enter a hospital is privacy.

In her effort to keep up my morale, she wrote an inspirational motto each morning on the room's blackboard. Some were literary, some were nursery level. They ranged from Goethe's last words (according to reader Joseph D. Alstater), Lasset Licht herein --"Let light come in" to "Let a little sunshine in."

She also used Yhee or , which is Hebrew for "Let there be light," and which happens to be my personalized license plate.

I liked "Let a little sunshine in" because it demonstrated the folly of that alleged rule of grammar that one must not end a sentence with a preposition. How would you say it? "Let in a little sunshine"?

The first day, as I remember, she used the Latin phrase, carpe diem , which means "Seize the day." Plainly that meant one should take each day and use it to the fullest--not an easy thing to do in a hospital. Another was Litera scripta manet --"The written word remains"--from Horace.

My favorite, though, was a Chinese proverb I poached from a copy of Bartlett's "Familiar Quotations" my wife brought from home. "Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps the singing bird will come."

I wish she had used one of mine. "Keep your gas tank full of gas and you won't run out." My wife tends to run on a low tank, arguing that she is too busy to stop at a station. My argument that excuses won't fill a tank is unavailing. On the evening before our departure she was supposed to bring my new wheelchair to the hospital for a checkout. She was supposed to be there by 6 p.m. She loaded the chair in her car and tried to start it. No luck. Soon half a dozen neighbors were poking at the car, trying to fix it. They decided it was out of gas. They replenished it with pots and pans of gas from other sources.

Then the starter wouldn't work. Evidently one of the men had broken it by using too much force. Eventually a neighbor put the wheelchair in his car and drove her to the hospital. She was only half an hour late. Meanwhile, I sat in excruciating anxiety, feeling quite helpless, which I was.

My wife argues that by filling my car when it's only half empty, I have to go to a gas station twice as often as she does. What folly that notion is.

We left without fanfare, except for some emotional goodbys to our nurses. They had been wonderful.

Oddly, the thing I appreciated most about being home was the quiet. Hospitals are full of nerve-racking sounds. Bells ringing. Beds and other wheeled things being rolled down hallways. The screams of patients. A man in the room next to ours kept yelling "Mom!" The chattering of patients and their families in nearby rooms. The yammering of television.

There is not much good to say about a hospital stay. But there were one or two things that weren't entirely disagreeable. I didn't mind the young woman who gave me a shower every other day. She also offered to shave me, but some male things are too intimate to share.

I do not expect the peace and quiet to last long at home. My wife is about to remodel again. She wants to do her bathroom and the kitchen over. She says her kitchen range is 50 years old.

I point out that it still works, but she says that's beside the point. Well, our marriage is more than 50 years old. And it still works. Doesn't it?

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