Hospitals, if you hang around them long enough and for days and nights seemingly without end, often have hidden perks you might not recognize if you are only a casual visitor.
I am not a casual visitor. If I counted all the sleepless nights I’ve spent on lumpy, narrow cots in a patient room the size of a large closet, next to my fragile mother, well. Let’s just say math is not my strong suit.
It doesn’t take long in this setting, though—-maybe only three days—-before the nice guy who checks out your morning eggs in the cafeteria asks if you are entitled to the employee discount. You look down at your disheveled self, unshampooed for half a week, wrinkled, and in houseslippers, and wonder what he’s been smoking. But he’s serious, because you are now a regular. He’s seen you wandering the halls on his breaks, going in and out of various business offices on the premises, and you don’t even carry your purse anymore. You pull dollars out of your pocket like a worker who’s just left her post for a few seconds—-which is exactly the truth.
“Not an employee,” you say, “though the discount would come in handy. I am here a lot.” You try not to spill over into the morose, try not to give this sweet kid more information than he asked for. Your mother is not his problem. He only wants to know whether he should upcharge you or not—-that is all.
“Well, you should be an employee,” he says, with a sincerity and enthusiasm that shocks your ragged self. “You have a great personality!”
You do? This is news to you, like if you heard there was a massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan, only you found out way after the fact, after the heavy lifting equipment had been brought into the country and the debris removed and the bodies recovered and the nation rebuilt. A great personality? You file this piece of trivia away in your psyche—-or maybe in your soul—-for future reference. It might come in handy one day.
Later that afternoon, you make your trek down to the hospital Starbucks and put to use the tip your mother’s respiratory therapist just gave you: Friday is Double-Punch-Card Day. You were brilliant several months ago, when your mom was discharged without you filling up your Buy 10 Drinks, Get One Drink Free Card, to have secreted that valuable if flimsy scrap of cardstock away in your wallet.
In times past, when you were naive enough to believe you’d never endure another horrible hospitalization with your mom and she would miraculously stop being sick forever, you threw these cards away. In a spurt of eagerness for permanent relief from sickness, disability, brokenness, and yes, even death, you tossed your one chance to someday receive a venti sugar-free latte on the hospital’s dime. In fact, in the past ten years, you’ve thrown away six or seven of these cards, all filled with punches except for the very last one, since your mom always managed to be discharged from the hospital at exactly the most inopportune time.
Speaking purely from a caffeinated perspective, of course.
Finally, you get another chance. Looks like your mom will be in the hospital longer than usual, which is no short length of time. You make it your goal to fill up that punch card and receive your reward before she’s discharged. That seems fair, doesn’t it? You’ve earned that free drink many times over by now, and this time, you intend to work the system and get what’s coming to you.
On Double-Punch Day, you bring your game. For one thing, your mother’s condition is worsening, and coffee is needed. You declare a Rare Two Latte Day for yourself and invite your visiting husband to share in your largesse. Four punches on your card! You are so near now to winning the object of your desire, the piece de resistance, the One Free Drink that has managed to elude you these many long years of caring for your mom.
At last, the Final Punch is made on your card, and you exult. Tomorrow, on your afternoon break from listening to your mother’s airway slowly fill up until breath becomes impossible, you will treat yourself. Tomorrow, when you step out of her room for just a moment so that the nurses can clean up the messes her failing body continues to produce, you’ll coffee up and enjoy yourself.
Tomorrow, instead of holding her cold hand and waiting for final words that you’ll soon enough acknowledge have already been spoken, you’ll turn in your card and claim your prize.
Only you won’t, will you? You’ll end up, after everything is said and done, keeping that holey card as a tattered souvenir in your wallet, never cashing in those chips at all.
Your punch card is finally filled, and your mother is forever gone.
Posted by Katy on 03/12/11 at 05:17 AMFallible Comments...
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