Health Care

By the time we arrived in Austin, Rosie had been moved from the Austin Heart Hospital to the “rehabilitation” wing of St. David’s hospital, where she had previously passed two four-month periods. I hadn’t been to that particular wing before; when I visited in November, 2003, she was in St. David’s intensive care. Both times I was impressed by the kindness of the staff. Rossella observed that, while the people who cared for her in the Lecco hospital were competent, they weren’t particularly nice, and always seemed to be in a hurry. The St. David’s staff were busy, but they took time to be nice about it, even a little too nice at times: “Hi, I’m Keith, I’ll be taking you down to radiology this evening” – he sounded like a waiter.

The St. David’s staff were always careful to explain what they were doing and why, sometimes too simplistically. The doctor used a medical baby talk that didn’t tell us much: “The tests on your liver showed results in three areas that we’re not happy about, so we want to investigate some more.” If she’d been a little more specific, we probably could have handled the information. I suppose in rehab they’re accustomed to dealing with confused old people who are easily overwhelmed by medical details; Rosie is sharp as a tack, no problem there.

I was surprised at the number of different kinds of staff it takes to run that wing. Not just doctors, nurses, and orderlies, but also nurse practitioners and a case manager, occupational therapists and physical therapists. Having been through it all so many times, Rosie has no patience with the therapists. She knows by heart their “use it or lose it” speeches: “If you lie in bed and don’t use your muscles, soon you won’t be able to use them, so we’ve got to get you up and moving.” Up and moving is what you don’t want to be when you’re nauseated for reasons the doctors can’t even explain, but when Rosie refused to get up, the therapists would threaten her with: “We’ll have to discuss this with your doctor.” These strong-bodied and strong-minded young women had to learn the hard way that they are dealing with a woman who, while frail in body decades beyond her 76 years, is far stronger in character than anyone they’ve yet had to deal with. Faced with Rosie’s stubbornness and her son Guy’s constant, protective presence, the therapists eventually withdrew from battle. They remembered her from last time, and doubtless will remember her this time as well.

Most of the staff love Rosie, though, and who wouldn’t? In spite of years of severe illness, repeated surgeries and hospitalizations, she manages to maintain a sense of humor and a joy in people that are rare anywhere in life, let alone in a hospital ward. As one of the nurses put it: “We’re sorry you had to come back, but we’re glad to see you.”

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