Posted by: Moxie | February 6, 2011

Why pregnant women aren’t known for their sympathy

So we were out at a bar tonight.  A packed bar.  A bar packed with twenty-something year olds, leaning in close to make flirty conversation.  A bar full of people who applied makeup and selected an outfit and checked their hair.  Shocking, that in the bar of likely several hundred other people, I was the only visibly pregnant one.

And after a tall glass of water (to wash down the two sprites I’d had with dinner), it was time to find the ladies room.  Tucked in a corner of a hallway, a hallway now mostly full of empty kegs, it was a bit of challenge to make it to the desired space.  The men’s room was moving at a steady efficiency, which meant that the men had to sidle single-file along the ever-lengthening line of women who were fidgeting agitatedly as they crept closer and closer to the head of the line.   The women who cared little for social decorum or who had to relieve themselves quite badly or who identify somewhere off the binary gender spectrum, kept making breaks for the men’s room but savvy staff members continued to try to herd them into their socially confined space.

The wails behind me grew as two members of my line became more and more desperate.  They kept tussling with woman directly behind me, pleading with her to let them advance in front of her.  I kept my eyes firmly forward.  Not that I couldn’t have waited a few more minutes, but more for the principle of the thing.  And they were drunk.  And you know what’s never funny to someone who’s put back two sprites and a water?  A drunk person trying to get something.

After finally reaching the promised land, I took my own sweet time to complete my task.  Partly because it’s hard to rush when you can’t really turn around in the stall and partly to make sure that Tiny Black Dress (TBD) and Boobs All Over (BAO) would be really ready by the time they reached a stall.  TBD raised the volume and the hyperbole more as she started to shout, “You have to let me pee now.  I have to pee so badly.  I’m nine months pregnant and I’m ready to give birth.  Here feel this.  Oh my god, you have to let me pee now.  I’m so pregnant.”

From inside my tiny little sanctum I shot her a fierce glare.  How.  Dare.  She.  Pregnant women have a few things going for them–seats on the bus, smiles from strangers, and advancement to the front of the pee line.  In between we have the inability to rise out of seats on the bus, people calling us “ginormous” and the need to urinate every 7.2 seconds.  How dare she invoke the sacred code of preggos peeing first?  What has this society come too?  What’s next?  22 year olds asking for the senior discount at the movies?  Men getting on the lifeboats before the women and children?  Complete and utter destruction of the fabric of our society?  Nationalized healthcare?  (Oh wait, I like that one).

I walked out, slowly, to the sink area.  LBD stood there in her size two sequined dress, gesticulating wildly, imploring those attempting to relieve themselves to “PEE FASTER.  PEE FASTER.  OH MY GOD YOU HAVE TO PEE FASTER.”  I stared at her, my protruding belly unable to be hidden and said, “You know, if you’d pay attention, you’d see that the stall in the back is open.”


And this is what I thought right then, “I should have made her wait longer.”

Posted by: Moxie | December 21, 2010



I have no Christmas spirit.




I’m not a huge holiday person to start with.  The Christmas decorations we own are neatly contained in one box.  I can count on two fingers the numbers of times I’ve put up a Christmas tree since we got married.  I don’t bake cookies, I don’t do cards, I own no holiday clothing.  Not even socks.

But usually I have some engagement with the season.  A little part of me connects with the general excitement and allure.  I hear a traditional song and smile.  I find a gift for someone that I think they’ll love.  I eat a cookie (that someone else has baked) and relish the crumbs. 

This year–nothing.  A variety of factors are playing in.  I’m working a freaking ton, which means all I have energy for is sitting.  Sometimes even that gets overwhelming.  Traveling to connect with family sounds cold and tiring, regardless of the end benefits.  Decorating and baking equal clean up.   Christmas concerts mean leaving the house.

I’ve tried. . .a bit.  BH and I had a lovely tramp through the freshly fallen snow last week, and ended the evening with homemade cheese fondue, eaten AT THE TABLE.  WITH THE TV OFF.  Who knew you could intake food without the television?  (BH and I both grew up in families where meals were NEVER eaten in front of the TV, which makes it all the more strange that we spend so many evenings on the couch.  We’re going to break this habit when Elver arrives.  I promise.)

The past couple of shifts have had some rough cases.  A young, otherwise pretty healthy man awoke to find his right side knocked out, courtosy of the large amount of bleeding in his brain.  A mid-forties woman with a recurrence of her cancer, increased since her last hospitalization two weeks ago.  Another woman assaulted while driving a car by her boyfriend, admitted for various broken bones and now dealing with a CPS investigation for her children.

I sigh after each case, shaking my head at the suffering already experienced and the anguish still to come.  I think about my life–a couch that I love to sit on, a healthy kiddo kicking my ribs, a husband who never complains about bringing me juice when I’m too tired to get my own, a family to go home to.  When it comes right down to it, I’ve got NOTHING to complain about. 

 I still don’t have any Christmas spirit.  But I think I’ve got a little Christmas perspective at least, and for now, that’s going to be enough.

Posted by: Moxie | December 2, 2010


Two nights recently I’ve been woken up with leg cramps.

Not your run-of-the-mill “I’ve got a charlie horse” kind of cramps, but “oh my fucking god who let the velociraptor in the house to gnaw on my leg” kind of cramps.  Emerging from deep REM sleep to that kind of pain does not make for rational discourse so my explanation for the shrieking was something along the lines of, “STOP IT.  BH, MAKE IT STOP.  NO, NO, NO.  OH MY GOD.  STOP IT!”  I feel that this communicated the gravity of the situation but BH feels like maybe I left out some important details, such as 1.  What he needed to stop?  2.  Where was this offending agent?  3.  How was he to go about bringing it to a halt?

Details, details. . .

So after the last episode, as we’re lying in bed and I’m trying to trust that I can fall asleep again without the phantom raptor returning, BH explained his theory on the pain.  “You just have to hit it, because then you’re in control of the pain.”  He calls this his “Psychological Theory of Pain.”  I asked him if he perhaps I could kick him soundly in the testicles and then he could hit himself somewhere else, so he could be in control of the pain.

He declined.


Posted by: Moxie | December 2, 2010


I am prone to fear.

I’ve known this for a while.  It’s a combination of a naturally cautious personality, an very active imagination and job training which starts with, “Well, the worst case scenario is. . .”

Perhaps fearful people should not get pregnant.

I see a fair amount of pregnant women in my job.  And the vast majority of them are experiencing complications, especially in the first trimester.  “Pregnant-vaginal bleeding” is one of the most common triage complaints I deal with.  A good amount of those women are somewhere in the miscarriage process.  I cannot count how many times I’ve told parents, “I’m so sorry, but there’s no heart beat.”  Or “The pregnancy just hasn’t progressed since five weeks, even though by your dates you should be much farther along.”  I’ve delivered tiny dead babies in the emergency department, miniature versions of what they would have been if they had just had a few more months to incubate.  I’ve held hands and wiped tears and in general felt like a shit-bag because I’ve had to smash people’s dreams and hopes for their progeny.   And I’ve done it again, and again, and again.

Not so surprisingly, it’s these stories I carried with me into my first trimester.  Each trip to the bathroom felt like playing a miniature game of Russian roulette.  Would this be the time I saw the tell-tale signs of trouble?  Each abdominal pain was scrutinized.  How was I know to the difference between round ligament pain and pain which indicated my body was rejecting my fetus?  Was the nausea just normal pregnancy nausea, or indications that my pregnancy was abnormal and not able to be completed?

And so the fear grew.

The midwives were reassuring, as best they could be.  But 15 minutes every four weeks in the office was far from enough to counteract the minute-by-minute metastasizing apprehension that I was experiencing.

At 18 weeks, on a day already clouded by grief and exhaustion from other causes, the midwife furrowed her brow and mentioned that I was measuring big and that the heartbeat wasn’t to her liking.  I pressed her to reveal her concerns and she talked about a fibroid and uterine crowding and “. . .crowding the baby out.”  She wanted an ultrasound, of course, but the next available was days away.  So I sat in the parking lot and sobbed and sobbed, unsure of how I could possibly fear losing someone I’d never even met and how it could devastate me so drastically.

BH, never one to let schedules stand in his way, arranged for an ultrasound sooner and as I laid there on the table I wished I could pray, just so I could do something for my little Elver*.  But prayer is foreign to me now, and so I clutched BH’s hand and bit my lip and mentally urged the tech to go faster and tell me everything would be okay.

And you know what. . . she did.

She couldn’t find any fibroid and the baby looked good, with a four-chambered heart and two kidneys and two legs and two arms and some fingers and toes and a tiny little nose.

The radiologist even came in and poked around as well, declaring at the end that everything was perfect.  Right on schedule.  Safe and sound.

Shaky sighs of relief and kisses abounded.  The fear was quelled, at least temporarily.

But it keeps coming back.  It changes from day to day, rising on some days and ebbing on others.  There have been other frantic calls to the midwives, and even a trip to the hospital in the wee hours of the night to make sure everything was still okay.  Sometimes I think Elver can sense when I’m nervous, and tries to reassure me through a special combination of karate-kick-and-somersault Morse code that she’s** just chilling out, biding her time.

Perhaps the worse thing now is knowing that nothing will ever make the fear go away, not completely.  In the first trimester I feared a miscarriage.  Now I worry about intra-uterine fetal demise and premature labor.  After the birth neonatal sepsis, SIDS, congenital heart disease, freak accidents, car crashes and teen pregnancy will dominate my thoughts.  This trepidation and panic will be with me for a lifetime.

When BH and I talked with our therapist about wanting to get pregnant, we discussed my proclivity towards worry.  He sat back in his chair and said, “The universe is going to give you this soul to care for for some amount of time.  You cannot control it.  Enjoy the moments that you are given.”

So when the fear mounts to untenable levels, I try to remember this.  Elver belongs to the universe and I simply get to take care of her for a portion of that.

Today I will enjoy her kicks and hiccups.  Tomorrow will bring what tomorrow will bring.


*Elver is our “fetus name.”  It means baby eel.  We do not plan on making that formal name post-delivery but who knows, it’s kind of grown on us.

**I don’t know if Elver is a boy or a girl.  We use both pronouns pretty interchangeably.

Posted by: Moxie | November 19, 2010


Pregnancy has had a few humorous moments.  A few. . .

One thing I was pretty committed to prior to getting pregnant was having a midwife deliver the baby.  Hey, I’m pretty pro-physician (my self-hatred is directed more towards my thin hair and fat rolls than my career) but my experiences in various labor and delivery settings had convinced me that having a midwife on the other end of the vagina was preferable to a doctor.

Midwives, however, skew a bit more, um, shall we say, “hippy-dippy” than doctors do.  Oh, it’s all a spectrum for both options but let’s be honest, how many MDs do you know that recommend moon-drops for pregnancy insomnia?  I say this not to mock the midwives; it’s what drew me to that philosophy in the first place.  It’s just that sometimes I find it kind of amusing.

I brought BH along for the first visit, a fairly routine session where you go through a list of diseases which hopefully don’t run in your family and you talk a little about how you’re feeling and was this planned and yada, yada, yada.

And there is the exam.  Again, pretty standard.  A quick check-up, some swabs, a smear and you’re ready to go.

I have the benefit of prior experience with these sorts of exams on both a personal and a professional level.  No one finds stirrups particularly comfortable, but neither do I find them overly angst inducing.

After concluding the question and answer portion of our time together, our young, fresh-faced midwife, Katie, smiled and said, “Well, let’s just do the physical and then we’ll be all set.  We don’t have gowns here for you.  Instead, we have Dignity Duds.  Here’s the bottom piece, here’s the top.  Crack the door when you’re done and I’ll be right back in.”

Wait, what?  Moon drops and tea-tree oil I can handle but no standard-issue, ass-baring, thinner-than-toilet-paper gown?  Are you crazy?  BH sat, there, looking quizzically at me.  Clearly he doesn’t participate in a lot of gynecologic exams, because the Dignity Duds weren’t fazing him.

I picked up the yards of faded calico Katie had left on the exam table and held them up.  The one-size-fits-all philosophy was in play and the designer of these garments decided to leave plenty of room for the larger end of the continuum.  The drawstring helped to cinch a few of the extra inches at the waist but the overall impression was still a bit like a clown suit.  A clown suit for a very, very fat clown.

The top piece was equally proportioned, the edges of the arm holes coming about to my waist and the neckline gaping around my collarbone.

Moxie, you might be saying, these sound like pajamas.  What’s the big deal?  Well, here’s where the dignity portion comes in.  These duds were specifically designed for these exams, which meant that they had some specials features.

Such as a strategically placed hole in the inseam of the pants, meant to help facilitate the pelvic exam.

And a flap over the chest, aiding in the breast exam.

So there I was, covered in yards and yards of washed out blue fabric, with chilly bits thanks to the ventilation system, and my husband looking at me as if he was puzzled how he’d ever made a baby with me in the first place.

Bye-bye dignity.  Nice to know you.

Posted by: Moxie | November 3, 2010


I’m not the first woman to confuse a hangover with pregnancy, right?

The decision to have a baby has been a long time coming.  I’d resisted for so long, reluctant to give up my freedom, our life, the possibilities of living an unencumbered existence.  And then one day I was ready.  I’m not sure what happened or what changed but I knew I was ready.  And when I’m ready to start a project, I’m ready.  Right then.  No stopping to work out logistics or verify that this is permanent change of heart.  Ready, set, GO.

Take home remodeling for instance.  If I were not married to a rational, logical human being, my home would look quite different.  Here’s a little scenario for you.

ME:  Hmm, I want to remodel the bathroom.  Maybe I should tear out that wall.  Yeah, ’cause if I tore out that wall, then we could move the bathtub there and then the sink could go here and I need to go get my sledgehammer. Exit stage left to look for sledgehammer.

BH:  Moving the tub could work, but I think we might end up being a bit short on space.  Looks like about four and three-sixteenth inches short, if I had to eyeball it.  I need a tape measure to be exact.  And if we move the sink, we actually cut off water to the rest of the house.  Is that wall load bearing?  Let me get some measurements and sketch this out to scale and see if we can make this work. Exit stage right to get clipboard, pencil and tape measure.  Is confronted by large pile of rubble which is the rest of the house caved in on me and my sledgehammer.

So while BH has been “procreation friendly” for some time, he was a bit taken aback by sudden change of heart.  Seriously, he made sure we went and talked to our therapist before he’d agree to stopping birth control.  If he could have sketched out pregnancy, birth and childrearing on his clipboard, I think he would have.  He likes to be prepared.

But the therapist signed off and we were ready to go!  And, shockingly, we didn’t get pregnant the very first time we tried.  What the hell?  It’s almost as if eight years of hormonal suppression takes some time to wear off.  Who could have predicted?

Which means we were reasonable and rational the second month, right?  Um, no.  After breaking out the ovulation sticks we were convinced that THIS. WAS. IT.  We read the back of the pregnancy test kit obsessively, figuring out the very first instant that it could possible be positive.  67% accuracy?  Who cares?  We were pregnant.  We were sure.

And this is what we saw:


So we did what all good, healthy married couples do in hard times.  We fought.  And we drank.  I blamed BH for having slow sperm and he looked at me like maybe he wasn’t even sure he wanted to have children with me.

We nursed our wounds with a second beer and then somewhere along the way the kitchen sent out my sandwich with the Russian dressing not on the side and then felt bad so the waitress came out with a free bourbon and by then we were relaxed and happy and ready to celebrate the unencumbered life again so there might have been another round.  Or two.

So the next day I had a bit of a headache.  And was nauseated.  And irritable.  Because the disappoint had set back in and I was mourning the loss of a life filled with laughter and bubbles and cupcakes (this is what you get when you merge worst case scenario [I’ll never be pregnant. . .] with grass is always greener [Raising children is nothing but joy and fulfillment]).  BH went to run some errands and I moped and fumed and stomped and decided that I was going to pee on yet another stick, because we were meeting some friends that night and I wanted to make absolutely sure I could enjoy myself.

And this is what I saw:


Not the “oh my god now I can’t go to college and my parents are going to throw me out and does Billy even love me?” kind of “SHIT” but the “oh my god my life just changed forever and even though I really wanted this I’m totally in shock right now” kind of “SHIT.”

20 weeks later I’m still kind of in shock.

Posted by: Moxie | November 1, 2010


So, for those of you on the internets that haven’t heard, I’m now in the family way.  On stork watch.  Got a bun in the oven.  Up the duff.  With child.  Oh for Christ’s sake, I’m pregnant.

This blog was certainly not started as a pregnancy blog, considering that at its origins I was adamantly opposed to thinking of considering possibly maybe someday in the far off future mulling over pondering the potential prospect of having a child.  I started the blog when I was transitioning from med student to resident.  A pretty overwhelming time.  A lot of uncertainty and questions and doubts and fears and excitement.  A time a bit like now.  In fact, I may have even used that metaphor way back when.  This here old blog was invaluable with that transition.  It kept me sane.  It let me say the things I needed to say but couldn’t say them because I wasn’t even sure which way was up.  And eventually, I figured out which was was up and the emotions calmed and I was okay.  And my writing slowed.  And then pretty much stopped.  It wasn’t that I didn’t like writing anymore, it’s just I didn’t need as I had before.

But I need it now.  So for a while, the blog is going to be a bit of a baby blog.  Sure, I’ll probably throw in a good work story now and then, but for the most part, it’ll be about vomiting and fear and ultrasounds and getting fat.  Hey wait, that could be a work story. . .

If you’re not interested in reading baby stories, I totally get it.  If it helps, I promise to still swear a bit.  And I won’t change the background to some flowers, hearts and puppies orgy of vomituous sweetness bullshit.

We’ll see what happens.

Posted by: Moxie | July 8, 2010

Not dead yet

Oh blog, oh writing, oh getting my thoughts out of my cluttered head–how I’ve missed you!

I’m not sure where my written words have gone.  They are still rumbling around in my cranium, but any time I try to piece together a noun and verb and maybe an adjective and an adverb, they all scramble, and I’m left with a sentence something like, “Motorized decides wombat blue.”  Hard for a blog post to capture someone like that.

But I miss writing.  I miss the inspiration, the creativity, the clarity.

So I need to get back into the groove.  I need some baby steps to get going again.  And you know what blog baby steps are?  Lists!  So, here is yet another installment of “what foods can I carry home from the grocery store without a car?”  You may remember some long ago descriptions here and here.

Yesterday, in the midst of the HEAT WAVE that is slowly suffocating all life here in Nameless East Cost City, I decided to walk to get a few groceries and pick up our CSA.  Yep, walk.  The whole driving to pick up your locally grown, organic vegetables seems a bit contradictory to me, so a-walking  I went.  Just me and my medium sized Timbuk2 bag.  And here is what we got.

-1 6 oz bottle of olive oil because I couldn’t remember if I had used up all the olive oil at home or not

-1 pkg of whole wheat fettucini

-1 pkg romano cheese

-1 bottle water (I hate the idea of bottled water in general as it consumes so many resources [I read somewhere that it takes 3 liters of water to produce 1 liter of bottled water] but it was something like 103 degrees with a heat index of 47,000 degrees so I really needed more hydration)

After paying for that, I remember that I needed chickpeas so back to the shelves, back to the cashier . . .

-2 cans chickpeas

From there I walked 10 blocks to the CSA pickup site.  The bag was heavy and moderately full but manageable.

All that was about to change.

The CSA is packed in reusable boxes and the produce is transferred from the box to your own bag.  You know, reduce, reuse, recycle?  We get a list every week of what’s coming and I have to admit, the only things I remembered were three cucumbers and four zucchinis.  Totally room in the bag for that.  Here’s what I actually picked up:

-6 (!) zucchinis

-1 slicing cucumber

-2 lemon cucumbers (have you ever seen these?  They are little round, yellow balls.  They are like the trolls of the cucumber world.  Delicious trolls, however.)

-3 large tomatoes

-1 head of cabbage (ack!  Cabbage not slipping nicely into remaining 3 cubic inches of space left!)

-3 cippolini onions

-3 beets (am I the only one who thinks of beets are a root, fall vegetable?  We’ve been getting tons in our CSA ever since June.  They are awfully good on salad however.)

-1 large bunch kale (I have eaten so much more kale since joining the CSA.  It’s good for the colon, right?)

Okay, by the time the beets were in, I had already removed the library book that needed to be returned as well as the half-bottle of water that was remaining and the bag was PACKED.   By squishing the already fragile tomatoes down, I was able to just snap one side of the straps.  So I picked up the bag, put in on my back and instantly lost about an inch of height, which is a lot for me to loose.  Library book in one hand, bouquet of kale in the other and a finger wrapped around the water bottle.  Off to the library.

I love the library.  I could just sit there for hours and absorb the pages around me.  So of course, I can’t leave with just one book.

Or two.

Or three.

-Four new books (3 hardcover, 1 large paperback) should hold me for a while.  Readjust the straps, tighten the waist belt.  Two books in one hand, two books plus bunch of kale in the other.  Off I go.

For 10 more blocks.

In the heat.

But I, and the vegetables, and the books and the other various and sundry items, all made, safe and sound.

The end

Posted by: Moxie | March 25, 2010

Breaking up is hard to do

BH and I have been talking about moving away from Nameless East Coast City (NECC).  Not right away and not for sure and not sure where to, but in the back of our minds and sometimes at the front of them, we consider the options.  And while sometimes I am overjoyed by the prospects Way Out Yonder (WOY), I am simultaneously overwhelmed by the thought of leaving.

NECC is home for us.  Really and truly.  The first several years of our marriage we were living in places we knew were temporary–the defined schedule of academics gave us set points at which to move on.  And we lived and invested in those places in temporary ways.  Our move to NECC was the first point that we had the option of choosing, of having some say in the matter.  And we chose NECC because we thought we might like to stay permanently.  And thus, we’ve lived here like we might always live here–we’ve put down roots and I’m wondering at what point the roots preclude transplantation.

BH and I have started taking long, late-night drives lately.  While driving around, just for fun, irritates my environmental consciousness, there is a feeling that is unparalleled by the emotions that come from turning up the radio, opening up the sunroof and just cruising down the street, no destination, no agenda, no plan.  The world opens up differently when there isn’t a three block back up at poorly timed lights and intersections aren’t barricaded by other motorists trying to make the yellowish/orangish light on the street perpendicular to yours.  With no traffic to contend with, we can see a dozen or more historic sites within five minutes of leaving our home, sites that other people travel to see and there they are, practically in our backyard.  The quiet and calm of the late night makes the buildings more majestic, their historic significance more real, their beauty more vivid.

And with spring finally here, we’ve been taking walks as well (we try not to ravage the earth every night), meandering down empty sidewalks, the house alongside now dark and still.  A route that during day hours might bring us in contact with hundreds of other people is a very different experience at night, when we cross paths with fewer than ten other late night souls.  It allows us to see other things, things missed if you have to watch out not to bump the people coming your way.  There’s the interplay of the streetlight light with the blossoming trees, the spookiness of still empty branches backlight by the orange ambient light, the emptiness of the still commercial corridor.

It’s those moments, the late night wanderings through our neighborhood and beyond, that make me think we’re crazy for thinking of leaving.  NECC is where we live but it’s more than that as well.  It’s a representation of dreams and expectations and disappointments.  It’s plans for ourselves and our community.  It’s growing and changing and thriving and morphing and getting somewhere and suddenly realizing you’re not sure how you got there, but you’re glad that you came.

I write this now, with the scenes and emotions still fresh, so that I can remember it later–when our neighborhood watering hole is overrun by the nearly ubiquitous douchebags that NECC can be known for, when my drive home from work is extended by an extra thirty minutes thanks to clogged streets, when protesters come to town and leave their hateful signs along the sidewalk, assuming someone else will pick them up.  Because wherever we end up, I want to choose it because it’s where we want to go, not because we’re trying to escape where we are.  So here is the reminder I need, the call to remember, the celebration of seeing the world around through happy, contented eyes.

Posted by: Moxie | February 23, 2010


The chief complaint, “altered mental status.”  I glanced quickly at the age—89 years old.  I read through the history—dementia, high blood pressure, arthritis.  The triage note was vague, just that the husband had noticed that the patient was “confused.”  No specifics given.  The vitals signs were normal.  I knew before going in the room what I would do.  After all, I’d seen this same patient a thousand times before.  Head CT, labs, ekg, urine, admit for observation.  My money was on the urine.  My money is always on the urine if the vitals signs are normal.  I slowly picked myself up from my chair, sighed and headed into the room.  Actually seeing and examining the patient seemed so unnecessary. 

I walked in and introduced myself to the woman sitting up so very straight in the bed.  “Hello,” she replied, her handshake firm.

“And who is with you today?” I queried, gesturing to the man across the gurney from me.  She stared back quizzically.

He nodded a bit sheepishly and then said, “I’m her husband.” 

She kept looking at me, a mixture of interest and distrust on her face.

I asked what was wrong, how can I help.  “I’m fine,” she said.  “There is nothing wrong.”  Her longer statement allowed me to hear her accent better, the familiar cadence of someone born and raised far from the little hospital room we now occupied together.

I started my litany of questions, beginning at the top and working down.

“Are you having headaches?”


“Vision changes?”


“Chest pain.” 




“No,” also to cough, fevers, abdominal pain and diarrhea.  No to everything.

Her eyes were so bright, her gaze so focused, her answers crisp and brisk. 

“Can you tell me where you are today?” I asked, fishing for more information than just our location.

Her brow furrowed for just a moment and she paused, a look of panic deep in her eyes.  I paused, giving her a moment which clicked into another and then another.

“How about what state you are in?”

“What state am I in?  What do you mean?”  Her voice became shrill and she looked over at her husband, seeking the answers in his face.

“That’s okay,” I said, trying to calm her down but still needing more.  “Can you tell me what the date is?  How about what month it is?” 

She looked at me intently, anger rising up from her chest. 

And then she started to swear at me in German, her tone implying her frustration with my insolence, even if I couldn’t understand the words. 

I started to examine her and as I did I said, “Tell me where you’re from.”

“Well, I’m from Germany, of course,” she responded, transitioning seamlessly back to English.

We talked some more then.  She was born in Germany.  She’d met her husband during the war, a young GI from Pennsylvania.  They’d married in Nürnberg, and she’d immigrated here.  Her voice calmed and she relaxed back on the stretcher, the memories of 60 years ago easier to conjure up than today’s date. 

I thought of my Omi and the parallels between her life and the woman’s before me.  Surviving World War II, settling in a new country, a life far from the one she’d known growing up.  Fierce pride in her homeland.  The slow decline into confusion and dementia.  Hard stretchers in the Emergency Department.  People asking where she was and why was she there.

My grandmother was far from a pleasant woman.  Even before the dementia, she could be rude and entitled.  And there is no doubt in my mind that she’d bitch out a doctor if she felt they were prying to much or if they were revealing how much she didn’t know, how much she couldn’t remember.  She’d break out the mother tongue all right and she’d let them have it. 

But there was another side to her as well.  A side that loved her family, however imperfectly.  That loved to tell stories.  That missed the familiar and the well-known. 

I hope, that in the midst of her swearing and thrashing about the Emergency Department, that someone asked her who she was.  Not our usual questions of “Where are you? What is the date?” but something she could answer.  I hope she got to tell her story, at least a part of it.  And I hope that someone listened.  Perhaps someone even smiled a bit, thinking of their own grandmother, or their Oma, or their Abuela, or their Nonna.  I hope that she was missed, whoever she was.

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