This is the true story of how one sibling saved another’s life via a stem cell transplant. Heather Harpham’s daughter Gracie was born with a mysterious blood disorder, requiring frequent transfusions. She describes how she and her husband Brian accidentally conceived a second child soon after Gracie’s birth and the long, agonizing, decision-making and transplant process.
At first, I was concerned, not only for Gracie’s welfare, but about what her younger brother Gabriel would need to endure in order for Gracie to have the transplant. Then I learned that since Gabriel’s stem cells were harvested at birth with no pain or discomfort, nothing else needed to be done to him. Maybe the author should have made this more clear from the get-go.
I also didn’t like the way she, at the beginning, switched between scenes with her and Gracie in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) after Gracie’s birth and the story of her and Brian becoming a couple and her subsequent pregnancy. Although the back story about Heather and Brian is important, at the time, I couldn’t have cared less. I was more concerned about Gracie. It would have been better to have a prologue with one scene in the NICU and then start the story at the beginning. That’s how I do it in My Ideal Partner; How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds. Otherwise, I love this sweet story with a happy ending.
This story takes place during the late 1960’s and is about three doctors. Although it’s part of a series, it can stand alone. In the Irish community of Ballybucklebo, Dr. O’Riley organizes a relief effort to help a family who lost everything in a fire. Dr. Laverty and his wife are trying to conceive a child, and Dr. McCarthy, a trainee, suffers from a lack of self-confidence. The Protestant-Catholic conflict provides an ominous backdrop to this portrayal of idyllic small-town life.
This book reminds me, in a way, of the James Harriott stories except that the patients are people, not animals. Funny things happen that will make you laugh, and there are serious moments that may move you to tears. I like the way the author interjects Irish culture into this story. He tells us that in Ballybucklebo, everyone gets along, whereas in the rest of Ireland, people are duking it out over religion and politics.
Unfortunately, there are a couple of issues that aren’t resolved in the end. Not wanting to give you any spoilers, I won’t tell you what they are, but I’m sure you’ll find them when you get to the end of the book. I hope a sequel is forthcoming. Meanwhile, I suggest you let this book take you back to the good old days when doctors made house calls. Don’t you wish those days still exist?
Daily Inklings, a site providing prompts for bloggers, inspired this. In the post, bloggers are encouraged to write about how someone drew them into a conversation. In my case, the conversation wasn’t face to face.
On a Saturday evening in January of 2005, I was perusing the mail after a long day on the job at the nursing home where I worked. Among bills and junk, I found a braille letter from Bill Taylor, with whom I’d been corresponding for the past couple of years.
We’d communicated by email daily and phone occasionally, and he’d sent me cassettes of songs he’d downloaded from the Internet. He’d supported my writing endeavors by providing feedback on poems and stories I’d emailed him. Now, his words on the page jumped out at me. “Dear Abbie, I’m writing to ask for your hand in marriage.”
Stunned, I wondered how in the world I could marry this man. I’d only met him twice when my father and I drove from our home in Sheridan, Wyoming, to his home in Fowler, Colorado, on our way to visit relatives in New Mexico. I was under the impression he just wanted to be friends.
Because I worked in a nursing home, and his mother lived in one, we’d hit it off when we’d met a couple of years earlier through Newsreel, an audio magazine for people with blindness or low vision. We’d also discovered that we liked some of the same kinds of music and loved to read and that our favorite beverage was Dr. Pepper.
Did that mean I could just marry him? I was already in my mid-forties, and he was in his mid-sixties. We were both set in our ways. Could we make this work?
Long story short, six months later, I married him. He wanted to leave his home in Colorado, so we settled here in Wyoming.
How about you? Can you think of a time when someone got your attention? Please tell me about it, either in the comment field or on your own blog with a pingback here. I look forward to hearing from you.
The following short story was published in the fall/ winter 2018-19 issue of Magnets and Ladders. I can think of no better way to commemorate Christmas Day and the 200th anniversary of the creation of “Silent Night” than to include this story along with a recording of me playing and singing the song. Merry Christmas, everyone.
The day before Christmas, my seven-year-old daughter Hannah was rushed to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. I opted to spend CHRISTMAS Day with her. My parents, as they’d done every year since the divorce, had invited Hannah and me to their house for Christmas dinner, but I couldn’t leave my little girl alone in the hospital.
Hannah wasn’t on solid food yet, but a nurse offered to bring me a tray, perhaps realizing it would be difficult for me to navigate to the cafeteria with my limited vision. While Hannah slept, I sat by her bed and enjoyed a delicious turkey dinner complete with stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, and pumpkin pie. The food was surprisingly good for a hospital.
I said as much to the nurse when she came to collect my tray. “We have a chef now,” she said. “Of course many of our patients are too sick to appreciate it, but it’s certainly better than the fare we used to serve.”
The little girl in the other bed moaned and then started crying in earnest. I looked over and couldn’t see anyone sitting with her. “Oh, that’s Jessica,” said the nurse in a conspiratorial tone. “Poor kid, she fell out of her neighbor’s treehouse yesterday and broke her leg in three places. She’s in a body cast from her chest to her right foot.”
Hannah must have awakened for she said, “Ou, I guess I won’t complain about my tummy anymore. I’m glad I don’t have a treehouse, and I hope Santa didn’t leave me one.”
I marveled at how sensitive my daughter was. As the nurse went to Jessica and tried to comfort her, I said, “How are you feeling, sweetie?”
“I’m okay, but my tummy still hurts.”
“I thought you weren’t gonna complain about your tummy anymore,” I said, as I ruffled her hair.
Hannah giggled, then winced. “Out, Mommy, it hurts more when I laugh.”
“It sounds like you could use some pain medication too,” said the nurse, as she started to leave the room.
“No, it only really hurts when I laugh,” said Hannah.
“Well, in that case, laughter’s the best medicine,” said the nurse. “I’ll be back soon.”
“How old is Jessica?” asked Hannah.
“Oh, I think she’s about your age,” answered the nurse. “I’ll be back in a bit with some medicine for her, and that’ll make her feel better.” With that, she was gone.
Jessica was still sniffling, but it wasn’t as loud as before. “Mommy, you should go sing her a song,” said Hannah. “like you did for me last night when I was really hurting. I’m not hurting as much now, and I think she’s hurting more.”
Years earlier, I’d worked as a registered music therapist. That was before Hannah was born, before I’d started losing my vision, before my world changed. My husband hadn’t wanted a child but was resigned to the idea once he learned I was pregnant. The vision loss after Hannah’s birth was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Fortunately, he paid plenty of child support. That, along with my disability payments, allowed me to be a stay-at-home mom, and once I learned to use a computer with screen reading and magnification software, I brought in a little income from freelance writing.
Now, I looked over at the little girl in the other bed. My specialty as a music therapist had been with elderly nursing home residents, not hospitalized children. I hadn’t even done a clinical practicum with that population. I remembered bed-ridden residents who smiled and relaxed when I sat by their beds, held their hands, and sang. I even performed at some of their funerals. The fact that my singing in the emergency room the night before had calmed Hannah made me think that perhaps I hadn’t lost my touch. I rose and pulled my chair next to the other bed, where I sat and took the child’s hand that lay on top of the white sheet covering her.
“Hi Jessica,” I said. “I’m Joan. My little girl Hannah is in the other bed. What’s wrong?”
“My leg really hurts,” she answered. “I’ll never play in that stupid treehouse again.”
“That’s too bad,” I said, stroking her hair. “Would you like to sing a song with me?”
“Will that make the pain go away?” she asked.
“It’ll take your mind off of it. What’s your favorite Christmas song?”
She was quiet for a minute, then said, “I like Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.”
“All right, let’s sing it together, shall we?”
I started, and soon, she joined in, followed by Hannah. When we finished that song, Jessica suggested “Jingle Bells,” then “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” The nurse appeared and said, “What lovely singing. Jessica, I have some medicine that will make you feel better. I’m going to put it in your IV now.”
As she started to do this, I said, “Why don’t we sing one more song?”
“I want to hear you sing something by yourself,” said Jessica. “You have a pretty voice, and so did my mommy. She used to sing to me at night before I went to sleep.” A wistful look crossed her face.
“Why doesn’t she sing to you anymore?” I asked.
“She was killed in a car accident a few months ago,” she answered. A tear rolled down her cheek.
“Oh honey, I’m sorry,” I said, as I stroked her hair. Tears welled in my own eyes.
Holding them back, I said, “What song did your mom like to sing to you this time of year?”
“‘Silent Night,'” she answered.
“Yeah, sing that one, Mom,” said Hannah.
I took a deep breath and began. To my surprise, the nurse joined in, singing alto. Our two voices blending together in harmony was almost too much, but I managed to continue.
As we started the second verse, I sensed a presence at my side and turned to see a man standing there. “Daddy!” Jessica said, her eyes wide with delight.
“Hey princess,” he said, reaching over me and ruffling her hair. Then he said, “oh, don’t stop singing on my account. It’s beautiful.”
His voice broke, and it was all I could do to keep from losing it. We started the song where we’d left off and finished the second verse. To break the spell, I turned to the nurse and said, “You and I need to talk. I sing in a women’s group that could use an extra voice.”
“Wow, that sounds interesting,” she said. “You also have a nice voice. I need to see to other patients, but I’ll come back later after my shift, and you can tell me more about it.” She turned and started to leave the room.
Jessica’s father put a hand on my shoulder and said, “You and I also need to talk. It’s only been two months since I lost my wife, and I never dreamed I’d say this to another woman, but could I buy you a cup of coffee, maybe in the cafeteria?”
From the doorway, the nurse said, “Our coffee here isn’t as good as the food. Why don’t you two go across the street to Starbuck’s?”
We hesitated. “Your kids will be fine,” she said. “They’re both out of the woods. I have your cell numbers in their charts. If anything drastic happens, I’ll call you. Joan, you’ve been here all day. You need a break. Go!” With that, she was gone.
I looked at this stranger, not knowing what to think. Finally, I said, “I’ve been divorced for about six years. I’m losing my vision, and I never imagined another man would ask me out for coffee.”
I expected him to back away, but instead, he said, “Any man not interested in you is a fool. You’re a beautiful woman. You’re good with kids, and you have a lovely voice.”
Flabbergasted, I said, “You just got here. Don’t you want to spend some time with Jessica?”
Jessica said, “I’m okay. My leg doesn’t hurt so much now that the nurse gave me some medicine in my IV. Daddy, Joan could make you happy like Mommy did.”
“Yeah,” said Hannah. “Mom, I think this guy could make you happy like Daddy did.”
Jessica’s father laughed and said, “I think these two, along with that nurse, are trying to play matchmaker.” He extended his hand. “By the way, I’m Don Gray.”
“Joan Clark,” I said, taking his hand and shaking it.
Still uncertain, I turned to Hannah and said, “Honey, don’t you remember what I’ve told you about not going off with a stranger?”
“Yeah, but he’s not a stranger. He’s Jessica’s dad.”
“She’s got a point,” said Don.
“My dad told me not to go off with a stranger too,” said Jessica. “but he’s okay. He’s been really sad since Mom died.”
I could feel my heart melting as more tears threatened. “Jessica and I could sing another song,” said Hannah. “How about 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall?”
“Yeah,” said Jessica. She started the song, and Hannah joined in. Laughing, we both made our way out the door.
“Do you need to take my arm?” Don asked.
“Yes, please,” I answered, realizing I’d left my cane in the room. As I grasped his muscular arm and walked with him down the hall, I had a good feeling about this.
Six years ago today, my husband was found dead in his room at the nursing home where he’d spent the past month. I’d been caring for him at home for six years after two strokes paralyzed his left side. He’d started going downhill, finally getting to the point where I could no longer lift him.
I’d hoped to get him into Greenhouse,, a facility where residents live in cottages holding no more than twelve occupants and each have their own room and bath,. However, there was a six-month waiting list for people on Medicaid, so he and I decided that he should move to a regular nursing home for the time being. He must have decided he couldn’t wait for greener pastures.
As I said on Tuesday, if breast cancer is caught early enough, there’s a higher chance of survival. Here’s one woman’s account of how she lived through it. She’s still going strong today. I reviewed this book here several years ago, but it’s worth a second posting.
This is a short but to the point account of one woman’s experience with breast cancer. As the author states in the beginning, it’s for women who may develop breast cancer later in life.
Leonore Dvorkin starts by explaining how she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998 and her decision to have a mastectomy. A resident of Denver, Colorado, she talks about traveling to Kansas City to visit her family and her mother and sisters’ wish that she would just have the lump removed simply because it was what they would have done. She also touches on her family’s reaction to her novel, Apart from You, before it was published in 2010. She discusses how she and her husband bought a Polaroid camera and took pictures of her naked body the night before her surgery.
She describes what it was like to have the breast removed, assuring readers that such surgery for the patient is nothing more than having a good night’s sleep. She knew what to expect, since she had numerous surgical procedures in the past for varicose veins and other difficulties, and she touches on those. I was amazed to learn that HMO’s normally expect a mastectomy to be an out-patient procedure. Afterward, the patient is monitored for a few hours for complications and then sent home. In Leonore Dvorkin’s case, because she suffered from nausea as a result of morpheme she was given for pain, she was allowed to spend the night. I’m so thankful I don’t use an HMO for insurance, but it’s possible that nowadays, things may have changed. I hope I never have to find out.
Leonore Dvorkin then goes on to describe her recovery at home and the relief she felt upon learning she didn’t need radiation or chemotherapy. She talks about difficulty sleeping as a result of prescribed pain medication and a shoulder injury that made her rehabilitation more difficult. She touches on how her husband cared for her, not just after the mastectomy, but after other operations she had beforehand.
Several months after the surgery, she was ready to return to her job tutoring foreign languages at a Denver college and resume teaching weight training classes in her basement. She describes how she went to a store in Denver and bought a prosthetic breast and a mastectomy bra. In the end, she explains her attitude and how reducing stress and changes in diet and exercise made her feel better and gave her more confidence. She also discusses how she will age gracefully. This book includes appendices with resources and information about her particular type of breast cancer.
I like this author’s attitude. She doesn’t take cancer lightly but doesn’t wallow in self-pity or poor self-image either. I especially liked the way she describes how a prosthetic breast fits into a mastectomy bra and gives advice on how to buy and use them. I hope I never get breast cancer, but if I do, after reading this book, I hope to be able to deal with it and move on.