Long Beach Island…part 1

———————-Discharge ———————–

My discharge from Sparrow was based on the condition that I was with my mother for at least a week. The caregivers at the hospital had seen my mother care for me, and feared the worst (a fall) if I was discharged without her looking after me. They thought that my wife would be too distracted by and have her hands full with our newborn son to be able to take care of me. The only problem with their discharge plan was that my mother was supposed to be helping my older sister and her husband care for their two little children while they worked in their shifts at the Emergency Department. My sister had just lost their second nanny, and did not trust anyone but family to care for her one and two and half year-old daughters. My mother had been helping them out about every other month (my brother-in-law’s parents take over the reins of childcare during the other months, but were out of the country during this month). I desperately wanted to leave the hospital. We pleaded with the discharge physician to let me go home with my wife, but he was steadfast in his stance, “ No way,” he responded, “Either Chris goes home with his mom, or else he has to stay here.” We did not know what to do. On the one hand I definitely did not want to be in the hospital, yet I could only be discharged under the care of my mother, who was set to leave for a trip to the east coast to help my sister. We came up with a variety of solutions to this: one being for me to stay in the hospital, another for my mother to take a flight (she normally drove there) to Long Beach Island (LBI) which would make her departure later and her return sooner. None of these solutions seemed right, however. It was then that my mother came up with the idea to bring me to LBI. This satisfied my need to leave the hospital while allowing my mother to take care of her grandchildren in LBI. The only downside to this idea was that it would take me from my wife and children for the week. The discharging physician thought that this was a brilliant idea, “I think [Chris] needs a break from Lansing, a trip would be good for him.” Thus I was discharged from Sparrow on Friday and we left for LBI on Monday.


I mentioned earlier that my parents are divorced. My father has since remarried and has children, while my mother is living in South Chicago in Hyde Park with her new husband. He, Bill Nichols, has been my stepfather since he moved into our home in 2000. During my hospitalization Bill was great, not only helping my wife and children at home, but helping me with my rehabilitation in the hospital as well. Bill’s role and dynamic in the family is an interesting one: his main focus is the happiness of my mother. Fortunately for me, my mother’s happiness is tied to mine, thus, his pursuit to make her happy has helped me. He is extremely opinionated but has tried to stay out of any of our discussions regarding my health during this ordeal. This was no different as he did not chime in, and I’m sure he was itching to do so, during my discharge situation. When I did ask for his opinion, his only response was, “just do whatever makes your mom happy.” His looking after my mother’s happiness occasionally creates friction between himself and the Chiou children. An example of this came during their recent move to Chicago. Amy and her husband were pleading with my mother to move to Philadelphia (a town only a 45 minute drive from their home in LBI) where she could spend more time with them, and also help with childcare. Amy has always tried to move us all close to each other, to no avail. (It doesn’t help that she is always moving herself, but the sentiment is there nonetheless). Bill, sensing my mother’s desire not to spend her retirement solely caring for her grandchildren, decided not to move to Philadelphia but to Chicago instead. This was extremely disappointing to Amy and her husband, with the blame falling on Bill’s shoulders.

Bill and my mom
Bill and my mom

———— Home —————-

I distinctly remember the feeling of leaving the hospital. It was a Friday. I remember that it was a sunny spring day. Pulling up to the driveway and seeing my wife with our newborn son in her hands is an image I will never forget. I was able to spend the weekend with my family. What a glorious weekend; a weekend without any activities (to my wife’s dismay), just me with my family. Those are my favorite types of weekends. Unfortunately, the weekend came to an end as we left for LBI on Monday morning at 6 am.

Christian, Cormac, and Fleur
Christian, Cormac, and Fleur

————- Car Ride ————-

At the hospital I was accustomed to awaking at 7am in preparation for my breakfast and occupational therapy, so waking up at 530am was very tough for me. It was for this reason the first hour of the 12-hour drive I was in the backseat sleeping. I remember waking up, looking out the window and seeing countryside. I was used to this growing up in Nebraska, but this seemed different. Maybe being in the hospital for 4 weeks made me appreciate the view differently but to me everything seemed in place: the cows, grass, clouds, hills, they were all where they were supposed to be. I had spent over a month confined to a hospital bed, appreciating cows and grass was a result of this stay. My parents were committed to giving me their own therapy sessions throughout the trip. My mother’s Emergency Medicine background has made her efficient and quick at all tasks she performs, and these sessions were no different. Thus all breaks (bathroom, food, gas, etc.) had to be combined with therapy sessions. Our first break was a combined bathroom/breakfast/therapy break. We took a total of three breaks on the way there. When we finally arrived it was about 8pm, I was exhausted, more than I would normally be for a long car trip. When we told the PM and R physician about the upcoming trip, he warned that riding in the car itself was a workout. According to him, being a passenger in a car ride is filled with micro-adjustments made mostly with our abdominal muscles and the part of our nervous system that tells us where we are in space. Then again, most of my long car rides aren’t broken up by physical therapy sessions.

It was such a relief to see my sister, her husband, and two children. They live in a place called Long Beach Island, a town in the eastern part of the New Jersey Shore, a place that becomes less populated in the winter and comes alive in the summer months. It is a quiet beach town that I always enjoyed visiting, but Amy and her husband, Amir, weren’t enjoying their time there and were constantly talking about relocating. They both suffer from an affliction my father in law has coined “chronic dissatisfaction” with their current locale. I haven’t figured out if this is because they both work in the Emergency Department[1] and their dislike of the city or town they’re in is a result of the patients they see, or if their personalities simply made them unhappy with wherever they live. They are both in constant motion, always looking for the ‘better’ deal. Like with most things in life, the answer was probably a combination of the two, rather than exclusively answered by one explanation. My wife and I have the opposite problem, we generally like where we are even when everyone around us seem dissatisfied.

Amir and Amy
Amir and Amy

Being out of the hospital and with my family, even though physically taxing, was different from being with them while confined to a bed with occasional nurse checks. Emotionally not being with my wife and sons was rough on me, but being able to be with others that I loved brought me much joy. It is tough to pinpoint an exact tangible difference, but in the hospital every visitor I had, family or not, was there to see me, while here I was there to see them. Perhaps this little change was all that was needed to make such a big difference. Being away from my wife and sons was tough, to say the least, so I made sure to either phone them or Skype them often; I had some episodes of frustration, that manifested itself on to my parents. These episodes stemmed from my inability to be with my wife and sons that unfortunately were felt by my parents. They are human and were growing frustrated with my shows of unhappiness there. I often wonder if they realize the root of my frustration there- I do not talk about that trip with them anymore, not because of some unwritten underlying disease with the topic, but more so because we feel there are better things to discuss. I made it clear to them and anyone that would listen that I missed my family. At that time, I had two things on my mind: 1. My wife and sons, and 2. A pregnant patient who had just delivered her first child.[2] I decided to call her to see how she and her newborn were doing.
[1] A place not known for attracting the all-stars of the community.

[2] I will discuss this in my next post, but as a physician you often worry about your patients. When my last patient is seen for the day, my mind cannot turn off and stop thinking of patients. In this particular case, I had the privilege of seeing this patient for her regularly scheduled OB pregnancy visits, and had heard word that she had delivered while I was in LBI.

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