Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wednesdays with Dorothy: Matters of Health


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Dorothy standing
in front of her apartment
As I was walking up to Dorothy’s doorstep one afternoon for our  appointed time to sit and talk about her life, her neighbor who lived in the adjoining apartment greeted me and asked how Dorothy’s story was coming along.  Dorothy’s neighbor seemed like a nice lady, though admittedly a bit eccentric.  She collected plants, storage crates, and cats, all of which could be seen lining her porch and spilling out into the yard.  When I had asked Dorothy about her neighbor, Dorothy indicated that she didn’t want to have anything to do with her. “That lady can’t keep her place clean, she has all them cats, and you hear her wandering around talking to herself. She’ll wander out at night, too, collecting cans and stuff.”

Dorothy had also told me about her upstairs neighbors with whom she had some occasional contact – and she was on friendly terms with them  but she kept some distance between herself and her next-door neighbor. So while Dorothy managed to maintain a circle of friends, like anyone else, she had some limits as to who she let into that circle.

In my conversations with Dorothy, matters of health would come up from time to time. I had been with Dorothy in the hospital a few years before when she underwent surgery for colon cancer.  Before that she has suffered a heart attack and had to have a stent placed in her coronary artery. There was another time that I visited her in the hospital when she was admitted for respiratory problems due to congestive heart failure. On that occasion she was just a just a couple of floors up from where I worked, so I was able to pop in on my lunch break and after work.  With her age and her history, it was only natural that we would talk about her health form time to time.

During one of our conversations, she talked about an emergency trip to the ER and then went from there to recollect another hospitalization when she had surgery:

When that fluid builds up in my lungs, that’s when I lose my breath. One night I went to bed, I couldn’t get to sleep. I couldn’t get my breath and I called 911. They come and I come out on the porch and flagged ‘em down and they come on in. I told ‘em I couldn’t hardly get my breath. They wound to taking me to the hospital at UAB. Well, Dr. Craig got that oxygen pump and put it on my mouth and they started with me down to the emergency room.  I was on the gurney. Somehow I could see Jesus – I couldn’t see him with my human eye, but I could see him with the eye of my heart, you know. He was standing there looking at me. I reached my hand out and he took me by the hand. I said Lord, I love you because you died for us all. And he looked at me and said, “I love you to, my child.” He was standing there with me. When I reached again he was standing there at the foot of my bed – they had already moved me to a bed and he was at my bedside. I looked up and smiled at him and he vanished.

It really made me feel good. They finally got me to breathing well. The first time I went to the hospital, it was a Sunday night. I had a room on the West side. I thought I could hear a revival going on – I mean it was a good Holy Ghost, Spirit-filled revival. The preacher preachin’ and people singin’ and shoutin’ and coming to the Lord to be saved, and everything. I thought they were singing so pretty, and the devil wasn’t nowhere around because Jesus wouldn’t let him in the picture. I could hear them preachin’ and singing’ and shoutin’ and I never did want it to end. I thought, God’s gonna do something. When I come to I was saying, “God’s gonna do something, God’s gonna turn something around, God’s gonna do something” I was saying it to myself, then I got pretty loud with it. I was really enjoying it – and I finally went to sleep.

When they gave me that shot of morphine when I had my colostomy surgery, I was laying in the room that night. I seen a lady out in the hall, I didn’t know who she was. I said, “Hey lady come here.” She came in and said “What is it Miss Burdette?” and I said I would like for you to get my oxygen straightened out because my urine is going in to my oxygen.”

She said, “No it’s not,” and I said “Yes it is. My feet’s all twisted up and how about you fixing it so I can move my feet?” She did the best she could and said, “Now is that all right?” and I said “Yeah, I think it is,” and I finally went on to sleep. The next day, it must have been in the morning report, because the nurse came in and said, Miss Burdette, I’ll never give you another dose of morphine.”

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Talking about hospitals prompted Dorothy to reach back further in her memory when she was younger and had to go to the hospital:

I had one surgery when I was down in Thomasville. Dr. Green had to take a piece of skin off my cervix to see if it was cancerous, but it weren’t.  Then I had to go back and work at the motel. Well I got sick and the lady I was working with had a fellow take me home, well she didn’t know he was dog drunk. We had a good little ways to go, and it was pouring down rain. He kept asking me did I want to go to Westbrook, or somewhere and I said no, just get me home or I’ll get out and walk. He finally got me there. I got out and slammed that car door and went in the house and shut the door. My blood pressure went way up and I had to go to the emergency room!

One of the workers at the center took me to the emergency room. They took my blood pressure. I was so sick I threw up what little bit I did eat. They kept me over night, then I went back to my house the next day.

*   *   *

On another visit I asked her how she managed her medical appointments and kept track of her medications:

Now I have a medicine nurse, comes on Wednesday, or either Friday.  She comes every two weeks. She puts all my pills in my pill box so I don’t get mixed up about what medicine to take when – I take so much now. My friend Lana arranged to have my medicine sent in the mail.

If I have to go to the doctor, different ones will take me. Lana, when she can, takes me, and another friend of mine when I can get her to come by. I hate to call a cab. One time my case manager had a cab come pick me up for my doctor’s appointment, and he didn’t know where he was going.  He took me way down the hill below Family Practice. I had to go back up the hill, and when I got up there, I completely lost my breath. I thought I’d never get my breath back. I used to could walk, but now I never can get up a high place without my legs giving way.

Another time I had a cab to take me to Dr. Hayes’s office, and he didn’t know where to go. I kept trying to tell him and he just went way on, I guess a couple of miles past Dr. Hayes’s office. He asked me, “Is this it?” and I said, “No! You done gone too far!” He turned around and found a guy driving a truck and he asked him where it was. I thought “You idiot, I told you where to go.” Then when we got there and I got out, I thought, “Dear God! I don’t never want to ride with him no more!” It was the same way when I used to go to the Food Stamp Office.  



Next week we will hear Dorothy talk more about how her day-to-day needs were met, and also see how much she loved having her own place that she could call home.



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