In 2008, I completed my freshman year at Notre Dame. Grant junkie that I’d become, I applied for and received a stipend to work at a homeless shelter in Omaha.
The shelter I worked at is one of the largest shelters in Omaha, and it is a “wet” shelter, meaning it serves people, even if they are drunk or on drugs. It is a shelter of compassion and a shelter of understanding. It asks no questions and finds space for those that other shelters will not.
This shelter delivers lunches. It hosts AA meetings and art therapy courses. It accepts donations and holds 5k runs. It provides a free addiction recovery program for those most in need.
From the shelter, I learned about addiction and codependency. I learned compassion. I learned that donations of money and tampons are far more useful than stuffed animals and other sentimental gifts.
This inspiring summer experience—one that paved the way for another grant to study homeless shelters in Dublin later that year—was overshadowed though.
2008 was the summer my dad had a severe allergic reaction to a medicine. This one-in-a-million reaction caused his epidermis to detach from his body. The doctor explained that, due to the severity and a certain number of risk factors, my dad had a 10% survival chance.
When your skin separates from your body, the likelihood of infection increases dramatically. The interior of the mouth develops blisters. Eyes become crusted. If you don’t die from infection, pneumonia caused by internal damage and blockage may cause death. Survivors usually have difficulty with their eyes, even to the point of blindness.
Our first doctor treated my father like an animal in a zoo, bringing all the residents to observe him, but not treat him. A nurse contacted my mother, who was in Oregon helping my uncle after a stem cell treatment. She explained that the doctor was not treating my father and that we needed to get him moved to another hospital—and soon—or he would most certainly die.
That nurse took a risk that saved my father’s life.
When insurance refused to cover any bills relating to my father’s TENs, the first doctor was the only one who insisted on payment in full immediately instead of helping us develop payment terms. I try not to think about the other lives he’s endangered for his paycheck.
Despite the miracles of that summer, I haven’t learned forgiveness. I haven’t relinquished my bitterness. I’m not sure I want to. My anger at the people whose risk-taking endangered my father’s life keeps me from examining too closely the concept of a life without my dad.
Moving to a new hospital with a fancy burn ward (with all the meth heads, my un-PC brother joked), we washed up in an outer chamber, donned our masks, booties, gloves, and surgical gowns, and entered to see the mummy formerly known as my father.
You could tell when he was awake, because his fingers would tap on the morphine drip over and over. The nurses explained that the drip could only release a certain amount within a given time, but the patient controlled that release with the button. Later, my father would ask us to turn off the TV in his room—one that had never been plugged in throughout his entire stay—due to morphine-induced hallucinations of horror movies.
Visitors seemed more concerned with their own grief than with my father’s survival. An uncle visited despite having a horrible cold (see aforementioned note on infection being the primary cause of death). An aunt vigorously used the hospital’s suction straw to clear my father’s mouth, giving him sores that lasted for months after he was released from the hospital.
Yet, strangers were more generous than I thought possible. A high school acquaintance heard about my family and dropped off bagels at my house—a significant drive for her. Our freezer and fridge were stocked with food from church, school, friends.
This post has nothing to do with my Summer Mix 2008, because 2008 has nothing to do with that mix. The sounds of that summer aren’t Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Decemberists. They’re the drip of an IV, the quiet beep of machinery, the hushed laughter of my brother as he shared some risqué frat boy adventure in that quiet room, waiting for my dad to survive.
Tomorrow Night – BUOS
You Can Leave Your Hat On – Joe Cocker
Valerie – Amy Winehouse
Take Me Home – Brother Ali
Cold Light – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Yankee Bayonet – The Decemberists
Video – India.Arie
Woodstock – Alice Smith
I’d Like To – Corinne Bailey Rae
Three Little Birds – Bob Marley & the Wailers
Rangers – A Fine Frenzy
Having Trouble with the Language – Billie Myers
This Old Town – Nanci Griffith
Junkyard – Page France
What’s Your Name – Lynyrd Skynyrd
Don’t Wait Too Long – Madeliene Peyroux
Hotel Song – Regina Spektor
Single – Natasha Bedingfield
The Woman with the Tattooed Hands – Atmosphere
What is This Feeling – Wicked
Crash the Party – Ok Go
Hold Me Tight – Across the Universe
2008 Musical Highlights:
“The Woman with the Tattooed Hands” is a favored Atmosphere song. Just don’t try to rush Slug by singing along if you go to an Atmosphere concert. At least twice when I’ve seen him play, he’s hushed the crowd with some variation of “I know the fucking words!”
I love a great duet, and the word play in The Decemberists’ “Yankee Bayonet” is really fun.
My dad introduced me to Joe Cocker. “You Can Leave Your Hat On” is a great example of his amazing, gravely voice at work.