Tag Archives: Baptist Hospital

Days And Decades

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How 15 hours became 20 years…

Today is the 20th anniversary of Mama’s death…but just barely.  December 8 was just a couple of hours old when she drew that last breath and moved from here to Heaven.  So while this is technically the anniversary, I always spend December 7 remembering…reliving…her last day of life, and spending it with her.

I arrived at Baptist Hospital around 11:30 that cold, grey Sunday morning, to relieve Dad, who had spent the night before with her.  He told me that, after being unresponsive for over 12 hours, she had awakened in the middle of the night, and they had a conversation.  She said she knew she would die soon, and that she was not afraid.  His recollection of that exchange shook me, hard and deep.  As we chatted briefly, he made a note to send to their financial advisor on Mama’s hospital menu for that day.  I remarked that I probably had a blank sheet of paper he could use, and he said no, the menu would be fine, especially since it documented the date and his note was an instruction for an account change that needed to be done before the end of the calendar year.  He was, and still is, careful and astute in financial matters.  We hugged goodbye and I told him to go home and get some sleep, that I’d see him later.

Just minutes after he left, Mama’s face changed, as did her breathing, echoing through the room with “the death rattle” I had often heard mentioned in older people’s conversations, but had only heard with my own ears a few times.  It didn’t register with me right away that she had begun actively dying, but over the course of the day it sank in.  In about a half hour a nurse came in to check Mama’s vital signs, and she asked how long her breathing had been like that.  When I answered, this sweet nurse just came and put her arm around my shoulder, telling me that she didn’t think Mama was in any pain or distress, that I could talk or sing to her, pet her and love her, because nothing was bothering her now.  I think now that this nurse may have been an angel; I don’t remember having seen her at any other time during our hospital stay; I can’t recall her name or face or hair color; I only remember her words and the feel of her arm around me.

For her last 15 hours, Mama and I shared that little space together, mostly alone except for nurses and CNAs coming in to check her vital signs and to ask if I was all right, if I needed anything.  We only had a few visitors, including a hospital social worker and her husband, who circled around and prayed with us, and my cousins Judy and Ann, who came that night just hours before Mama died.  There were some phone calls through the day, but mostly many hours of stillness.  Mama never awoke that last day, but I spoke to her, and I know she was aware of my presence…my love.

Flash forward to last week when I was messaging with a friend and telling him about Mama’s anniversary coming up.  He expressed understanding of my residual grief.  We talked on about the state of current affairs, the world, and concerns over what we, as individuals and as a culture, may leave behind.  I tried to reassure him that he is sending light into a world that sometimes seems very dark.

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And I realized something.  Those last priceless hours I shared with Mama shaped the way I view my years, and how I want to spend whatever time I have left.  When it is time for me to leave this world, I hope I am remembered for the moments I shared with others…one on one and bunches of us together, moments of music and silence, times we laughed until we cried, ate until we belched and then laughed some more, hugs and smiles and being genuine with one another (I don’t really know how to be any other way).  If my moments are meaningful, then my years will be worthwhile.

In her last 15 hours of life, Mama taught me just as much as she did in the 58 years that preceded them.  What a gift!  If my days and decades are a tiny fraction as full as hers were, I will leave something good behind me here when I leave.

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Glass, Brick And Mortar

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How Santa’s helper packed up my memories…

A Knoxville landmark is being demolished brick by brick as the old Baptist Hospital comes down.  It has sat for decades on a little parcel of land just south of the Tennessee River and, after generations of patients were born, cared for and died there, the facility was sold and plans for a lucrative complex of residences and retail spaces were made and revealed to the public.  Progress, I guess.

It breaks my heart.

This little area of town desperately needs a full-service hospital and emergency department.  The extra minutes required to travel to UT Medical Center or Fort Sanders (both of which are fine facilities, just not as close-in as Baptist) can cost lives.  My main heartbreak, though, is personal.  I was born and raised in South Knoxville, and Baptist was the hospital I and my kinfolks always used when we needed a hospital. Reed and I were born there. Both of our Uncle Johns (Flanigan and Bryant) died there, just about 6 months apart.  Mom and Pop Cutshaw were patients there.  I was a patient there more than once, and a caregiver more times than I was a patient.  I spent the last days of Mama’s life with her there, and that’s where she left here for Heaven.  That building, and the land on which it sits…those places are hallowed ground for me.

A number of months ago, I called Reed up and told him I wanted to pull a caper, and hoped he would be a co-conspirator.  I wanted a piece of the hospital from the demolition site, a brick or piece of a tile or fixture…just some little piece of the place that has meant so much to me for so long.  Soon it will be nothing but a memory, and an unsightly but profitable modern complex will stand in its place.  I told him that, yes, it’s strange, but it’s important to me.  He was gracious and non-judgmental about my idea, saying that he has probably done things that could be viewed at least as strange as this.  Sweet Pea thought it was a fool’s errand and said he didn’t want to have to bail me out of jail or the loony bin if I got caught after hours on a demolition site stealing a piece of rubble.  Anyway, we talked about it, but talking was as far as we got.

Flash forward to last month sitting around the Thanksgiving table.  We didn’t talk about the hospital caper, at least not that I remember.  But we did get started talking about other things from our childhood.  One of the most vivid memories I have is drinking out of jelly jars.  When we weren’t eating homemade jelly, we ate Bama brand jellies and preserves, and whenever we used up a jar, Mama saved it.  Those Bama jars were the perfect size and shape for a glass of tea!  Over the years, they all got broken or discarded, and I remarked that I would love to have an old Bama jelly jar glass like we used when we were growing up, and that I had looked online but didn’t find the exact thing.

Reed and I got together and had lunch on Christmas Eve.  We didn’t know what the Massengill-Hickman branch of the family tree was doing or not doing that day (long story) but we got together on our own.  And even though we had not drawn each other’s names for gift giving, we had a little gift exchange.  I gave him a little Baptist Pound Cake and a goofball present, and he gave me a Bama jelly jar glass he had found!  I was tickled to death.  He also gave me a bag with presents for the Christmas night gathering with the bonus family because he wasn’t going to make it there.  And he casually mentioned that there was another little something in there that I could open on Christmas night because it would be entertaining.

The box was from Santa.  And it was heavy.  The card was both cryptic and sweet.

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Inside I found another jelly jar glass…and the heavy part.

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If I had opened it when it was just the two of us, I probably would have cried, which is probably why he had me open it later on.  I texted him and asked how he had pulled it off, and he said he knew a guy who had access to the site and some favors were exchanged, resulting in my Christmas brick.

I did cry privately, tears of happy gratitude for the thoughtfulness of a big brother who understands why something so crazy means so much to me.  The Spirit of Christmas shows up in the strangest ways sometimes.  Santa’s helper rescued my Christmas, packing up memories from my childhood.

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