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Faith’s Little Deaths

January 14, 2014

graveMy husband, Jack, can be found on any given holiday entertaining my family with his over the top renditions of some of our Slavic tales of woe.

“Tell me, Jack, what you think is better?” he’ll say in my grandmother’s languorous accent. “To have your legs torn off in gulag and die like dog in ditch like Uncle Vladislavomiroslav? Or be burned alive slowly by laughing German soldier like Cousin Jiroslavomiravova?” Far from being offended, my mother will laugh until tears smear her thick mascara. My grandmother – smoke curling from her bottom lip – will wave her 120 cigarette and say, “Oh, you!”

Or at least she used to, God rest her soul.

It’s easier to laugh about the big tragedies sometimes – the ones cartoonish in their proportions.

I know Jack and I had some of our heartiest, clutching our sides and nearly falling to the floor laughs when our youngest daughter was really, really sick. Especially when we didn’t know if she would live or die. Laughs like that lighten the load and help keep you in love despite the storm raging around you.

Although I’ve laughed like a hyena at things like Biliary Atresia (or Biliary Atrocious, as we started calling it when our daughter was – wrongly, thank God – diagnosed with this condition), and all manner of afflictions and possible syndromes, I still can’t laugh about a nurse I’ll call Tatiana. nurse ratched

She was the nurse who neglected to feed my sick daughter through her feeding tube before heading off to her own cozy lunch. The same nurse who I overheard on the phone telling one of her friends that she thought she was too good for her job. That perhaps medical school was where she belonged.

I remember thinking – You are so wrong. Trust me, as the daughter of not just a good, but a great doctor, medical school is not where you belong, girlfriend. And nursing, on the contrary, is way too good for you.

She performed her job with a boredom that bordered on contempt, and I detested listening to the way she would sigh when she actually had to get up off her bony a** and do something.

To this day, if I saw this nurse on the street my stomach would churn and my fists would clench in rage. I’m sure my face would contort into a mask of scorn and this young woman – who probably wouldn’t even remember me – might say,What’s your problem, lady?.

You might think I’m overreacting. It was just a little vial of baby formula and it’s not like my kid didn’t get fed eventually.

She didn’t starve.

But it was so much more than that. In that moment, under those circumstances, blowing off my daughter’s feeding was not only careless, but cruel. My baby was doped up on morphine, hooked up to all sorts of machines, fighting for her life, and I wasn’t even allowed to hold and comfort her. The only good thing in her whole existence right then was that her little tummy was getting filled on a regular basis and she didn’t have to lie there being both hungry and in pain.

Honestly, in my mind, this nurse was on par with Hitler and Stalin. And that’s saying something. I shudder to think this careless, selfish brat ever went on to medical school. To this day, I hate the idea of her caring for patients in any capacity. I wonder what else she’s forgotten to do, and if she was smart enough to cover it up. I know she thought she was.

In those situations – the BIG situations that come up in life sooner or later – it’s the little deaths that can be hard to have a sense of humor about. The ones that reveal an ugly side of human nature instead of merely a case of bum luck – no matter how bum that luck turns out to be.

more fun in hell

My mother, a Czech political refugee, will tell a story over and over again of a little girl she was teaching how to knit after school. I think my mom was about twelve or thirteen and the girl was a couple of years younger.

At that time, my mom didn’t have a lot of friends. Given her political situation, most of the other kids treated her like toxic sludge.

And she loved hanging out with this girl, getting a chance to share a laugh, and treat her like a little sister. Knit one, pearl two.

Turned out the girl was reporting everything my mother said, or didn’t say, to the local authorities for a few coins.

My mom was devastated when she found out, and even though she’s had so many worse things happen to her in her life – she remembers how she felt about this betrayal in technicolor. Not even her abusive first marriage can evoke the kind of sadness that this little friend of hers can arouse to this day.

All of those hours they spent together. And none of them were real.

These are faiths little deaths.

bloody hand rose

They can happen anywhere, and don’t have to be accompanied by the fog of Nazis and the pollution of Communists. Or the horror and helplessness of watching someone you love suffer.

It may be, in fact, the more ambiguous tragedies that are the most devastating. They can ripple slowly through time like a single raindrop in placid waters.


From → faith, family

  1. Why is it that these betrayals stay with us forever? They do, of course. And you’re right – no laughing possible.
    What a beautiful last image you left us with. I don’t “like” the post because I don’t like this side of human nature, but I love the writing and that you evoke such powerful emotion with your words.

  2. Thank you so much. This was a very hard post to write. I guess I felt like a jerk writing about that nurse because I still hold a grudge and I wonder if I judged her too harshly. Maybe that’s the rotten side of human nature coming out in me.

  3. Agree with fit2sail — LOVE your writing and its emotional impact!

  4. Thanks Billy Ray – love yours, too.

  5. I read this and your comment about still feeling “like a jerk,” and do not for a minute believe that it is the rotten side of human nature coming out in you. We all have a rotten, or dark, side but that one sounds like the howl of a lioness who has been crossed and won’t soon forget. The incident made me recall a confrontation I had with a Physician’s Assistant when my then 20-year-old son was unconscious and hooked up to an IV line. It was 2 a.m. and we were strangers in this town and in this hospital. When I asked the man to explore the possibility of a different diagnosis, he told me to “calm down” or he would have security remove me bodily from the ER. In that moment, only the thought of leaving my loved one unprotected in that place kept me from leaping over the counter and grabbing the man by the throat. To this day, I feel the same urge when I think of it. I’m glad I didn’t at the time and I got some measure of revenge by refusing to pay the medical portion of the sizable bill and letting both the hospital and his physician boss know why. But this comment says nothing about the rest of this wonderful and thoughtful post. You are right: there are moments with the power to haunt. “Faith’s little deaths,” is exactly right. Thankfully, if we are lucky, we encounter other moments that restore faith.

    • Betsy, I so understand where you are coming from and I’m glad you let the hospital know. Thanks for you words. We are so vulnerable when someone we love is in danger. When a medical professional gets it right, they are heroes to us. There are doctors and nurses who cared for my daughter that I would give a kidney to. But man, when they get it wrong it does have the power to haunt us for the rest of our lives.

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