Thursday, November 25, 2010

What I'm Thankful For Today: Endless Possibilities

A long thread running through Someday I'm Going to Write a Book: Diary of an Urban Missionary is the story of my great grandmother, Jacinta, a/k/a Jenny Bruno. She was as a midwife, and I have the license and instruments to prove it, in the early 1900s (her certificate is dated 1911 which makes next year her centennial), tending to the women (and their families) of the Southeast Bronx, not coincidently, the same ones I am tending to right now.

There are many similarities between us so I feel comfortable concluding Jennie probably didn't love running out of the house at all hours of the night, leaving her eight kids (our of the thirteen she had) to fend for themselves, though I'm sure leaving her purportedly abusive husband and providing for them was driving her along.

My husband isn't abusive, in fact, I'm more likely to hit him someday than he is to ever hit me. Money is what keeps me in this insane business--three kids to put through college, my daily coffee, their daily bread, and some sense that there is a mission in all this. Some overlying need to persist despite the anguish and frustration.

The brick walls I run into day after day, erected by a broken health care system, big government and big institutional barriers, insurance companies, the economy, poverty, racial and ethnic discrimination, and yes, the patients and their families as well, show no signs of coming down. I chip away at the mortar; look for ways to sneak through, over, and around. Am nabbed from time to time for what Mark Legnini, DrPH described as "doing the right thing" instead of "the right thing to do." Get a leg up now and then, so I can climb over, pulling my charges along with me, though some can't hold on or aren't willing to take the risk of falling.

This is deliberately vague, for privacy as well as a myriad of privacy and compliance regulations. But this is a time of year to focus on what we have and give thanks. This article is very long, but its description of the overall mission of the hospital I work for made me proud to be a long time member of its staff. One of the very small dots on the southernmost point of the map is the health center in which I toil, day in and day out. And I've worked in several of the other hot spots over the years with some of the most talented and dedicated doctors, nurses, patient care techs, and other support staff on the Earth.

As an overview, the worker bees aren't acknowledged in the Commonwealth Fund Report. As usual, only the doctors are championed though much of what being done is accomplished by those of us without MD degrees. But coming at a time when I often wonder what it's all about, this affirmed I'm in the right place.

So I'm thankful for my health and family, without which nothing else would matter. But also my job, my co-workers, the patients who continue to place their trust in me and for the knowledge that I've made real difference. And to Jennie, who I have to believe is the little voice that guided me to where I am supposed to be and straightens me out with a kick the ass when I'm ready to give up.

This tribute to her, an excerpt of Someday I'm Going to Write a Book, was published last year in This Path.

Happy Thanksgiving.

The night seemed full of endless possibilities, like life thirty-five years ago. I stood in the lobby of the posh Marina Del Rey at the 75th anniversary of the Saint Frances de Chantal grammar school, Bronx, New York. The '50s vintage dress that called to me at an antique show fit like it had been custom made. I thought I looked pretty good with the gray dyed out and six pounds lighter than last year. Those anti-wrinkle creams seemed to work. They sure cost enough. 

The dawn of the AIDS epidemic and the horror of working in the hospital on September 11, 2001 book ended a career during which time speaking up made me part of the enemy camp, not the liberating forces. 

Video clips of domestic violence deaths, child abuse, infanticide, rape, incest, and the degradation of women played over and over in my mind. My theoretical model for dealing with families in crisis was of little use at 2 a.m., standing in between the guy who just beat up his pregnant wife, the woman bleeding to death, and the clerk getting insurance information before we could get blood for transfusion.

I had bargained with the gods to keep the demons away but no good deed goes unpunished. They stole my soul and reneged. Divorce from my high school sweetheart, the inevitable loss of beloved family members, and my own personal health challenges gave me pause to ponder the endless impossibilities of life.

I focused on my family, thankful for the second chance at marriage and motherhood. I once battled sexism, racism, conservatism, and elitism. Well into my third life and tired of fighting, I moved past activism into escapism.

I'd never attended a high school reunion but instead was drawn way back to my grammar school days. I remember only a few names and faces, most notably, Marianne. We don't see each other often, but just like tuning into a soap opera you haven't watched in years, we easily pick up the story line and move on.

I waited for her, watching the lights of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge glimmer like tiny beacons over cold, dark Long Island Sound. I moved across the bridge to Queens seventeen years ago. I still work the streets of the Bronx but death, distance, or the ravages of time have broken all ties to friends and family. Alone, mesmerized by the tinkling fountain, I held back tears remembering when this neighborhood was an innocent idealist's only view of the world.

 The cell phone bleated. "Sorry, I'll be there in a minute, got stuck in traffic." Marianne rushed in from the parking lot and gave me a hug. "You look fantastic."

 We studied the collage of old class pictures. Marianne picked me out: the girl with a headband and hair in a pony tail, tights, uniform dress with a bow tie, and a big smile. We sipped drinks, nibbled hors'd'oeuvres, and found the "Class of 1971" table.

John, one of the two "boys" who had been my close friends, smiled when he saw me. "Hi, Carole Ann. You haven't changed a bit."

Sister Mary Lucille, at least eighty, peered at me and waved a gnarled, bony finger. "You're one of the Moleti girls, and none of you took French." Nuns never give up.

"That's right, Sister," I said, "but Spanish serves me well."

George suggested we take the few surviving sisters for a boat ride in the dark and dump them overboard to get even for all those bruises. We laughed, reminisced, and tears flowed on my way home in the pouring rain as I crooned Streisand's tune "The Way We Were."

I drove over the bridge, from my first life, past the second, and into the third. I let the dog snooze on the couch and walked through the dining room where Jennie was still smiling at me. The kids were tucked in; the cat warmed my side of the bed. I snuggled next to my sleeping husband and lay there in the dark and quiet thinking about all the stories still to be told.

"Get back to work," Jennie said.

And I did.
Copyright 2009 by Carole Ann Moleti