One would think that for me at least this question would be settled--after all, I wrote two books and more than three dozen magazine pieces, opeds, letters, etc. over the decades I've been involved in unsealing records for adoptees. So one might think I'd spill my story at any possible opening. Not so. Once in a while I meet someone who wants to know if I am "that Lorraine Dusky," and well, yes I am. Done and out.
But mostly I'm like everybody else, juggling this piece of information as a gauge what the response might me--mild
shock, pity (no!) fear (some adoptive parents), negativity (more adoptive parents), curiosity, little reaction (very helpful when you don't want the information to spread throughout the room) immediate empathy (thank you very much, all you kind souls), or a voice that quietly says, Me too, or I'm adopted. I've encountered all of the above, but what I know before I say a word is that I cannot be sure what to expect.
And this is no where more true than in a hospital where people from disparate situations and lives converge. Nurse and doctors and residents and students and the person in the bed next to yours. You are all strangers on a train for that time you are there.
It's been quite an eventful week and a half for me since a week ago Saturday when husband Tony and I picked up my granddaughter Britt (as she is called here) at LaGuardia for a five day visit. Since we live a hundred miles from the airport, we stopped at a wings and burger kind of place on the way home. I ordered pulled pork and cole slaw, one of my favorite choices at such an establishment. I noticed the cole slaw was off, a bit, but not...well, off without being OFF. One bite and then another teeny taste to confirm. Britt noticed it was...warm.
|After surgery. You don't want to see|
the before shot.
What did go on that night was a raging case of food poisoning with all that entails, chills as well as tossing pickles at both ends. By Sunday night I texted a photo of my swollen, red ankle to the doctor who had done the recent foot surgery. Take the antibiotic you have at home with yogurt, he texted. By evening, I was able to keep all that down.
Come Monday morning, my ankle resembled a red tomato about to burst; I took another antibiotic, more yogurt and a probiotic, as well as texted a photo of my whole foot to the doc. He immediate message back was: GO TO ER. NOW. Off we go, packing nothing. When I got to ER at Southampton Hospital, I started crying as I spoke to the receptionist. I knew I was in the right place; relief was soon to come and I would not lose my foot. Let me add that a couple of years ago my brother ignored an infection that had no redness but was painful; the infection came from crashing his bike on cinder. He had two surgeries to clear the infection in his hip and spent 17 days in the hospital!
Tony and I are ushered immediately into a "decon" (decontamination) room. No other ER patients near me. Soon followed an immediate IV of antibiotics, several vials of blood drawn, X-rays, MRI and finally surgery later that afternoon. The conclusion: the already compromised spot on my ankle was a welcome home to the bacteria from the food poisoning, which also was the cause of a sore throat I noticed immediately after surgery that was worse the next morning. That turned out to be a staph infection (the good news: not MRSA); an infection that might have happened by touching the oozing foot and not immediately washing my hands! Or maybe the bacteria just wandered up there on its own. Anytime a nurse or an aide came near me she/he put on disposable gloves.
I felt awful most of Tuesday, but better by Wednesday even though the infectious disease doc didn't want to spring me and my throat was still sore enough to warrant pain killers. But I did get out after dinner time Wednesday. It was the last night of my granddaughter's visit. So it goes. Despite everything, I did meet some interesting people at Southampton Hospital, including a resident whose family orders Middle-Eastern bakery goods from a famous bakery in my home town, Dearborn, Michigan.
|From my hospital window|
I did not tell the three nurses who I dealt with in the three days I was there. Last time I did that (at another hospital in 2014) I ended being visited by the head nurse of the night shift who wanted to tell me the story of how she got her two boys from Guatemala, and by the time she was finished, I was sure the kids had been stolen. And she had no clue. The nurse I did tell had found her husband's natural mother having pried her name and last known address out of an agency in New York that shall remain nameless. This was a year before I finished hole in my heart, and so I had given her a copy of Birthmark, and the head nurse saw it at the nursing station, which led to her late night visit to talk to me.
I did not tell the doctors. No need. Though I did wonder if the wonderful orthopedic surgeon (who is Korean) was adopted, as she was the right age when the Korean exodus was underway.
I did tell a medical student who was making rounds simply to talk to patients and ask them questions. Before I answered, I asked him a few--he was born in Brooklyn, educated in Nigeria, and came back here to Atlanta for medical school. He was only in Southampton Hospital for a couple of weeks. When I asked him what he wanted to do with his life, he though for a moment and said: Make a difference.
Since that has been the mantra of my life since I was old enough to think about what I wanted to do with my life, I immediately felt a bond and...told him. The next day he came into the room in the morning as asked if he could hug me! He'd done his Google search and that was his response.
I did tell the 26-year-old woman who I shared a room with one night. The hospital tried to keep me isolated, but it was a full moon in the Hamptons and ultimately every bed on the floor was filled. The second night at midnight, the woman came in with very swollen tonsils that were severely restricting her breathing. She needed surgery to remove them but that was impossible while I was there. She was also in the midst of sex change protocol, and reading a book about someone coming out about that. That led to me telling her my story, which led to her telling me about an adoptee/friend of her who was trying to connect to her siblings found on Facebook but not necessarily her mother, as her mother had given up four other children, and the sound of that put her friend off. And her friend was glad she had been adopted, as it afforded her a good education and a very different life than if her mother had kept her. That she could not imagine.
There's no defining moral to this story. We tell some people about the most traumatic even in our lives when it seems safe, or we might get someone to think differently from the running hum in America: All Adoption Is Good. It's good to talk about it when it feels safe, or when we know we can handle the reaction, even if it's not what we would like. After all, if we don't talk about it when there is an opening, who's going to do it? Only by this can we move the public perception of what it means to be a mother who relinquished children to adoption, for whatever reasons, but always because we could not find a reasonable way to keep them close.
PS: Still taking antibiotics, but the last visit to both doctors showed I was healing well, and said I could stop them tomorrow instead of the longer course originally prescribed. I'm hobbling around in a big black boot that looks like a ski boot, but I have no pain and when last seen, yes, the ankle is in healing mode and not filling up with fluid. A small mesh insert implanted when the ganglia was first surgically drained in June was not absorbed as it was supposed to be, and apparently that caused the ankle to keep filling up with fluid. Tony and I were supposed to be on a Viking River Cruise this week; however, we had taken out trip insurance...a good thing. And thank god for Medicare.
ALSO FROM FMF
AND TO READSecrets everywhere, a good memoir to curl up with:
Secret Daughter: A Mixed-Race Daughter and the Mother Who Gave Her Away
By June Cross
Really well done! Cross juxtaposes her life with the changing social context of a nation in transition, and does full justice to both. As a reader who grew up during the same period with a mixed-race sister, the varied expressions of that transition achieved a new clarity when illuminated by Cross' experience. I had not realized that other families like ours made such different choices, assuming that the level of secrecy maintained by Cross's relatives existed at least a decade (more, actually) earlier. I was struck by the strengths provided Cross by her foundation in a Black community--ironically, a foundation my sister yearned for and finally sought out as an adult.