A few weeks ago, I spent another overnight stay at the children’s hospital with my daughter and granddaughter. Nora, age eight, had a surgery on the bones and ligaments in her foot. Her orthopedic brace was no longer effective and walking had become painful. Though not brain surgery this time, it’s never fun to have a child you love in the hospital for any reason.
For me it feels that during these stays, the whole world is contained in the hospital room we live in. Despite all of the physical and emotional challenges, there are always funny moments. As time passes and memory fades, these moments are the ones that rise to the surface. They are the ones my daughter and I will refer to time after time, proving that even our oft-tortured hearts and spirits are not meant to be down for too long.
This time it’s the morning of the day after surgery. It follows a sleepless night for all three of us. Nora is sitting up in bed, foot elevated, attentive to the distractions of her IPad. She’s tired and weary, as we are; but of course she’s in a good deal of discomfort and is cranky. “I want to go home. I hate the hospital and I am NEVER coming back,” she laments.
The door opens and in walks medical “somebody”. Who ever she is, she knows that for many of Nora’s few years of life, she was nourished primarily and then supplementally with tube feedings. That all ended more than a year ago my daughter explains.
From her conversation with us, it is clear that the woman’s main concern is about nutrition and Nora’s eating habits, and her feelings about eating and food. Nora is quite capable of answering most any question about things that pertain to her, and never hesitates to do so. But this time until the woman actually addresses her directly, Nora is not paying attention to our conversation as she usually does.
The woman, who clearly intends to find out directly from Nora whether she actually likes to eat and is a “good eater”, turns to Nora and says, “Nora, how do you eat?”
Nora looks up from her IPad and I see reflected in her eyes the puzzlement she feels about the silliness of such a question. She hesitates and with a hint of caution responds, “With a fork?”
My daughter and I burst out laughing. Nora, still intent on answering accurately, looks at me for confirmation as she also offers, “And sometimes I use a spoon and a knife.”
It was a funny and sweet moment. But afterwards, it annoyed me a bit. It reminded me how important it can be to ask the right questions, or ask in a way that gets the information you are looking for. In the case of medical practice, asking the right questions can be critical, even fatal. For most of us, we just need to remember that to communicate effectively, we need to be aware of the context of the person or audience we are speaking to, and then do our best to formulate our communication appropriately.
BTW, Nora is recovering nicely, halfway there!