originally published August 9, 2010 as “Connective Tissue”~

My mother was recently diagnosed with Non-Small Cell Carcinoma of the lung. What seemed like arbitrary and the effects of aging~nothing more than a singular, although rather sudden exclamation of “Hey! I got pain here!” She told the doctor finally and seemingly in exasperation, pointing to her shoulder and underarm. I recall being surprised as we had just been to the doctor’s office only two weeks prior and no complaints then. Now, she seemed haggard and in extreme agony if they touched there.

A chest x-ray, then a phone call, then a CT scan, and the another phone call filled with silence and pauses and hollow “I’m sorry’s…” begins the saga. I work in Health Care and I can only now *sigh* and call it a Saga. It took nearly a month to see the Pulmonologist [lung doctor] who told us what ‘we already surmised’ and then another two weeks to see an Oncologist. And, in that time we were armed with pain pills that would last a week to fight a ‘demon’ mass, lodged in her pleural space and right lung and threatening to break more bones, ravish ‘connective tissue‘ and the like. This mass had already broken her first right rib. Her pain evident on her face at every meeting.

However, the connective tissue that is virtually inside all of us is not the worry, concern or even the issue in this blog rant~ as nature goes, that is a consequence of cancer. What isn’t a consequence of cancer or even the disease process; is the incessant idiocy that people endure in our ‘so-called teaching health care institutions’ . I work in one, so I guess I understand the mechanism of how things work, why 8-12 physicians, nurses, lab techs, residents, med students, etcetera believe that a patient must endure a constant barrage of Q & A every time they undergo a procedure or test; and whether it is outpatient or inpatient the routine is always the same. Every 5-10 minutes someone comes in and asks the same ‘damn’ questions as the one before them until the patient is left in a quagmire of distrust, unexplained frustration and is now suddenly questioning themselves as to ‘why‘ they are there, too. Why not save the patient of this frustration, and the family of this frustration by creating a form and when the first one asks the series of questions, they could begin to fill out a checklist that all can read?

Would that make sense to anyone in health care? Is it all about testing the mentation of the family, patient or is it just because a class is necessary in ‘small talk’. As a practicing RN I’ve watched the same scenario numerous times, and watched while otherwise reasonable, coherent, cooperative and laid back adults are suddenly reduced to anxious, irritated and uncooperative adults when this process begins~and as health care professionals, we don’t see ourselves as the catalyst for this. As a daughter to a patient, I watch with misgiving, biased insight and absolute angst every time it begins. Because, I see it being written and I wonder why the next person doesn’t read the chart and the entries of the first person.

Today, I watched my mother endure it for the second time in two weeks, and all I wanted to do was hide shamefully, as this is a horrible process and doesn’t teach anyone a thing. It teaches the patients however, to distrust the medical system, it lends to the assumption that medical professionals don’t share the info amongst themselves when it is necessary, although another factor is to have patients signing forms giving permissions to have information shared; but then, left wondering why they don’t talk to each other and save patients all the hassle of telling their story over and over. Perhaps, if this were done, then the hour to three hours of sitting in pre-operative care wouldn’t be such an anxiety producing atmosphere. Perhaps, the two hour wait wouldn’t even be necessary, and perhaps if this is only to lend to teaching the fine art of communicating with patients and developing a bedside manner~then careful attention to NOT FRUSTRATING THE SHIT OUT OF THEM should be considered part of the lesson.

My point and the conclusion of this rant is this we are becoming a quite large connective entity in the world~whether it be to purchase what we need, socialize, and receive health care; for the most part of our collective lives and hopefully sensibilities we are at large~connective tissue, whether it is in reality or virtual. Everything is written or typed into a system at some point in our lives. We basically are reduced to numbers, and yet, when you go into a large ‘teaching hospital’ or any hospital for that matter, with state of the art technology and computer systems at every turn~ the vast majority of health professionals resort to the archaic and frustratingly irritating virtuoso of Q & A. Let’s examine that practice and truly enter the 21st Century, folks.


Originally blogged November 25, 2010 as a testimony and eventual eulogy reading at my mother’s funeral and entitled “Eighteen by Seventeen and Three-Quarters”

No this is not a carpentry lesson or a measurement of carpet or flooring, but a testament of years. These are a reflection of the years that I’ve known my mother Marilyn Kay Breisch, McCluskey. She was born October 19, 1940. For years we believed her birthday to be the 18th of October, but her birth certificate reflects it is the 19th. This is the first mention of 18 in this diatribe in which the title if you recall mentions eighteen. There’s a reason to my madness, if you listen close you’ll catch the drift.

I met her in 1959, she smiled brightly and held me in her arms for the first time. Maybe not, but it makes for a nice story…I’m sure she did. I decided I’d keep her. Marilyn was my mother. She was all of 18 when she gave birth to me. I, was the first of five children she would deliver upon this earth. My dad was in the Air Force and they lived in Lincoln, NE, and I’ve been down the street in the area a few times even now. She pointed out different things there each and every time we went to the Nebraska State Fair together. Those were moments that I’d missed if we hadn’t connected …but, I’m getting ahead of myself, now. Suffice to say, Now the second time, I’ve mentioned 18, are you seeing a pattern? I hope so or I tell in vain. But, I will say she always had happy stories about her time there in Lincoln.

She raised me through the 60’s, oh my, but I was but a child then and flowers and drying leaves weren’t my thing at the time, but the turbulent 60’s would leave a lasting impression. Then came the 70’s. Mom was always attempting to keep up with the times I remember as she listened to most of the popular music, even if it was only Country & Western. It was popular then too. But I recall the record collection we had contained a lot of Beatles, Roy Orbison, and even a mix of blues and some classical rock. Not sure, but it seemed music was something I recall from my childhood and when around mom. She loved to dance and I think dreamed of being a dancer at some point in her life, but went on into her life as wife and then mother to five children. She exemplified herself in social situations with dance, though. It was where she escaped and became a different person. One I wouldn’t meet until I was in my thirties.

Getting me from zero to 18, and, there is that number again! Wasn’t an easy chore; and if I stopped and thought about it she had to repeat the process four more times, and I can say now having raised only one child~ “Hat’s off, Mom. I would have drowned us in the river, like kittens in an overloaded barn.” But she didn’t, and while she didn’t always roll the way WE wanted, I know she LOVED us in a quiet manner and I NOW know she was very proud of each and every one of us once we were grown. Perhaps, she didn’t always say it, but she did in the quiet watchful manner of a mother allowing her children to make mistakes and grow from them. When asked she would speak her mind, and often it wasn’t what we wanted to hear…but, it contained a lesson regardless of what we needed to hear.

I was 18 when I left home, and it was not in a quiet manner and it would become a poignant change in my destiny…one only mother knew at the time. I would be 50 when I finally learned of her reasons and why she sent me to live with an aunt and uncle. Again, that pesky number. What does it all mean?

The last 17 and ¾ years, my mother has lived with my family and always worried she was a burden; which she wasn’t. My father passed away those number of years ago, and mom having never lived alone I assume felt daunted and a great loss with his passing. I know this, because of our talks. She helped me again with the quiet manner she always had with the raising of my own son. A bond developing between my son and her as a grandson and a grandmother should. He adores her, cares for and now he is a young man standing on the threshold of what will be his own destiny. Mom’s echoed whisper with each calamity and mantra was always “He’s a good boy.” All this happening right under my nose, without bravado and as natural as breathing air, and through his eyes I finally recognized the LOVE that was always there for me, my brothers and sisters and for anyone who ever met her. Mom always saw GOOD in people, even when others didn’t. I believe that is the gift she intended to leave me and my brothers and sisters with.

What is the symbolism of the numbers? We have only to look at the Chaldean’s tribute to Numerology; 18 is symbolic of materialism striving to destroy the spiritual side of nature. It generally associates a person with bitter quarrels, even family ones, also with war, social upheavals, or revolutions. There were many for mother, and many of those involving me and our family, but, drop the incidental 3/4 and realize the symbolism of 17. This is a highly spiritual number, and is expressed in symbolism by the 8-pointed Star of Venus; a symbol of “Peace and love”. It is also called “the Star of the Magi” and expresses that the person it represents has risen superior in spirit to the trials and difficulties of his life or his career. It is considered a “Number of immortality” and that the person’s name “lives after him”. Mothers reign immortal in their children’s hearts…and Mom will always be an inspiration to me, not because of the lesson of Numbers, but just because of whom she was and how she touched my life. But, she always considered her lucky numbers, and 18 and 17 have been so obvious throughout my life and hers.

Thanks Mom for the quiet resolve of waiting for me to catch the lesson of 18 by 17 and ¾. I now understand. I’ll miss you, and I’ve always loved you.


Comment left by my Uncle Bill~”Paula, This is fantastic. Thank you. Your Mom and Dad would be so proud. I mean they are so proud. Love, Uncle Bill.~William McCluskey, 2010


One thought on “MeMoriAm

  1. I remember the time back in Chicago in the VERY distant past that your mother had passed away. I never told you that I was sorry that you had lost her. I still have both my parents and I do consider myself very fortunate to still have mine as I know others my age (all of 20) do not have theirs anymore. Now that the possibly of my father having leukemia has been put out there, all I can do is just assume the worst. If that happens to be the case, a fight will ensue but if not, forever grateful is what we’ll be, though given the two choices of what he might have isn’t great either way. Ever since he stated this to us the other week, all I can do is picture him in a hospital bed, weak and dying and bald from the cancer treatments.

    I’m keeping my head up as far as it’ll go and pressing on with life as of now until that time arrives when we find out the true nature of his goings-on. This is certainly a stage I’m NOT looking forward to in life. I was expecting later rather than sooner…


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