Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Artlessness of The Nut House

Today I was on the Jerry Springer show. I didn’t even know I was scheduled. I accidentally walked on stage and a chair flew by.

Apparently, it was being taped at the hospital where my stepdad had surgery to repair a broken hip this morning. He had a mini-stroke several weeks back (TIA), then developed pneumonia and other complications. That landed him in the convalescent hospital but my mom was able to bring him home about ten days ago. However, he’s old and stubborn – like I'll probably be – and he didn’t use his walker a few days ago and fell. Broke his hip. And who did my mom call first? Not 911. If any of you have parents this age you may know what I’m talking about. They tend to call us first.

“What should I do? He says he can’t get up. Can you come out here?” (They live in the country.)

“Yes, mom, I can but if he can’t get up you’ll need to call 911. Something’s wrong.”

“But which hospital should I take him to? We can’t decide and you know we’re gonna sit there all night long.”

“Mom? Mom. Call 911. I’ll be right there.”

And so it goes. They are casual about the emergency room. They practically live there. And yes, it was broken and the surgery took place this morning. He now has a plate and will be in recovery until tonight because there are no rooms at the inn. Recovery means no visitors. I sent my mom home for a nap. And then I escaped the nut house myself.

Hospitals bring out the best or the worst in people. I experienced the latter today. My mother was surrounded by dubious comforters, from a caustic pastor (forgive me, Lord, but I’m used to the kind and gentle heart of MY pastor and can forget how blessed I am), to one of the guests on the Jerry Springer show who was actually a friend of my mother's. This woman engaged the rest of the nut house strangers in the waiting room who, only moments before, had treated us to a raging, screaming blow out over who ought to see the patient in question and who shouldn’t and who was a liar and who was a drug user and all the while young children were caught in the crossfire. From the nonchalant expressions on their faces this wasn’t anything new.

And that was the highlight.

It went downhill from there. The ring leader we had never seen before marched over to us to explain her case and cause. I said nothing because she made no sense. Mom’s friend saw it as a great opportunity to continue the interaction. The argument was on and people stormed in and out as they shared their drama with the rest of the hospital victims.

Meanwhile, back on the front, to stop my mother’s friend from interacting, I asked questions of her. If you can get people talking about themselves – and that isn’t hard to do – it can keep them, and you, out of trouble. So I asked away. And she talked away. Loudly. And then one of my stepdad’s relatives came in. And I asked more questions. And she talked away. And I kept asking because while people are focused on themselves, they never see you, and that can be a good thing. I smiled, nodded, asked a few questions, and verbally applauded. It's like wearing Kevlar body armor - it can keep you from taking a bullet.

I interacted with no less than ten people and never answered a question, because no one ever really saw me. No one inquired about my children, my life, my husband. Everyone there wanted an audience. It was a room full of people all vying for top dog position while no one listened to anyone else. Everybody was interested in ME FIRST. Understand ME, hear ME……ignorance abounding, and pain and/or selfishness - or both - underneath it all.

I harkened back to my childhood where I grew up in the midst of this kind of drama. People went for the jugular, patty wagons were called, juvenile hall was involved, items were thrown, dishes were smashed, belts snapped, fists flew, and lives were ruined. The quieter sins were worse.

Trauma. I have worked hard to remove myself from it, and, by God's grace and only His grace, I have. I have labored to keep it out of my children's lives. It’s bottom-feeder behavior. I don’t want to feed off the bottom because there is nothing but the most unsavory of items to be had there. The people engaging in it cannot see how transparent they are. They believe themselves to be presenting a compelling case but everyone witnessing their behavior sees them for who they really are.

I watched a couple of the men in the group try and distract the kids and talk about other things, and I admired them for it. But the women continued their Springer-esque diatribe. No one could stop them, short of the police. It had to play itself out. Not one word could have been uttered that would have made a difference. It was a runaway train and anyone who tried to throw themselves in front of it was mowed down.


This isn’t a funny post, I realize. Maybe I could’ve put that spin on it but violence and utter self focus lack humor and it would have minimized disturbing behavior.

Please go kiss your spouse, hug your kids, smile at the grumpy neighbor, and when we have to stand up for something, for what’s right, let’s bring bravery, intelligence, and wisdom into the situation. And just for a thrill, let’s actually consider the other people involved and listen, carefully and prayerfully, realizing we can be wrong, too. Because it doesn't have to be like this. There is a better way.

If you approach people on these terms you may be a party of one, but yours is the party people will want to be invited to.


by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!

(or a true woman, my daughter.)

“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” Matthew 5:9 (Geneva Study Bible)

© 2009


  1. Robynn..I do hope that your stepdad recovers quickly from his broken hip. I'm sooo sorry to hear that he fell and broke it.
    The train wreck in the waiting room had me shrinking back as I was reading it. How smart of you to try and keep the conversation focused in other directions...and I'm sorry that it wasn't successful. This blog was well-written, and I see that you could have put a 'funny' spin on it...but I'm glad you didn't. It is a serious matter...Thank you for sharing. I'm going to give my daughter a hug right now...

  2. A heartbreaking post, my friend. I am sorry. There are no words for such pain. But you have risen above it all. You are stronger. You have broken the cycle of self- centeredness. In fact, you are absolutely amazing. Kipling's "If" describes YOU! And I am honored and privileged to call you my friend. You inspire me with your courage, and optimism. You are a powerful voice! Your children and husband are blessed by you. And I love you...and I'm praying for you as you walk this difficult road as a caregiver. Janine XO

  3. Oh Robynn, thank you for presenting a very toxic subject with such grace and candor. My friend, we have traveled down similar roads. YOU are a blessing to all, may your step-dad recover quickly, may your mother find some peace and may your heart continue to display such love in the midst of chaos. Blessing to you, love, Sandy

  4. What Janine said. In triplicate. Robynn, although you have a great sense of humor, this was not the place for it, and you knew it. We have all been there, and will be again. It takes someone who will be able to engage and not "rise above it" and that is just what you are doing. Godspeed in all of this. You are loved and cherished by so very many.

  5. As a nurse, I have to ask...Where was hospital security? They are suppose to hover around ER's and waiting rooms, for this very reason!
    Second-I am presently training my daughters the technique of "get the subject off of you and onto them." They both have shared stories with me, as of late, in which someone felt comfortable "commenting/offering suggestions" on their lives. I said, "Ask them questions! Get the subject off of you, and onto them. They will oblige very quickly. Everyone wants to talk about themselves."

  6. Oh Robynn, I am sitting here reading your words and cheering for you and rooting you on! Every patient that I encountered I hoped they would turn out exactly as you have. For every person that rises above the abject and horrific circumstances that you have, please know there are a bunch of us doing a big happy dance.

    Awesome way to deal with mom's friend and the drama that ensued... and you are spot on... exactly what family day at the psych ward can look like!

    I'm so sorry you have to even go back to visit this kind of drama. May your stepfather heal, as well as your mother and may you know how very much I love you!

  7. Wow..sorry I am speechless but here!

  8. I was just wondering ... if the folks involved in the waiting room train wreck were to read your post, would they recognize themselves? Would they even "get it"? I'm guessing not. It's very sad.

    Sending up prayers for a speedy recovery for your step-dad, as well as prayers for your mom ... and for you my friend!

  9. well bless your heart for finding a solution(even if it was a temporary one) to the problem. you must admit it made the time go by faster than just sitting and looking at the clock. i hope you had your hair done for the cameras!

  10. Hope your stepdad gets better.

    You're so right about people being at the centre of their own dramas and no having any real desire to really listen to others.

    Your light shines bright and strong! An inspiration to us all.

  11. I hope your step dad will be well again real soon Robynn!

  12. I'm so sorry about your stepdad's hip and I pray that he heals quickly.

    I understand the mentality that you described - I've seen it in certain people all of my life. What's horrible about that behavior is that if the attention doesn't come to them they turn viscious. Someone ALWAYS gets emotionally hurt. I tend to think of them as a den of vipers.

  13. Oh goodness...I hope your step father is on the mend...he has had more than his fair share of medical problems!!!


  14. Grace under fire... that's you. I'm always amazed and inspired when I spend time with you, (yes and sometimes I snort coffee outta my nose) but todays post touched me deeply.
    Thank you for sharing, thank you for 'caring" and thank you for being the wonderful, thoughtful person you've turned out to be... in spite of it all.
    We've been Blessed...

  15. Absolutely lovely, worthy, beneficial, moving, and broad-reaching post. Thank you for taking the time to write it. It's posts like these that allow others to vicariously learn.
    Thank you.

  16. First, good wishes to your stepdad for an easy recovery, and to you, my friend.... go put your feet up in a recliner, breath deeply and let go of that "scene"... sounds like it was horrible. Keep smiling!

  17. Oh, I hope he recovers quickly. And, yes, I, too, praise God every day for freeing me from the trauma of my childhood family! And when I start to feel down about having to be witness to their dysfunction; I just say a prayer that God has shown me a different way to live, and continue to pray they will see the light!

  18. Frist, let me say that I hope your stepdad heals quickly.
    Second, kudos for a good try.
    Third, DRAMA drives me nuts. I have friends that thrive on that. I am slowly eliminating their visits. I told them if you can't come to my house with a smile, don't come at all. In other words....LEAVE THE DRAMA ON THE DOORSTEP! They don't come around much anymore. Imagine that?!

  19. I hope he's in a room and feeling better soon ... this mother who called you before calling 911? Is she the same one who took an hour to get dressed before coming over to help you get to hospital? Aha.

  20. How does anyone get better with these drama-laden free-for-alls? I would have had to find another waiting room. At one time, I would have asked questions, and tried to help. But like you said, they just wanted an audience. Now I'm menopausal - enough said.

  21. I had to fly 2000 miles to straighten out a nursing home, 3 doctors, countless nurses and aides, and arrange for hospice when my father was dying. And yet, my mother has no use for me except when she wants something. When the Springer show arrived, I showed them the door. I'm not as kind as you. The nice lady at hospice marveled at what I'd done in 3 days, and said she usually saw it take a week or two. I feel for you, and admire your control over the nut house. Best wishes for your stepfather.

  22. Wow! Thank you for your honesty and painting such a vivid picture. It's such a good reminder to get over ourselves. We have several family members sick and it just seems everyone's needing attention, when Mom (me) just wants to ask, "What about me? I'm sick too." In the end, it doesn't matter. I'm still the Mom and have the arsenal(the Lord) to comfort the sick. Thanks, I needed that.

  23. Sass, I think this is one of the most moving posts I've ever read. You reached places in me that I've hidden away for a long, long time. Thank you for being you.


    w.v. - infec