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Counselor Senior Editor Michele Bell's slanted view of the world.

What I Learned on My Summer “Vacation”

Filed under: Personal

Hi Everyone!

As many of you know, I was away for two and a half months this summer, tending to a family medical emergency in Florida. My mom, who lives with my stepdad in Sanibel, had surgery at Tampa General and was in the hospital for 43 days.

She’s much better now and at home recovering, but to say it was a trying, stressful, hectic experience (I refer to it as “my season in hell”) is putting it mildly. However, as I’ve always been a glass-half-full kind of girl, I made notes during my time away, chronicling the lessons I learned (listed below) — not the least of which is that Florida bugs aren’t bugs; they’re teradactyls.

1. Doctors aren’t gods (but nurses come close). Oftentimes, the nurses were much more patient and amenable to taking the time to explain issues than the doctors. Maybe the most crucial point I learned was that you need to ask questions of doctors and not be intimidated by their position. I told a young attending cardiologist who was treating my mom that I would be asking to see the head of cardiology for a second opinion. When she asked if it was because of her age, I reassured her that that had nothing to do with it, explaining patiently, “I read your notes in my mom’s chart and you misspelled both ‘ventricular’ and ‘thoracic.'” Oy.

2. Pets make everything better. My mom and stepdad have two insanely adorable and spoiled Lhasa Apsos whom they adore. Being away from them for so long was causing my mother great distress, until her pet sitter started texting daily photos of the pups, much to my mother’s delight. It made all the difference. Additionally, Tampa General is one of the increasing number of hospitals that have “pet therapy,” allowing dogs and cats to visit with patients whose condition allows for it. The doctors and nurses told me that in many cases, the pet visits had a more restorative effect than medication.

3. If it sounds ludicrous and nonsensical, it probably is. I’ve never understood how a simple cell phone could disrupt a plane’s operational system or take down a hospital’s monitoring equipment. I think that line of reasoning could best be described as “cockamamie.” Proving my point, not once did the good people of Tampa General — even when my mom was in the ICU — ask me to turn off my cell phone. Consequently, I was able to research pharmaceutical remedies, surgical terms and procedures, locate medical supply stores and pharmacies and write and edit for Counselor and Supplier Global Resource, all while on my hand-held, at my mother’s bedside. What did that teach me? You can conquer anything with one BlackBerry and a pen.

4. You’ll be amazed what you can do when you have no choice. As the person designated to be my mom’s primary caregiver upon her release from the hospital, the medical staff trained me in how to flush an occluded IV line, give an injection, properly sterilize and dress an abdominal incision and monitor a heart rate to determine sinus rhythm. For those of you who know me, you’ll agree that my areas of expertise typically lie in nails, males and cocktails, not surgical recovery. Still, it was my mom and I did it — like a M*A*S*H nurse under the command of Major Manolo Blahnik.

5. Ad specialties really, really work. Whether it was the jaw-droppingly impressive and delicious gift baskets I had delivered to the nurses at Tampa General from Maple Ridge Farms (asi/68680), the fun pens imprinted with “Editorial Diva” that my pal Michael Linderman, owner of Express Pens (asi/53411), makes for me, or the notepads and bags from JournalBooks (asi/91340) and Leed’s (asi/66887) that I had shipped to Tampa, each time I gave something away as a “thank you for helping me,” people responded — and wanted to help me even more.

6. Just because it’s a hospital doesn’t mean it’s conducive to good health. Patients in a hospital only average three hours of continuous sleep per night, due to constant interruptions for such things as administering meds and tests, taking vital signs and the cacophony of noise from the monitoring devices the likes of which could rival a casino. Equally counterintuitive, at Tampa General, there’s a McDonald’s and a smoking section on the premises. Come to think of it, with the noise, lack of sleep, calorie-laden food and half-naked people, it’s a little like being at the Palms Hotel & Casino in Vegas. If the Palms smelled like antiseptic and offered IV drips.

7. The Embassy Suites rocks. For the 43 days we were in Tampa, my stepfather and I “lived” at the Embassy Suites near the convention center. I don’t know how we would have survived without the extraordinarily kind staff and heavy pour of the bartender during its sanity-saving daily two-hour complimentary happy hour. Couldn’t get a glass of Pinot Grigio in the state of Florida during the month of July? Yeah. That’s ’cause I drank it all.  

8. Lean on your support system. I hate asking for help — it’s just not in my nature. There are times, though, when you simply can’t handle the magnitude of a situation alone. Luckily, I have the Wonder Bra of support systems. So many people have asked me how the management of ASI dealt with me being away for nearly three months. The answer: simply and graciously, continually asking only two questions: “Are you okay?” and “What can we do to help?”

9. It’s the heartfelt gestures that get you through.In the midst of my 40+ day stay at the hotel in Tampa, it was my birthday on August 9. Aside from seeing my mom during the day in the hospital, I was alone at that point and prepared for my birthday to be considerably more craptacular than the lavish, legendary and Dionysian celebrations with friends as in past years. But as I opened the door to my hotel room that evening, it was filled with flowers, bottles of wine and champagne and slices of cake ordered from the hotel restaurant from many of you (thanks especially to ASI’s design chica extraordinaire, Hillary Braubitz, and my trio of distributor divas — WorkflowOne’s Jilly Albers, Creative Promotional Products’ Sharon Biernat and Service With A Smile’s Diane Sakowicz!) who were so gracious as to let me know you were thinking of me. Truly, your thoughful gestures made it one of my favorite birthdays. Well, that and the sinfully sassy Jimmy Choos I bought myself online that night, which I now refer to as my “Leather Boots of Badass.” ; )

Thanks so much for the love and support, and it’s great to be back!

More soon & cheers!



  1. AdamMackWright Says:

    Fantastic post, Michele. So glad to hear your mom is recovering.

    We must toast her good health together soon. It’s been too long.

    Friday September 24, 2010
  2. Donn James Says:

    Wonderful writing and thanks for sharing the experience. Spot on about the bugs. I was there for spring training and I would swear I saw two of them flying away carrying a Buick.

    Friday September 24, 2010
  3. Jilly Albers Says:

    Let’s make sure all the shots are in glasses from now on and not in hospitals!!!

    Love ya and so happy your Mom is better and you are back!

    Friday September 24, 2010
  4. Sharon Biernat Says:

    We are excited you are back and your Mom is doing
    better. Miss you!

    Friday September 24, 2010
  5. Vilia Johnson Says:

    So glad your Mom is better and that you were there to advocate for her. Best wishes.

    Saturday September 25, 2010
  6. Michele Bell Says:

    Thanks so much to everyone for the awesome posts! Adam, next time we’re in the same city, we will party Kenny Powers style! ; ) Donn, your e-mail about the bugs and the Buick made me COL (Cackle Out Loud)!!! Jilly and Sharona, can’t WAIT to see you both soon. And Vilia, what a wonderful surprise to hear from you! Thank you so much for the kind words, and hope you’re doing well!
    Cheers! Michele

    Monday September 27, 2010
  7. Scott Uber Says:

    Great blog! Very happy that your mom is doing well. Family, faith, and friends can certainly help carry the load. Best wishes for a wonderful fall! Scott

    Tuesday September 28, 2010
  8. Michele Bell Says:

    Thanks so much, Scott, for your very kind comments! I appreciate it, and that you took the time to read my blog. All the best, Michele

    Tuesday September 28, 2010
  9. Timothy M. Andrews Says:

    We’re glad to have you back! (Well, some of us are!) TA

    Tuesday October 5, 2010
  10. Michele Bell Says:

    LOL! I missed your sassy snark and weapons-grade wit! ; )

    Tuesday October 5, 2010
  11. Anthony Sakowicz Says:

    You’re in the wrong business. You should be a writer, you’re talent is so heartwarming. Please have Diane Sakowicz get in touch with me. Your comment is the first time I have heard that name in the western United States. I was born in Mass and the Sakowicz clan is in regiment strength there. Who is Diane Sakowicz?

    Monday October 25, 2010
  12. Anthony Sakowicz Says:

    I was overwhelmed by your writing talent and forgot to say I’m glad you had a good experience in caring for your Mom. Glad she is better. Truly

    Monday October 25, 2010
  13. Michele Bell Says:

    Hi Tony! Thank you so much for your wonderful compliments and kind words regarding my mom — very sweet of you! Diane Sakowicz is a great friend of mine who’s an ad specialty distributor based out of Naperville, IL. I passed along your e-mail address to her. All the best and thanks for posting! — M

    Monday October 25, 2010
  14. Pamela Vicik-Smith Says:

    It is times like this, that you realize just how strong you are and the extent of what you are capable of doing.

    I am so glad your story has a happy ending and you are back here in Pa with us, Michele :)

    Tuesday October 26, 2010
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