Hospital Spirituality -- Part One .. A hand in the darkness

9 years ago

I am now home after having been admitted to the hospital via the Emergency Room 5 days ago. To make a long story shorter – on my 3rd visit to the ER with an unresolving leg infection, we discovered that I also had bi-lateral pneumonia. So, a 5 day stay in the hospital ended up with me mostly better, on oxygen at night at home for a while, and finishing up a brutal course of IV and now pill-form antibiotics and steroids. And, I am here with many tales to tell of moments that shook my soul and comforted it again. Women-stories. Here is the first ---

Sandy drives me to the emergency room again. This is the third time in 10 days. The leg infection is not responding to home care and compresses and pills. It is a very dangerous a possible leg-threatening infection. For the third time they tell me that my blood is not rich enough in oxygen, but this is a side – issue. I am an asthmatic who just had bronchitis a few months ago, so I say it must be a residue of that. The leg matters more to us all. But I am huffing and puffing too much. I cannot seem to get enough air. They put me on a nebulizer – a machine that sprays fine mist meds up my lungs. It doesn’t help. They try another kind. It doesn’t help.

Now they are afraid I have a blood clot – something impeding circulation in my legs and lungs.

Did I tell you that this week is the anniversary of my mother’s death?

They wheel me to the ultra-sound room where they will check my legs for clots. I am gasping at air, trying to look as though I am breathing better than I actually am. Sandy comes with me. I have no living family except an 85-year-old cousin. Sandy is my best friend since age 5.

Sandy is an extraordinary friend. She is not emotive. She is not overtly sentimental. The entire feeling realm stays inside. I know it is there, because I know her. I know she does not let it show. Even with me. And I respect and understand that.

The lab lady places me on the table, and smears cold, gummy lubricant on my thighs. It is like having ultra-sound for a baby, but instead it is a search of the legs and thighs for clots. I am scared. I am normally a tough cookie.

But I am scared.

It feels like pieces of my health are falling off before my very eyes. I started with an infected cut on my leg. Now my lungs are failing. It feels like drowning and suffocating at once. And there may be a clot.

It is dark in the room. The woman slides the sensor over my thigh and presses hard. I feel the hard metal table beneath me, and try to imagine whether or not I will survive this – and if there is a clot will I live? I try to breathe deeply but cough instead, big dry full-of-nothing coughs.

Did I mention that my Mom died (basically) of a clot?

I am normally very pragmatic. Sensible. But this time, I feel it starting to slide away -- the "it" being that rational veneer. The fear that women living alone for a long time just suck up without thinking about it? I am unable to suck it up right then.

Out of the darkness I feel something. It is Sandy’s hand, resting against my shoulder from behind. In that touch I feel everything that 53 years of friendship means to us both. I know that she knows. She knows exactly what I fear.

I feel connected, slammed back to earth, able to imagine something other than death, other than fear. The touch of her hand – woman to woman --- friend to friend – is a current my soul can ride home. It says I will be able to deal with whatever is found. It says I am not alone. It says love heals. At least love gives hope. It says what women who care about each other say to each other without language.

It says what God says to us both.

I know what a big thing it is for her to do this. She is not touchy-feely outside of her husband and kids. She touches with her life, with her dedication, with the work of her hands. She shoulders the work of friendship.

But she is in the dark now with me. And she finds “my” language to tell me she is with me.

That is how I know I will get through this.

The lab lady tells me there is no clot. Sandy squeezes my shoulder.

In my hospital room a couple of hours later that night I try to find the words to tell Sandy what it meant to me when she held my shoulder. She looks away and mumbles something, and we tell each other that we love each other. I send her home to her family, curl up in the hospital bed and try to rest.

It is 11pm. Little do I know, but. I have 4 more days of soul-stirring events ahead of me.

At midnight they wheel in my new roomie. She is a woman from a nearby town, about 10 years older than I am. Coincidentally, her name is Sandi.

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Though she had several broken bones, a badly shattered ankle and a dislocated shoulder, what seemed to bother my roommate most was that other kind of pain. After we'd gone through the list of our physical suffering, she would re-tell the story of the woman who'd hit her with a BMW. The woman whose only concern seemed to have been spinning the story to avoid responsibity...

"I was in the crosswalk, but she told the police I walked in front of her car..She never looked at me....I was lying in the street, my whole life changed, and she never even asked if I was all right..."

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"They won't believe her," I said in the dark.

But my roommate's experience caused her to doubt. "She was rich, and I'm an office worker...my English, it's not so good...maybe they believe me and maybe they don't."

After the tragic stillbirth of her 31 week old baby, Sydney's Mom talks about the women who are her friends and how the unique bonds of lifelong friendship help healing happen.

These two women are some of the most beautiful parts of my past... growing up..making mistakes, awkwardly trying to figure out who I am, where I fit in...sometimes we would like to forget our teenage years...but those growing pains were made sweeter with these two friends by my side....we established a friendship, the three of us, years and years ago and still would drop anything to be there for one another...we know we can just be there for each other with a look or a hug, just a phone call away....

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