*obligatory disclaimer: details changed to protect anonymity. . . . you know the deal by now, people!
|Sweet dreams are made of this.|
I was toodling about the wards one day tying up loose ends. It was late in the afternoon and the majority of the work had already been done. Patients had been rounded on and plans solidified. Teachable moments had been seized and F.P. designations established. I'd written all but two of my progress notes, and only needed to check a few test results before finalizing those. I looked up at the clock: 4:46 PM. Nice.
And so, I plopped down onto a chair on wheels and rolled myself over the computer with the keyboard that I like best (because clearly this makes a difference.) I sat on the vinyl padding like a thirteen year-old, left foot tucked underneath me and right leg tapping up and down rhythmically as I typed my notes. This was the less hustly-bustly side of that particular floor, further from the regular foot traffic, beeping nurse call buttons, and ambient noise. And at 4:46 PM, it was more peaceful than ever.
So there I was. . . in my groove. . . . fingertips dancing over those keys as I supplemented my thoughts to those of my interns. Eventually I found myself lost in my own world with this electronic medical record, so much so that I didn't even notice this woman standing on the other side of the nursing station.
"You doin' alright today?" she greeted me, startling me out of my foot-tapping and fingertip-dancing symphony.
I whipped my head over to the left and quickly fixated my eyes on her--kind of like that jerky way that the chipmunks and squirrels look at the kids and me when we're playing too close to them in our backyard.
"Yes, ma'am," I replied. "What about you?"
"I'm fine. They fixin' to discharge me, so that's good." She smiled a quiet smile, but something about her eyes didn't convince me that things were so good. I kept my hands still on the keyboard but my focus on her for a few seconds. Maybe I was reading too much into it. Like, maybe this was just a "you doin' alright today" and nothing else.
I couldn't place her age. I could tell that she was at least my age, though, but that was about it. The whole "black don't crack" adage was true in this instance; those clues of aging like crow's feet and neck folds weren't there to guide me. But there was still something mature about her coffee-colored complexion and a wisdom in her glistening hazel eyes that suggested experience and life. Now I'm thinking around ten or fifteen years my senior with all that wisdom she was giving off. Regardless of all that, she was striking.
"That's good that you get to go home," I announced with a cheery smile. She kept standing there, so I added, "Was there something I could help you out with?"
It was kind of weird, that moment. She gave me that same quiet smile and did this shoulder shrug coupled with a head shake. I wasn't sure what to make of it.
"Did you get a chance call your family to come pick you up? I bet they're happy you're getting out of here." I wanted to keep things light without getting all up in her business (like I have a tendency to do.) Instinctively I felt like something was wrong. Not in a medical way, but in some other kind of way. But this wasn't my business. She wasn't even a patient on my team, and the intricacies of her hospitalization or social situation were four lanes over from my lane.
"Oh. Yeah, I have someone coming to get me," she responded.
Someone? I didn't know what to make of that either, but what I did know is that she was standing there and I was sitting there and she wasn't moving. This didn't feel like an annoying hover, either. It felt like something else. . . . it was hard to describe. I decided to invite her in.
And so I reached into my pocket and pulled out my iPhone. "Can I show you something super cute? I have to show this to somebody," I said while scrolling through my phone. She walked toward me and reached for my phone over the counter. "This is my four year-old son singing. He's a trip!"
She watched the grainy video with genuine amusement. "Wow. . . he is something else!"
I took the phone back and smiled. "Do you have children?"
"I do but they all grown." She looked down and began twirling the ring on her left hand. I looked at the tiny pave diamonds on the band instead of at her because I felt like I'd struck a nerve. Then she added with a warmth in her eyes, "My kids are great. I've got some great kids."
The next thing I said flew out of my mouth before checking in with my brain's receptionist. "Is your husband living?"
What?! Is your husband living? Seriously, Kimberly?!
But, in my defense, I think what made me query the husband thing was the ring she kept flipping in circles with her thumb. I heard Harry like a tiny, drill sergeant angel flying over my shoulder yelling out, "STOP RIGHT THERE! GET BACK IN YOUR LANE!"
"Is my husband living? Hmmm. Yes. . . and no." She didn't seem to mind my question. In fact, she almost looked relieved that I'd gone there. "We not together any more. He decided he didn't want our life together, so he moved on. His life is another life that doesn't include being married to me."
"Dang. I'm sorry." I folded my hands into my lap and offered her what I hoped was a smile. My foot was now falling asleep under my bottom--turning numb like I'm sure she felt.
"Yeah. We was married for more than twenty years. Together even longer than that. But then we grew apart. My kids, they grown, but they was so hurt. . so mad. Even though they grown they was still so mad."
"How did you feel?" I wanted to know.
"How did I feel? I mean, at first I was real mad with everybody else and stuff, you know, 'cause he seem all happy to go on like it ain't nothing. But when I came in the hospital it felt different, you know what I mean? Like something about getting sick make you want the things you know. Even if they ain't the best for you. Now, I think I'm just kinda sad. "
"Yeah, being in a hospital makes you vulnerable for sure."
"Yeah. . . ." she leaned forward on the counter with the warm familiarity of a next door neighbor. "My leg was hurting and they fount a clot in my leg. They set me up with blood thinners-- all that, and the doctors said everything would be fine. But I felt so sad being in here without my husband. I haven't been in no hospital since my baby son was born and he almost twenty-five. It just seem like he should've been here with me."
Something went "pang" in my chest because I could dig what she was saying. My heart felt sad because it made such sense. Of course you'd want your partner of twenty-something years to be sitting next to you in a hospital. Of course you would.
"Do y'all talk to each other?" I asked. At this point, I was so far out of my lane that I flicked the Harry-sergeant-angel away from me.
"No, not really. I mean, my son, you know, he so mad. . .he called him up when we was in emergency. He said something like, 'Daddy, you dead wrong' and I told him don't say stuff like that and he got mad at me for defending his daddy. But my son, he so hurt. . .he so mad."
"What about you? Are you a little mad?"
"Like I said. . . . I was, but now mostly sad. My oldest son got two kids, my daughter--she expecting her third baby, and my baby son, the one that was here with me, he don't have no kids yet." I stayed quiet, waiting to see where she was going with this. "I kinda had this idea in my head about how we was gon' be with our grandkids and everything. Raisin' 'em up. All of us together."
Aaaah. A grandmother. This was the wisdom I saw beneath that smooth skin.
I wasn't sure what to say so I just said the only thing I could think of. "I'm sorry to hear that."
"You married?" She asked the one question I was hoping she wouldn't.
She nodded slowly and just stood across that counter staring wistfully beyond me. I felt slightly uncomfortable in that moment, letting my eyes seek the safety of the computer screen in front of me.
"Marriage is a good thing," she finally said. "My husband, he wasn't that nice to me sometimes. I mean, not like he put his hands on me or nothing like that. Just. . . you know, not always nice. He had some issues, too. Like real problems, you know? But I stuck by him and we worked through a lot of stuff together. He started doing good, doing better. Then just out the blue. He don't want to be married. And my son? Oh, my baby son. . . he so mad. He fightin' mad."
But she wasn't fightin' mad. She was just sad. And you know. . . I didn't blame her. Losing your husband--and your dream-- without having any say in it was something to be sad about.
I've heard the Grady elders say more than once, "Man plans and God laughs." But usually when they say that, they're referring to light things like finding out you're pregnant with twins or getting a big job promotion. And though I'm not sure God always laughs, I know this--man plans and sometimes, things just don't go as planned.
One of my favorite songs is this song by the late Louie Armstrong called "A Kiss to Build a Dream On." There's a part of the song that says,
"Give me a kiss to build a dream on and my imagination will thrive upon that kiss."
Those words are so true, so very true. You hold hands, you kiss, and then, if it feels right, your heart fast forwards. Then the more you kiss the more it speeds up. You can't help but see yourselves holding babies and hugging at graduations and kneeling down in gardens pulling weeds together. You fuss sometimes, yes, but then see beyond all that to fast forward to rocking in rocking chairs and holding each other's wrinkled, tremulous hands on porches.
That's what I'm reflecting on today. I'm reflecting on those curveballs in life that seem, just like this patient said to me, like deaths even when nobody died. We are planners by nature, even if our plans are disorganized. The most gutwrenching things we see and hear challenge that part of us, causing us to shudder at the thought of it all playing out differently than we imagined. Sometimes, it's a divorce. Sometimes it's just having someone you counted on to be one way letting you down by being another way. Other times it's something rough like infertility or finally getting over that hump and having a child with special needs. And then, like those of us who work in hospitals often see, it can unfortunately also be illness and death. But they are all deaths of sorts, aren't they? All the air deflated from those hot air balloon dreams that started with just a simple kiss.
This morning I sat on the tub next to Harry as he brushed his teeth and asked him, "Hey, are we good? Like are we happy?"
And he said, "I'm happy and I think we're good. What about you?"
And I said, "I think we're good, too. Sometimes I just have to ask, though."
And he smiled wide with toothpaste in his mouth and that spoke volumes.
"I love you, Babe," I said.
"I love you, too," he replied. And then he spit foamy bubbles into the sink.
I decided that this moment right now was enough for me. Harry with a mouthful of Crest and my kids pretending to be the world's loudest komodo dragons in the background on a Saturday morning was enough. I thought of that lady and how sad she felt about her husband sort of dying but mostly how sad she felt about her dream that sort of died. Then I thought about how promised nothing really is. . . and I enjoyed it--that moment in time--for exactly what it was.
And so, when you get it, you try to hold on tight. You do your best to savor each morsel of now while it's on your tongue before you swallow, and when you do, you swallow hard and slow with your eyes closed. Because yes, man plans, and the rest? Well, let's just say it doesn't always go as planned.
The afternoon peace on the back hall of that ward served as a perfect place for that lady and me to connect that day. We talked for a while more, and it felt good. Eventually, the conversation chugged to a halt and we began exchanging parting words. She thanked me for listening and I thanked her for sharing. She reached out and gave my hand a quick squeeze before she left.
I smiled and tried to be encouraging. "Maybe you can make some new dreams."
She stared at me with glassy, tired eyes and replied with a forlorn sigh, "You know what? Sometimes . . . . you just don't even know how."
This is what happens when imaginations thrive upon kisses. . . . I cry every single time I see this. Every. Single. Time.
. . and of course, Satchmo is now playing on my mental ipod. . .
Happy Saturday and sweet dreams.