It’s 5:30 AM, and I’m sitting in ICU, holding my sleeping mother’s hand. She’s been in the hospital for two weeks, and will be here for at least two more. Two days ago, we thought we’d lost this battle, but today, we hope that she’ll be sitting up with help this afternoon. The sound of a respirator is very soothing when you’ve only had four hours sleep for each of the past few nights. It’s dim in here, as the nurses match the ward lights to the time of day so that patients don’t lose track of their circadian rhythms. My mom just opened her eyes a bit and squeezed my hand, rubbing the back with her thumb. She can’t talk, so this is her way to say “I love you.” Now she’s back to sleep. She is so helpless, and it’s tearing at my heart.
We all love in different ways, and at times like this, men and women serve in such different ways. Women tend to give physical human touch. My niece walked into the room a few days ago and immediately started brushing her grandmother’s hair. My sister and I hold her hand for hours at a time so that every time she wakes up for even a few seconds, she will be aware of someone who loves her sending her warmth. We’re constantly smoothing her brow or her hair, and we minister to her chapped lips as if life depended on it. While she is on the respirator, she can’t say a word, so we stay close with our hands.
My husband, in the meantime, is holding my world together. David is the one who cleaned and straightened my mother’s house before my brother and his girlfriend arrived. He knew that it was important to my mom, even though she wasn’t there to see it. He’s mowed the lawn and fixed everything he could find that he even suspected of being broken. When I couldn’t sleep and decided to get up at 3:30 AM to shower and head to the hospital, he got up with me and made me coffee, eggs, and toast. While I finished getting dressed, he went out to my car and cleaned the inside of the windshield so that I would be safe driving in the dark. Later that morning, he showed up at the hospital with a cup full of my Fage 2% plain yogurt and fruit-only jam. He has made his diabetic wife’s health his number one priority. I think he is an angel inside a 57-year-old man’s body.
A good nurse is a gift from God. A bad nurse is your worst nightmare. We’ve had some wonderful nurses ministering to my mother. They talk sweetly to her, leaning close to her face and helping her to maintain her dignity as a much-loved mother and grandmother. They bathe her, turn her, and care about her pain. They are smart and skilled, caring almost as much for the family as for the patient. We’ve only had one or two traumatic experiences with medical personnel who treat patients as if they were merely organisms taking up space in a bed, and we’ve had to intervene in one case, making the nurse aware of our dissatisfaction with her service. My sister and I didn’t leave my mother alone with her for a minute during the three long days of her shift, although she improved greatly after we talked to her. Most nurses, though, truly deserve the label “care-giver,” and they work hard with great compassion.
Sitting in this room in the dark, I am comforted to know that there are so many people out there praying for us. All of those little things that seem so tiny and frivolous when you’re the one on the other side become little boosts that get us through the days. My sister’s church has someone here every day—not for a long time, as that would wear us out, but just long enough to ask how we’re doing and to pray for Mom. There have been cards and flowers, emails and phone calls. Our church is praying in North Carolina and keeping in touch with David by phone and email. Family friends and work friends are also emailing or facebooking, and all of it reminds me that there are people out there who care about us, even when I just don’t have the energy or the heart to respond. I need to remember that in the future: those small gestures are not useless. They can be a true support to someone who is grateful for any little sweetness coming from outside of the exhausting, narrow life that they are struggling through at the moment.
Soon the sun will rise and the ward lights will come up. Another day, and whatever our hands find to do, we will do it with all our might.