I was in Room number one and it was equipped for my survival. It was an isolation room to protect me from others and to protect others from me. Room one meant hands must be washed upon entering and leaving the room. It meant not only nurses but visitors must don masks, gloves and gowns to see me. I had a central line to carry my medicine, a tube inserted into my stomach through my nose with a thick putty colored liquid carrying my daily nutrients, morphine to manage pain, oxygen, and nurses that came to check on me with regularity.
My nurses were my primary caregivers, my guides to survival.
Lily was the redhead. Nothing seemed to faze her. She was calm and collected. Miranda was made of steel. She was no nonsense with short cropped hair to match. Alison’s anecdotes about her life bordered on over sharing, but I adored her. She was my anchor to the outside. Rebecca was small and tough her curly hair bouncing as she moved from task to task. My room was a revolving door of nurses. Anna, Liz, May, in rotation working their shifts becoming my family. They were tough, bustling, ready. My nurses manifested healing. It was in how they treated me, in their sure deft hands, balm to my devastation. It was in how they held my hand or told me funny stories about their families. The word victim never crossed their lips. I was a survivor and that was that. They gave me normal in a place where everything was far from.
I often didn’t know what time it was. Keeping time didn’t mean anything to me until the morning approached. When lights were dimmed, people spoke in hushed voices, and visitors had long gone it alerted me to the day’s lateness. I was alone. All nights were the same here. You just hunkered down anticipating the next morning’s rigorous routine. One particular night it was quiet, too quiet allowing all of the thoughts I tried desperately to avoid all day to come pouring in. Some nights I could distract myself. Watch enough TV until my head was full of witty quips and sarcastic banter, until I could fall asleep, but not tonight. Tonight I lay here on my bed wondering how in the hell I ended up here the weight of the surgeries, the finality of my losses totaling up and streaming down my face. Kate came in to check on me as was part of her duties that night. She opened the door. She walked over to me and reached for my hand, held it until my tears subsided. “Is there anything I can do?”
Her quiet acceptance was enough.
While I wasn’t alone I was alone. I know I was loved, that I was completely surrounded with love, not a chink in the armor. I had enough help to move me through this. I was beyond lucky and grateful. I was so grateful. At the end of each day though when everything was gently removed, my family, my friends, my nurses I was left. Just me. And I had to go it alone. I could have it all laid out for me. Heidi, this is how you must live today. This is what you must do in order to move on. Here are the stages of grief. You’re a little of all of them right now. Take your meds, pray, shout, meditate, find a happier place. I could have lists of instructions, lists of well wishes, but I needed to make the choices, to make the journey.
Somebody could kindly take my hand, but they wouldn’t know where to go. I didn’t know, but I had to be the one to figure it out.