Each day I took more steps moving past my room’s doorway to the nurses’ station, from there to the waiting room. I was very weak and it took a lot of effort to walk, but I had small goals I wanted to reach within the walls of the hospital. Walker in hands I walked as much as I could when I could.
Once I was stopped by another patient I had never seen before who was in a wheelchair. She looked up at me, “You’re so lucky.”
I was silent. I didn’t know what to say. I blinked. Once. Twice.
She turned to my physiotherapist, who was with me, and asked, “Do you think that would work for me?”
Gail patted her on the shoulder and gently said, “Honey, you don’t have the same injuries as her. Heidi can feel her legs.”
It was fascinating to me that our expectations in the hospital, our standards for what we desired were so different than they may have been on the outside, in the real world, before tragedy found us. What we had in common here was pain. Within the pain there was a hierarchy. If you had cheated death that was considered a big deal. The longer your stay at the hospital the more reverence you were given. If the number of surgeries was high eyes widened with respect. If you had a spinal cord injury you would trade places with me in a heartbeat.
The words, you are so lucky, found me again another day. This time it came from a lovely girl in the room next to me. She had severe burns to her face and hands. “You’re so lucky it wasn’t your face.”
I was standing just outside her room with my walker about to embark on another circuit in our unit when she stopped me with these words. I nodded. Yes, I suppose it was.
I quickly learned it didn’t help to compare. I longed to say, “But, you have feet. I have scars all over, but they’re covered with this pathetic, god-awful hospital gown.” Like that was enough explanation for how I didn’t feel so lucky, how neither of us was lucky. She was right in some ways, though. I couldn’t imagine what she had, and would always have to, endure. In the future I would be able to hide most of my scars, my legs. Her face would always be exposed. We could have gone around in circles with our comparisons but we would have hurt one another and we knew we were on the same side.
A very good friend once said to me, No one is an expert on pain. I held fast to that. To say that someone’s pain is greater or less than our own was to pass judgment. We were equals in suffering. We should be allowed to feel our pain without someone stepping into it and steering it, telling us how awful or amazing it all was. I knew I needed to be in it, right in the middle of my pain to see clearly and know what to hold onto, what to throw away and what to hope for.