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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Angel Rachel

Last night was a turning point for me.

Lately, I don’t recognize myself.  For one, there’s the anger.  This awful, living and breathing thing that has taken over my daily thoughts.  I catch myself giving dirty looks to complete strangers.  Why wasn’t it their brain?
Second, there’s the multitude of calls I reject from my friends on a daily basis.  I’m doing them a favor, really.  Saving them from this dark place I am currently lost in, the sick negotiations that are taking place in my mind.  I can handle you walking with a limp for the rest of your life.  Just give me comprehension, give me logic.  I won’t ask for anything ever again.  I can actually hear a voice in my head every time I press the ‘decline’ button.  Save yourselves.  Quite the lonely place to be.

But mostly, I can’t stand the silence anymore.  My entire life, I have appreicated time spent alone.  Silence has never made me uncomfortable.  I love a deep thought, a thorough reflection.  But now, the worst part of my day is walking in the door every night after visiting you, when everyone’s asleep.  There are no distractions, and I can’t begin to sort through the thoughts that take over then.  I won’t even write them on paper.  So I watch the infomercials, and I read the paper at 2am.  I have even snuck into Frank's room to read to him while he's asleep.  Yes.  I have. 

So last night was our slumber party.   You and me.   I arrive to the hospital around 8:30 as they are locking the main lobby doors.  Mom and Dad fill me in on the details of your evening.  You have a new nurse tonight, Rachel.  She enters and we say hello.  Yes, I’m another older sister.  Yes, you are the baby.

When I ask if you want me to read to you, (I’ve come prepared, Hunter S. Thompson) you nod.  Sometimes, it’s like you grasp what is going on, nodding and mouthing words in response.  Other times, you are prone to intense “zone outs”, seemingly ignoring this world altogether.  You are not there yet, completely, but I’m told this is normal.  All a part of the process.  I hate it.  This step-down unit.  This in-between.  I can hardly stand to see you like this. 

Rachel comes in several times throughout the night to check on you.  Once, I ask her how long she’s been a nurse…if she has any children.  She stops abruptly, and leans over your bed as you stare at her.  She asks me if we can discuss this a little later.  Immediately, I feel bad for asking.  Of course, I nod. 

You sleep on and off throughout the night, never for more than twenty minutes at a time.  It’s disturbing each time you wake, confused, agitated.  You want to scratch the scars on your head.  I can’t let you.  You want to lay on your left side.  You can’t, Pat.  That side of your skull currently resides in your abdomen.  You try to get up to walk, to mouth to me what you need.  I do my best to guess, change the channels endless times.  Are you thirsty?  Are you in pain?  The anger never fading.  I’m angry all the time.

Around 3am Rachel enters, and she can sense that I’m upset.  You have been up for a while, and I can’t get you to calm down.  I think you might be in pain.  She begins to gently massage the scars on your head, quietly “shushing” the outside world, calmly reassuring both of us that you are okay.  I watch your eyes close, your fists unclench.  I think of Mom holding you as a baby, and I can feel the tears starting.  Once you’re asleep, Rachel pulls up the chair next to me.  It is then that she tells me.  She didn’t want you to hear this part before.

Rachel tells me that she lost her thirteen year old son and husband in a car accident several years ago. 

She goes on to say that she has seen patients in rooms just like this, waking in the night, searching for a familiar face…that you are lucky to have a sister like me, a family that never leaves your side.  She tells me that you will make it through, that we all will.  She hugs me then, and next to the humming of your machines I feel like I have known her all my life.  I can’t help the tears that come.  I excuse myself for some fresh air.  Rachel will stay with you.

I make my way down the elevator and out the ER lobby doors.  The hospital is eerily silent at 4am, the air outside perfectly still.  I’m standing in the same spot I stood that night, after they let me see you.  And for the first time since then, I think of him.

There had been a man who approached me in the rain.  I was standing alone, staring at the parking lot.  He was hunched over, in obvious pain.  He touched my shoulder, asked me for help.  He had just been discharged and needed to walk home five miles.  He was hungry.  Did I have any change?
Obviously then, I had been preoccupied.  But like a zombie, I reached into my wallet, handing over the twenty I had taken out that morning for a school fundraiser.  He walked away then, thanking me.  I realize now that I hadn’t even noticed which direction he had taken.  Had he walked to a warm home?  A family?  Had he a brother to read to?
For the first time since your accident, I stop being so selfish.  I can begin to see my life for the things that I have, instead of all I could potentially lose.  I think of my friends.  My amazing friends who have no earthly idea what to say to me.  Yet they still call, every day.   I think of you, how you continue to fight as I stand here asking 'why me'?  I think of “Team Patrick”…of Rachel, a woman who has buried a child and still finds the strength to tend to the needs of strangers.  I picture her sitting with you then, in your dark room.  Hadn’t she been angry?  Hadn’t she frightening thoughts in the silence?  And here she was now, lighting the path for someone like me. 

But mostly I think of her.  I notice the highway in the distance, and I can see her driving past every morning for the past five years without a second glance.  In that moment I can sense a change.  In that moment I feel luckier than she ever did.

I float up to your room then.  For once, I can’t get there fast enough. 

I’m not there yet, completely, but I’m told this is normal.


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