Questions and Kindness
She asked for another blanket.
I did not blame her, my mom was lying on the uncomfortable emergency room gurney, with a thin gown that no matter how you tied it-it tended to open in the back welcoming drafts up and down her backside, with the fierce air conditioner blasting on her. Normally we love the air conditioning that combats the heat, but not that day, not when she was feeling crummy and out of it. I wasn't going to buzz the nurse for a blanket, I could see they were beyond busy. I just went to the cabinet, grabbed her another blankie and cuddled her in another one. It is hard to shut off that instinct to help when you know you can, that caretaker mode does not shut off, even when you are in a capable place dedicated to caring for people, that nagging feeling of wanting to help never leaves you.
She was not hurt, she was not in pain or discomfort, she was exhausted and just wanted to sleep. Actually, she was recently discharged from the hospital three days prior for a serious infection and thought she was in the clear. However, after her fluid drain on Tuesday, her doctor called me stating she needed to go back into the hospital because her lab work was abnormal and she needed to be monitored and it had to be corrected.
So, in the emergency room we sat waiting for a room to clear in the critical care unit.
I, myself, had not realized how tired I was.
Normally, no one would ever notice when I was exhausted and at my breaking point. But that night, that night it was hard to hide. Although it is silly and nonsensical, I held on to never wanting to seem to others that I am in need of help or rest. Over the years of being a caretaker, I had mastered the masking of my personal needs and emotions, putting myself on the back burner...forgetting that even though the heat was steady and low that it would not exclude me from getting burned. That night, the heat had finally began to scorch my soul and I was left weary.
Over mom's soft snores, close to midnight amidst the bustling controlled chaos ensuing behind her the nurse peeked her head in the room and let me know that we would be moving mom to the critical care unit within the next hour hopefully. I nodded my head, honestly the only response I could give her.
She hesitated and in that brief moment I saw her make that decision.
That decision is the one where a health worker, caretaker, friend, family member, whoever, sees a person struggling and knows someone should acknowledge it. That decision, when it is clear that the craziness that is coming from all angles can wait for a moment. That decision, when they decide to reach out.
I sat in the dimness, head reclined against the wall, just waiting to be transferred to the floor. It took me a minute to realize that the nurse had entered the room. Immediately I sat up, apologizing for not noticing her sooner. She shushed me and sat down in the chair across from me. I was scared she was going to tell me that my mom's levels were dropping more or something upsetting, I would deal with it later though, I always did, so I braced myself for whatever she was going to say and was blown away.
"It looks like your mom has been pretty busy. She has been in and out of the hospital quite a bit lately. Are you her primary caretaker?"
"Yes", I said waiting.
"Do you work?", she inquired with a sweet look on her face.
"Full time", wondering if she was going to say mom needed round the clock care, wondering if she was going to tell me I was doing a bad job of taking care of her, wondering what she was getting at, wondering if I was failing and if she was the one who drew the short straw and was here to tell me.
"I need to ask you something, okay?"
"Okay," came out of my mouth since I was not sure what to say exactly, going over all of moms medications in my head, going over all her procedures, specialists, allergies, past appointments wondering if I had forgotten something, I braced myself for the blow I thought was coming.
"When was the last time you ate?", she looked me dead in the eyes with concern.
There was no way I could brace myself for that....because...well...what the hell? Why was she asking about my eating habits? Because I was obese? Because my mom was sleeping? Because she was nosey? Then I stopped for a moment and thought and realized...I did not know.
Quizzically, I just stared at her. I did not know, it was midnight and I was not sure the last time I ate.
"That's what I thought", she softly declared and got up and left the room.
Five minutes later she came in the room, with chips, 2 small sandwiches, and a Styrofoam cup of ice water. "I hope you like tuna salad and egg salad, it's all I can find", she said while pulling up the bedside tray and placing it front of me.
I was here for my mom and here was this nurse, pulling up the tray table to me, unwrapping the sandwiches, opening the chips and placing it in front of me and who then expectantly stared at me.
"Eat, woman", she said smiling.
And that is when I lost my shit.
I began sobbing, quietly, my chest hurting familiar with holding back emotions and knowing all too well my habit of refusing to acknowledge my need to feel and release my feelings. I sobbed because we were back in the damn hospital a week later. I sobbed because I was not Wonder Woman. I sobbed because I was upset. I sobbed because I felt alone. I sobbed because this nurse thought not only of her patient, but her patient's daughter and went the extra mile to make sure I was taken care of while I was in her sight. I sobbed because I had not allowed myself to for so long. I sobbed because I could. I sobbed because I needed it.
She did not say anything. She crossed the room and brought me a box of tissues and when I looked up she had tears in her eyes as well.
"It's okay to cry, you can't do it all", she murmured while gently rubbing my back.
I cleaned myself up and settled my soul a bit. Knowing I was okay, knowing I was going to be okay, knowing that I was going to have to take be a caretaker of myself more often.
"Thank you", I whispered.
"You're welcome", she said, her sweet smile saturating her words, "now do me a favor? Eat, woman".
So, I did.
That moment she decided to reach out, that moment she chose to invest, that moment she took to be kind and loving, meant more to me than anything else lately. That moment a stranger just did and made me suck it up and realize that I had to take care of myself was astounding.
That kindness thing? I promise you, on all that is holy in this world-first kisses, shooting stars, self-love, purposely mismatched socks, loud laughs and second chances-kindness matters.