Home. There is nothing like “returning home” after a long trip somewhere to a destination unknown for an undetermined length of stay. Tonight, the warm glow from our front foyer bathed me, wrapped itself around me and gently tugged my Kevin and I inside. I took Kevin’s arm and returned to our “life” on Bishop Drive. Here, David, Grandma, and Jazz , our dog, drew nearer to me at the front door. Jazz was unabashedly excited as I am the source of her morning treats. David and Grandma were a little more cautious about what to hug and how hard. I was a new person, afterall. None of us really knew what this forth-coming night would bring. Soon, Katya and Emily (a long-time family friend) came down from upstairs to join me on the couch in the family room. Katya hugged me with the same caution as the others. All of us knew we would soon either move into our new roles with one another – or slip back into our old roles. We all knew, however, that my trip to Toronto had changed us all – for life.
The first task at hand was getting “Mamma” (that’s me!) and her things upstairs and for me to take a shower. It had been nearly a week since I had had a shower and I knew this one was going to feel good! I turned the water on to HOT, waited, and stepped in. “Ahhhh”, I vocalized as I exhaled under the stream of glory. I had turned into my father for a moment. I remember hearing that same Ahhh, when he went for his shower every morning. For just an instant, I thought, I could feel the Parkinson’s being cleansed from his body. For an instant, he was free. The hot water hit my back, shoulders, and head. “Ahhhh”, for an instant, there was no trauma for me. For an instant, I was free.
What would Susan, my first nurse from Toronto General Hospital have said to me? “Stacey, not too much water! You are not ready – it will make you sick.” (Or maybe she was referring to the water I wasn’t supposed to drink and kept wanted to sneak behind her back because I was so thirsty? ) Susan was the voice of expertise. She was “the trainer”. She was the Angel who directed my care right after surgery in a no-nonsense manner. She wore a white nursing uniform just like my Mom had when she was working. Mom was so very particular about her uniform. She was proud of her profession and it showed in the way she wore her uniform. Her nursing cap was iconic. How many times had I watched her wash and then soak that cap in a solution of starch and water to stiffen it up? There was some form of method to dry it – I don’t remember. I do, remember, however, that when it was ironed it had to be perfectly crisp, perfectly folded, and perfectly white. Perfect. She passed away five years ago, but I still think of her everyday. “Take it easy and pace yourself, Stacey”, Susan encouraged me. “Don’t you worry. You are in good hands. We will take good care of you.” I exhaled and collapsed my independence into her hands. I was in the arms of an angel wearing my Mom’s white nursing uniform.
The next challenge was to put myself to bed. I was excited for the feel of my flannel sheets, my layers of warms blanket, my quilt, and my firm mattress. I shuffled to the bed, tested the waters on the edge, and then swung my feet around to tuck myself in. Hmmm. It was not that easy. Things had changed. I could not move as I did the week before. My night-gown was too confining around my stitches. The blankets pressed to much weight onto my body and I was suffocating. My back ached. What would “Mei” have said to me? “You have too many blankets on you. Your temperature is too high and it needs to come down.” She would gently removed the layers of blankets off me. “Is that okay?” she would check. “I need to take your vitals now, okay?” she would affirm. “I just need a little sample of blood if you are okay with that?” she would coach. Mei was gentle, reassuring, and precise. She was one of my night angels and under her care, I knew I would be okay.
My bed was not working for me last night. The longer I lay, the worse the pain got. And, I had to pee! It became apparent the next challenge was going to be getting up out of my own, formerly-comfortable bed. Was it Ivy at Toronto General who had taught me how to get out of bed? Ivy, and her student nurse, Kendra, were my nurses in “Step Down” (one under Critical Care) with whom I had developed an instant rapport. It was almost like we were conspiring to get better together. Ivy. She was not like my daughter’s friend Ivy with firey hair and live-wire personality. This Ivy was serene… and old soul with hair of onyx. She was stealth. “Place your feet over the edge and put both hands on the rail on the same side. Then lift.” she encouraged. “Ivy,” I remember whispering her name late at night in Step Down. “Are you there?” I would whisper. Her smiling face would appear from the other side of the curtain. I knew the Angels were still “in the house”.
It was a struggle to get out of bed, last night. “Uh-oh. I’m in trouble.” I thought. Every move I made I had to catch my breath. Was it muscular pain? Was it the surgery? Was it everything? I stretched to open the faucet for the shower, let the water heat up, and stepped in. I was in trouble. I started to shake. Under the hot water I went. “Ahhh!” Still I shook. Was it shock? I think I take too much pain and my poor body disapproves. I don’t intend on being a “hero”. I think I am just looking for different signs. I stepped forward to allow the water onto my lower back. “Ahhhh”. I moved backwards so the heat would hit my head and maybe relieve my rapidly developing head-ache. “Ahhhh”. I turned up the heat again and went down on my knees to round my back to the water and just sat there. “Ahhh”. Who advised me to not be a hero when my epidural was removed? Was it Khushbu, my night nurse after step-down? Yes. I think it was her. “Don’t let the pain get ahead of you. Take your percocet before you need it. You don’t need to live with pain.” she continued. Khushbu was the youngest in her family as am I , as is Kevin, and David who was there visiting me that day. Khushbu, too, was one of the angels. I her hands, I knew I was safe. In her absence, I had no common sense. I had no desire to be a hero. I did not have my common sense with me – and the pain was bad. “Ahhhh”. The pain began to subside. There was another lesson: the reason the doctors prescribe Naproxen is because you might just need it. I had my plan. I was going to wear only my house-coat. I folded back the top blankets on my bed to lighter the load. I angled my pillows to mimic the “up” position on the hospital bed. I found my prescription and felt my heart sink to my toes when I took a look at the size of the Naproxen pill. It was huge! I was in pain. When two forces collided – I opted for the pill. A couple of gut wrenches later, I placed my butt into position to swing my legs up and moved into my second trial position. It was almost instantly that I felt my muscles almost melting. The pill was working! I began to feel relief everywhere. My head-ache was going, my lower back relaxed, and I even began to hear my bowels! “Ahhhh”. I was afraid to move as I may stop this healing trend. I lay still and enjoyed the leaching of the pain. I fell asleep.
An hour later, though, I was awakened by an urge to pee the beeping of the industrial plow in my neighbour’s driveway. “Nurse to bed 2, room 714 to fix the pump. Nurse to bed 1, room 745 to fix the pump….” Who was it, Khushpu, who went to be trained on new pumps for the General that were to be quieter? “I’d rather be with you, Stacey, but I need to be trained.” The plow left and returned me to quiet. I still had to pee. Which meant getting up. And why not shower again too because that felt so good before? And why not take a pain med at the same time? And away to the bathroom I went again – for my fourth shower of the evening. There would be no trace of hospital smell on me after that!
I turned on the hot water and remarked that I had been moving with so much more ease. I stepped into the shower. “Ahhhh”. It was wonderful. This shower was “icing on the cake”. I realized that it was possible I could be pain free soon. No… there had been not a lot of quiet in the hospital. Beeps, movement, codes, people coming in – people going out.
“Beep, beep, beep” I heard my neighbour press her call button.
“Can I help you?” inquired the voice on the wall above my head where the intercom was located.
“Could someone please empty my bag?” gently asked my neighbour – who had had such a rough night the night before. She and I had developed a strange but wonderful friendship that had all happened through a curtain drawn between our beds. She had just had a similar experience with cancer that I had had only had surgery first. I think she was still in a bit of shock.
“Of course – I’ll send your nurse.” announced the voice at the other end.
It was “My” Mei, who was with me at the time this vocal transaction had happened. She was taking my vitals – once again – to be sure I was healthy. Of course.
“Nurse to Bed 2 – Room …. ”
“Oh, Mei, could you take that, please? She is frightened and had such a rough night last night. You would make her feel so safe. You can do my vitals after.”
And away she went. I closed my eyes and listened. Mei’s voice was the voice of an angel. She was gentle and reassuring. “You are going to be okay. This happens. I will clean you up and get you some fresh linen. Really. It does happen.” And my neigbour cried. You know – tears of relief. She was okay. In Mei’s hands, my neighbour and I knew we were safe.
I turned off the water, dried off, and got myself back to bed. I turned out the light and smiled. I felt great. No pain. I had this think licked! Lessons for the night had been learned. “Good-night, Mom. Thanks for never leaving me.” I vocalized ever so quietly. I closed eyes …and fell asleep in the arms of my angels.
In the Arms of An Angel (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1GmxMTwUgs)