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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Sunshine in the Midst of Crisis

I heard the cheerful chatter of my favorite teenage Candy Striper as she visited with people along the corridor to my room. I’d first met Julie* when I worked in this hospital, and she served as a volunteer, manning the counter at the snack bar. Julie put the sunshine in any coffee break.

“Here you go, you sluggard!” Julie proclaimed as I felt the weight of something heavy land on my abdomen. “I’m going to see that you don’t get behind in what’s happening out there in this cold, cruel world.”

I laughed at the reminder of my own words to her many months earlier when trying to urge her to read the newspapers, not just skip over the world news. “Oh you are, are you? How do you propose that I read the pages?”

“Braille. I heard that blind people can get newspapers sent to them in Braille.”

“Uh-huh, but I don’t read Braille, Julie.”

“Not yet, but you will by the time you leave this hospital. I’m going to teach you.”

“You can read Braille, Julie?”

“No, but I can see, so how hard can it be to learn. Let’s begin!”

Suddenly my right hand rested on a page full of raised dots. “I’ve brought you a Braille primer. It’s a big, heavy book, so it’s gotta be good, right?”

I giggled along with the teen, trying to retain all that she told me about each letter of the alphabet. Each afternoon, Julie came to grill me in my Braille homework, reinforcing the cells I got right, repeating with genuine kindness those I’d missed.

“Tomorrow, we celebrate!” Julie declared at the conclusion of my Braille lesson on Thursday afternoon. “I’ll be a couple hours late, because I’m bringing a surprise for you. Don’t eat much supper.”

“I don’t think they’ll let me eat any surprises, Julie. It has something to do with salt content and reducing fluid levels in my body. They want to be sure my brain isn’t getting any more fluid than a bare minimum.”

“Like I don’t already know that,” she harrumphed. “I cleared it with the Dietician already. Our only little problem is… well, I’m working on that. Don’t worry, you’ll like this surprise. You’ve earned it.”

Early the following morning, Dr. Roberts appeared at my bedside. “The nurses tell me that you think your headache is getting better?”

“I do. The balloon that felt like it would explode and blow out my skull, seems to be deflating. Is that possible, or am I just getting used to it?”

“Oh, it’s possible. That’s what all those medicines have been trying to do. I’m going to have the nurse help me do a spinal tap this morning. That’ll give me some numbers to check against your earlier arteriogram.”

“Tell me I don’t have to suffer through another one of those tests down in Radiology. That about killed me off.”

“No, I’ll do the test right here. It’s not comfortable, but it’s not that bad.”

I knew very well that, unless the doctor had ever been a patient, he had no idea how bad something hurt. I steeled myself for what was to come, but I held the picture of Julie’s surprise as my reward for making it through the procedure. Maybe the results would bring some good news.

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