|Strangers No More
She arrived at the Caregiver Support Center early in the morning. When I arrived for work, she was behind a screened door, in one of the private rooms. I was told that she and a relative were brought down from the surgical waiting room. Her relative was in one room, she in another. I didn't know her name or her relationship to the patient in surgery. It was going to be a long operation. Cardiac.
Throughout the course of the day, she would come out of the room every now and then – to use the ladies' room outside of the center. The lights remained off in the room she occupied. I could see that she had been given some blankets to keep her warm, covered.
I'd say hello and ask her if there was anything we could get for her, or do for her. Politely she'd say, "No thank you, I'm o.k." She appeared to be about 45 years old. A seemingly friendly person – someone who wanted her privacy, her space. She would accept a bottle of water and that was all.
At some point later in the afternoon, her relative briefly joined her. There was an exchange of joyful tears. Perhaps they had received good news?
The woman's relative left the center, thanking us. The woman remained in her darkened space, alone.
After two more hours, we got word that the operation was almost over and the woman could meet with the surgeon on the 4th floor, where the O.R. is located. I knocked on the door and entered to deliver this information to her.
I found her standing up, a blanket covering her shoulders, tissues in her hands and wiping her nose. Tears fell from her weary eyes. She look disheveled, exhausted. She started to offer apologies for her state – I told her no apologies were necessary. I let her know that the operation would soon be over. She started to shake and sob, her body didn't seem to know what to do with itself.
She stood there, this solitary person, whom I did not know, nor she me. I asked her who was in surgery. "My husband. I'm so sorry, it's just that I've been keeping so much in for so long...we have five children. My youngest is taking this all very hard."
Now I knew. I was struck by her trembling hands, which seemed to be reaching out for something, and her quivering body. We stood less than two feet apart. The interior room was barely lit. Tissues were everywhere. Blankets, pillow. Her and me.
"You look like you could use a hug, would it be alright if you got a hug from a stranger," I gently asked. It seemed like she fell into my arms. I held her trembling body until it calmed down. She held me tight.
"My husband had an LVAD removed. He wasn't supposed to live. It's a miracle. A complete miracle. His heart pinked up!"
I accompanied her upstairs to the recovery area where she hugged me. Strangers no more.
Randi Kaplan, LMSW, is director of the Caregiver Support Center at Montefiore Medical Center.
Posted by blogmoderator on 10/17/2013 at 11:21 AM