From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Positive
By Lydia A. Calder
If I had to sum up Friendship in one word, it would be Comfort.
The skies were overcast and the sun wasn’t even trying to break through. I stood on the steps of Vancouver General Hospital staring at the cold gray exterior, daunted by the size of the building and all the sadness contained in it. Clutching a bouquet of flowers in one hand and a novel in the other, I tried to get past my dislike for hospitals and focus on the task at hand.
My friend Terri and I were both visiting Vancouver, but for vastly different reasons. I was reconnecting with family and friends, and she was in the hospital for tests.
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I slowly walked in, feeling helpless and anxious. I got Terri’s room number at the information desk and headed for the elevators. As the doors closed I was conscious, not only of our different purposes in the big city, but of the different paths our lives had taken. I’d been blessed with a pretty normal life. Terri, on the other hand, had a particularly tough life.
Sometimes I’d look at her and wonder how she had the stamina to survive. In her early 40s, she had already raised two sons when she took on the care of her two preteen nieces when their mother was murdered. Both girls came with a lot of baggage and the younger seemed to be suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome. Caring for them was a stress-filled full-time job.
Terri also has epilepsy and was having increasing problems with seizures. Everyday activities that most of us take for granted carried the threat of a blackout or a seizure. Naturally she could no longer drive a car and had to take the bus everywhere. During meetings at our church we left the fluorescent lights turned off because their flickering could bring on a seizure. Terri signed up for a computer course at the local college but had to quit because she collapsed twice and had to be rushed to the hospital.
Her doctor decided enough was enough and sent her to Vancouver for extensive tests. She was given a private room and was to be bedridden for an indefinite period of time, electrodes implanted in her skull watching for even the slightest change in brain activity. The doctors wanted to know exactly what stimuli would bring on her seizures. I was hoping my surprise visit might cheer her up a bit.
It was with great trepidation that I followed the nurse into Terri’s room. I don’t like hospitals, even when I’m a mere visitor, and I always get nervous wondering what I will talk about. Besides, this was a person who was having several seizures a day. Maybe my sudden presence would bring on something catastrophic. Maybe a surprise visit was really stupid.
Terri was laying in bed, in the semi-darkness, eyes closed. “Terri, you have a visitor,” the nurse whispered.
As her eyes focused, a big smile greeted me. “Lydia! Wow. I can’t believe it. Come and sit down. You don’t have to worry about touching me,” she said laughing. “You won’t get electrocuted or anything!”
As I took a chair she quipped about the dozen wires protruding from her head. “What do you think of my new hairdo? It’s pretty wild, ay? I thought it was about time I had a change of hairstyle, but this wasn’t really what I had in mind.”
I laughed with her but it looked kind of painful to me. “Do they hurt?” I asked.
“No. There’s a bit of discomfort now and then, but nothing that bothers me. See that TV screen up there? That’s most of the TV I get to watch each day. It shows you my brain activity.”
I looked at the TV suspended from the ceiling and watched lines and waves and blips floating along the screen.
“Pretty boring stuff, isn’t it? Not what most people would want to watch hour after hour. Let me tell you, I had no idea my brain was so inactive. But it does get exciting when I have a seizure. Then bells ring and the nurse comes running in. If that happens, don’t panic and don’t leave unless they tell you to. Things will calm down in a minute or two.”
I was still staring at the screen. “Are they finding what they’re looking for?” I asked.
“Nah. We’re all hoping I’m going to have a big one, but it hasn’t happened yet. Life is too quiet in here. I keep telling them it’s related to stress, and what kind of stress do I have here? No responsibilities, no kids, no husband, no telephone, no noise, no dog driving me nuts. I need action to bring on a big one!”
I spent the next half hour with her. We talked about kids and husbands, church and schools, small town drivers and big city traffic. We talked about the challenges of her life and her hopes for the future.
She was looking pretty happy when I left.
And she’d sure cheered me up.
Reprinted by permission of Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC (c) 2010. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.