The Smile

One of the most precious aspects of my job is “bearing witness” at the foot of the cross. It is a sweet sorrow, lending comfort and prayerful presence,and most usually painful. But every so often I witness a piercing of the veil between heaven and earth, and experience a descent of the divine spirit of love, and can’t believe my good fortune.

Last weekend I was present for one of those delightful moments.  The patient was an elderly gentleman from Pakistan who hovered very near death. Just the day before, his family told me they were anxiously awaiting the arrival of his granddaughter from out-of-state.  “He loves her so!” they told me. “We just hope he knows she’s here.”

When I arrived the next day to check on him, I found the beloved granddaughter sitting beside his bed, holding his hand. He appeared unresponsive. The granddaughter moved out of the way to the other side of the bed, leaned down and softly said, “Dada, the nurse is here.”

He opened his eyes, and a look of shocked wonder washed over his face.

“How ARE you?” He asked, grinning with delight.

“I’m fine, Dada; how are you?”

“How ARE you!” he exclaimed. It wasn’t a question anymore. It seemed to be a proclamation of her presence..

The granddaughter laughed gently. “I am fine; the question is – how are YOU?”

“How ARE you!” he said, again and again, practically wriggling with delight.

That man’s beatific smile is seared into my memory. Over the last three days it comes to mind at the oddest times, and leaves me warmed with delight.

As I write this, my husband, his siblings and beloved grandchildren hold vigil hundreds of miles away by the ICU bed of their patriarch. I pray that he will recognize their presence, and that they will feel his spirit smiling on them as well.

Traveling mercies, Pop, and Godspeed.


Back at the Ranch…

Dear readers;

Please forgive me for neglecting you for ever so long, but I had a really good reason and could even produce a note, if necessary.

Mimi had surgery!

And it was a Christmas miracle. First of all, we were on the merry-go-round of tests, more tests, and tests to get us to the next tests, for the past five months. Her mystery ailment alluded the finest medical minds I was able to gather up. Meanwhile, she was wilting before our eyes.

So one Thursday morning at Mass, I told Jesus, “It’s all yours. I can’t carry this another second. You decide what to do with her. Tag – you’re it.”

Within an hour and a half, we had an appointment with a surgeon. Four days later we sat in his office as he explained his plan to fix Mimi, once and for all.

“Sounds great,” I said. “How about tomorrow?”

“I’m busy tomorrow. How about Thursday?” (Surgeons don’t mess around!)

It was a blessing that we only had two days to prepare. It cut down considerably on “dread time”, and there was plenty to dread. Surgery is always a risky deal for the over 80 crowd, especially lung surgery. But Mimi has special needs. Because of her muscular dystrophy, issues of balance, fear of falling, and the ever present terror of getting cold (requiring temperature regulation gymnastics usually reserved for pet lizards) make a trip to the hairdresser a major event.  We managed to navigate all the “regular” stuff, but it was the “after surgery confusion” (nearly universal among the elderly) that made our fifty-hour hospital stay seem like fifty days. And not just for us! (She hadn’t been in the hospital since 1963, and I’m sure the staff hopes it’s another fifty years before we show up again).

Fast forward – the surgery was successful, Mimi finally gathered her wits again, and we accomplished a bloodless coup, hiring Mina, the Mennonite wonder-worker.

We’re getting sort of back to normal.


Dashed Dreams

As soon as Ben shared the terrible news that he was blind in his right eye, I got on the phone and found a neuro-opthalmologist, and miracle of miracles, an appointment the very next morning.

Accompanying Ben on a health care adventure is not my favorite thing, because as I’ve noted before, he is the Worst Patient in the World. We had a twenty-minute drive to the doctor’s office, and I steeled myself for a full-blown autistic episode. Shockingly, he was in a pretty good mood. Soon, I found out why.

“I had a great idea last night,” he announced. “What I really need is a service monkey.”

(Definitely whiskey-inspired.)

“Sure, I’ll have a service dog, too, but what happens when I drop my fork? And a monkey could point out pool shots. I’ll get him a cowboy outfit, and a saddle, so he can ride the service dog. And I’ll teach him to smoke! He’ll probably bite, but only when I want him to. It’s going to be great!”

I laughed so hard I nearly wrecked the car. Then he continued.

“I know this optic nerve damage is from my West Nile Virus. That’s what I’m telling the doctor. ‘We know what caused it; now give me my nut check and my service monkey and I’ll be on my way.'”

All that laughter emboldened me to correct him.

“You have to tell the doctor that the West Nile Virus was self-diagnosed,” I said. (In his defense, he did have symptoms in the summer, but I wouldn’t let him go to the doctor because there is no treatment, and a definitive diagnosis requires a spinal tap, I think, and I wasn’t up for that.)

“I will do no such thing!” he shouted. “It’s none of his business how I know. I had West Nile Virus, and you’re not allowed to say otherwise. In fact, you can’t even come in there. Get your own affliction, missy!”

He did finally relent and let me go in with him, and he also let the doctor do his own diagnosing. We found out that he could still drive, even the motorcycle, and didn’t need an eye patch. His dreams partially dashed, he actually had the nerve to ask the doctor for a prescription for a service monkey.

The doctor never cracked a smile. “I’ll be happy to write you the script, but good luck getting it filled.”