Sunday, September 14, 2008


Four heads covered with silver hair bobbed up and down inside the room where the man lay. The women were deep in conversation, perhaps reminiscing about last evening’s 5 o’clock news or the weather that afternoon. One sat in a wheelchair, her distended belly protruding above the metal handles of the seat. Another sat in a chair near the corner, quietly nodding in agreement. But I couldn’t quite make out what they were saying from my perch at the nurses station. All I knew is that they were in that man’s room for a long time.

I could only see his legs. Large, matted with hair. His feet covered with hunter green fleece socks—not the teal green kind that the hospital issues. And he just lay there. Still. Asleep, I presume. His IV drip beeped every 10 minutes or so, indicating the bag that loaded liquid into the vein on his left hand was nearing its last few drops.

I watched them for awhile, at least ten minutes while the attending made phone calls & filled out patient charts with new orders for mediations, labs, and imaging studies.

While I stood there, constantly shifting my weight so the pains in my feet wouldn’t grow too intense, I couldn’t help but wonder who they were in that man’s life. Sisters? Aunts? Friends?

To be that group of aging women, gathering around a beloved friend in a time of need. Consoling a friend in a time of pain, uncertainty, and intimidation. And simply being there, as a hand to hold, an ear to listen, and a mouth to make conversation.

It’s an incredible thing in the hospital to see someone surrounded by people. Incredible almost more than family is the immediate community that flocks into the patients room bringing monetary gifts of flowers, teddy bears, and “get well soon” cards. Most gift-bearers hand them awkwardly to the patients, not knowing exactly what to say in a situation as dire as many face.

And perhaps that is what struck me about this group of women. They brought nothing. No freshly cut $5 flowers from Walmart stood on the shelves. No premade Hallmark greetings were placed in the metal card holder mounted on the wall. And no awkward gestures passed between them and the patient. They just brought themselves…and a bit of conversation.

So that is where I found them. In conversation. Perhaps reminiscing about last evenings 5 o’clock news, or the weather that afternoon. The words exchanged reminded the patient—and me at my perch near the nurses station—that sometimes busy chatter means more than words can adequately describe; it means that you are surrounded by people who care deeply enough to miss this evenings 5 o’clock news, who value the importance of community enough to look at the afternoons weather through two panes of glass on the second floor, and who cherish something as simple as a conversation.

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