How do I fight a battle with an enemy I can’t see when I have no control and no weapons, a battle that is raging inside the one I love the most? How can I reduce intercranial swelling from miles away? How can I be there for someone beyond locked doors guarded by security?
I can’t, of course.
But those are the questions your brain asks at 3:00 A.M. A better question to ask is what can I do?
Get a good night’s sleep and be ready in the morning is one answer. Right. Not happening.
Pray. That’s another answer. God is there, right? He holds the universe in His hands and gives us life in the first place. He heals the sick.
But at some point, my constant nagging over something God already knows about began to feel like a lack of faith. Don’t pray repetitiously, Jesus said. If I just keep repeating myself then I’m accusing God of not listening or not caring or being as powerless as I am. But to ignore God is a greater danger.
I reached a place where my prayers morphed into merely worrying out loud. They brought no peace and cranked up my distress. I endlessly piled up worst-case scenarios only to find my imagination conjured up something even worse to place on top of the pile.
Prayer should not make me miserable. There had to be a better way.
My prayers slowly evolved into a long, ongoing conversation. Pray about everything without ceasing is what Paul said. I began to release each of my worries into God’s hands instead of clinging to them. I began to attempt something like faith. With it came something like relief.
I can’t say I was very good at it but I finally got to sleep. Exhaustion overpowers worry.
Sunday morning dawned on a cold, empty bed. The night before, Mom and Dad insisted on sleeping in the living room, Mom on the couch and Dad in the recliner. It was supposed to help but the loneliness of that bed was worse. I would opt for the couch after that, even though I had to argue for it.
In spite of the selfless efforts of my parents, the house felt wrong without Suzie. Everything there had been picked by her and announced her memory. It was like the house was demanding for an explanation for her absence.
In the kitchen, food from church friends was piling up on the round oak table. Mom offered to cook but I knew coffee waited at the hospital. She recommended sausage balls from a covered dish and I took some to placate her. But they hit my mouth with a burst of flavor that had me wanting more by the time I cranked the icy Volvo and fired up the seat heat.
It was one degree above freezing with a stiff breeze across the hospital parking lot. I stuffed my hands in my pockets and hustled for the door. The gleaming bronzed elevator took me to the crowded waiting room. I headed for the desk, racing to get in before Dr. Rosenthal’s rounds were over.
This time, however, I was denied.
A nurse I’d never seen before became Shauna, Keeper of the Gates. “You shall not pass,” she said. At least that’s the way I heard it. There may have been something about visiting hours being an hour away but I can’t recall. There were no riddles to answer, no tolls to pay, no quests to complete. “You shall wait,” she intoned, after all of my arguments.
So I waited.
“Good morning Mrs. Ritchie. How are you feeling this morning?” The now-familiar English accent brought an instant smile.
“So much better, thanks to you.”
“I wanted to check in on you before I say goodbye.”
“Oh, you’re leaving?”
“Yes. My shift changes at seven so someone else will be in. Don’t worry. They’ll take good care of you.”
“Thank you so much for sitting with me last night. I can’t tell you how much it helped. I’ll miss you.”
“It was my pleasure,” she said with a smile and was gone.
Suzie never saw her again. Anesthesia erased her name from Suzie’s memory but she never forgot her. The power of simple kindness shines all the brighter on a dark and lonely night.
I waited impatiently because I’d learned Dr. Rosenthal made his rounds early before any surgeries. I had no idea if he would be operating today but I knew I’d never see him after that. I avoided the temptation to go downstairs for breakfast in case it took too long.
When the doors finally opened, the crowd moved slowly and I had to work hard to be patient. When I got to Suzie’s room she said, “You just missed Dr. Rosenthal.” I sighed.
“Of course I did. I really wanted to hear what he had to say.”
“He just walked out. I can get him if you want,” one of the nurses said.
“Well, I don’t want to cause trouble.” The nurse grinned like she enjoyed bossing surgeons around.
“It’s no trouble at all,” she said and headed out the door.
“I think she likes causing trouble,” I said, ignoring the pressure monitor as much as possible. “How was your night?” Suzie filled me in on her long night until Dr. Rosenthal entered behind me.
“Hello, Mr. Ritchie.” He did not look even slightly annoyed.
“I’m sorry I missed you.”
“Not a problem. She’s doing great. Her pressure was never really an issue. I think we can move her to a regular room tonight and I’ve ordered her breakfast.”
“That’s wonderful!” I said. Suzie beamed. “You think her speech is okay?”
“Well, let’s see,” he answered and put Suzie through a series of tongue twisters. She passed with flying colors. “Usually, in a case like this, when you lose something it’s gone for good. I can’t do any better than that!” His smile showed that he was thrilled with better results than he anticipated.
“Thank you so much,” I said and shook his hand before he whisked out the door.
“Wow,” I said to Suzie.
“Breakfast,” she said. “I’m starving!” Then her forehead wrinkled. “Oh no. I was going to ask him something.”
“When they changed the bandage this morning, I noticed there was a dent in my head.”
“Yes. I guess it’s where they put the bone back together. But my hair is getting pushed the wrong way and it hurts.” She ran her hand over her head. The big bandage was gone and while silk tape covered the side of her head.
“Well, maybe I can catch him.”
“Do you think so?”
I headed out the door and into the hall before I flagged him down. I explained the situation as best as I could.
“Well,” he said and looked at the floor. “Let me put it this way.” He paused and looked up. “She’ll get used to it.” The pleased grin returned and he headed through the doors to surgery leaving me standing with my mouth open.
At the time, I had no idea what he meant.