Back in April of this year, the weather was unseasonably nice for this area. It was almost summertime in the spring. The flowers had started to bloom, the trees were starting to bud and slowly the motorcycles has started to appear in the sunshine. The cycles shimmered in the sun after being freshly pampered by their owners in anticipation of the first summer ride.
Having never been a motorcyclist, I can only recant second hand how excitedly cyclist talk about riding in the wind. The lure of letting the wind’s fingers filter through my hair as my thighs embrace the seat of a bike has always been appealing to me; but far too scary. Working in an Emergency Department has taken the fun out of riding for me much like the carnival loses its luster to a carnie. I’ve seen too much motorcycle destruction and death to make it “fun” for me to wrap my legs around a Harley. All too often I’ve had to tell families their loved ones are hanging near the edge of death, are paralyzed, have massive head trauma, or worse because of a collision between a motorcycle and …well… and almost anything. In most cases, the motorcycle loses.
Today, I visited a woman exactly one year younger than I am who is living in a nursing home. She is there because during one of those beautiful April days she was out riding her motorcycle and someone pulled across three lanes of traffic giving her just enough time to stand up on her bike to open her arms in an attempt to save the life of the person who was riding with her. The passenger survived with minor scratches, bumps and bruises; my friend did not fare as well. As I walked through the halls of the skilled care facility towards her room my eyes glanced at all the elderly in their wheelchairs. Some of the residents were “awake” but absent in thought, some were present in thought but unable to express to anyone that they were awake except when their eyes met yours. Some residents were watching television in a common room, laughing and talking with each other; others just sat. Each had their own stories of why they were living communally in this nursing home but all the people that I saw as I walked through the hall had one thing in common: they were all advanced in years. My friend is not advanced in age. Looking at the residents and thinking of her being in a place reserved for mostly “elderly” was something I was having a difficult time meshing in my mind.
Finally reaching her door I closed my eyes as I placed my hand on the door knob. I inhaled deeply, the characteristic aroma of a “nursing home” filled my senses. I shook my head trying to clear the sights and smells from my conscious before I opened the door to her room.
Mercifully, when I opened her door, her room was filled with visitors so I had time to rid myself of the thoughts flooding my mind. Her eyes brightened when she saw me. “Carmie!” Her eyes filled with tears and so did mine. This was the first time I’d seen her since I visited her after her extensive surgeries. She looked wonderful but still more fragile then the strong, vibrant woman I knew her to be.
Since her surgery for a shattered pelvis and ruptured bladder, she has been unable to walk. She’s not paralyzed, but her injuries are so extensive that her pelvis is not stable enough to allow her to bear her own weight. Inwardly, I know she is blessed just to be alive. Statistically less than 5% of people sustaining her types of injuries and surgeries survive. She is one of the “lucky” ones. Yesterday she was delivered what she perceived as another devastating blow. Her trauma surgeon told her that she would have to have another surgery (not as extensive as the last) but she would have to remain bedridden another 12 -16 weeks after the surgery. She will not even be able to attempt to walk until around October of this year.
Most of her visitors slowly left her room before she turned to say to me, “Do you know how it feels to lay in a bed for 12 weeks? Do you know how it feels to look out the window of this room and see that other people are doing things and I am sentenced to this bed for another 12 weeks after my surgery? I haven’t been out of this bed since my accident.” It took all that I had in me not to cry. What good would I be to her if I was a crying fool at her bedside? What good can I be at all? I can’t take her place and I don’t really know how she feels.
After I listened to her vent, I lowered my eyes and shook my head before letting my eyes meet hers. “No, you are right. I can’t really imagine how you must be feeling. I do know that I can get up out of this chair and leave this room and you can’t. I know that if I come back here tomorrow the chances are that you will be in this bed. I know that when you look outside you see others moving around and you are confined to either this bed or at the mercy of someone else to put you in a wheelchair and wheel you around. Hell, you even have to depend on someone to put a pot under you to piss in. No, I don’t know what that’s like at all. I’d be crying every bit as much, if not more than you are if I were in your bed. You have every reason to cry and be mad.” As I spoke my next words I couldn’t look her in the eye, I had to turn my head from her. “The alternative would have been worse. Never seeing your children again; never hearing them laugh or cry; never hearing your husband tell you he loves you. I’m not sure, but I think I would try to endure the bed before the coffin.”
She was silent for a few minutes before letting out one of her familiar deep laughs. “Carmie, the Lord done saved my life once and I tell everyone it was Him. I think the devil just wants to pour more shit on me so he can say…’Go ahead, tell everyone how good God is now.’ Well hell Carmie, He is good and the devil can just keep piling shit up on me ’cause he ain’t gonna win.”
Her mood, and mine, was much lighter when I got up from my chair to leave. I bent down to hug her as she laid in her bed. I kissed her forehead and cheek before saying goodbye. “I love you girl. Take care of yourself.”
“You know I love you too Carmie.”
I waved goodbye as I opened the door to her room feeling a bit guilty that I could walk out of her room and she could not. I walked down the hall passed all the residents in their beds and wheelchairs more alive to my ability to walk than I have ever been before.