Hoping against fairly consistent experience, I take to the big bed in the
India Room when I begin to feel ill, hoping that the soothing voices of the BBC in my ears and a cat by my side will distract me from my ominously uncomfortable chest and that I will fall back to sleep, wakening without pain in a few hours, a crisis averted. But the pain persists, and I watch my blood pressure rise for two hours and more. I try all my tricks: a nitro under the tongue, an early dose of my blood pressure medicine, a program of slow breathing, until it reaches a level that concerns even me and I dial 911. Soon I am in the ER again in the wee hours, the night after the very day I confided to someone my resolve that 2007 would be my Year Without A Hospital. I should have thought to grandfather in the remaining few days of 2006.
We lie in rows of curtained cubicles. An ancient woman who thinks she's five years old weeps in her cell, begging unseen tormentors not to hurt her, not to sit on her, begging her mother not to leave her here. For hours on end she wails, her voice hoarse from calling fruitlessly for people who have been dead for half a century.
Right next door, another family huddles together. The young stepfather is here for congestive heart failure. He is frightened and weak; he cannot
breathe. His wife and the little boy, who is not his own son but the
closest thing he has to it, circle him, trying to make it better. She is at the end of her rope -- tomorrow is Monday. She can't miss any more work. The mortgage payment is due. The boy tosses out suggestions as to who might be enlisted to watch him. No, she says, Eileen can't do it. She's sick herself. When she reaches her own mother on the phone, she breaks down.
All day, I wander in and out of a surprisingly deep sleep and awaken to the two families' pain -- one a family that now exists only in confused memory and another most frustratingly current. I want my daddy! Why won't he come? the old woman howls. What did I do? Daddy! What did I do?
What do I do? the young mother asks her sick husband. This is nothing like she thought it would be. I'm the breadwinner, you know. We have a mortgage payment, you know. I cannot see him, but I feel his shame at the implications of this naked statement: You are unable to care for your family. Your family is in dire straits and it is because of you and you can do nothing to help your wife, who is about to crack under the strain.
The boy's suggestions aren't all helpful ones. He is trying his best, but he is only a child. And he is hungry and wants a snack. I'm hungry, the old lady wails, as if the two of them were part of something larger than themselves. Soon, the boy's exhausted mother snaps at him and he falls into a humiliated silence. The old lady continues to call for her dead parents. And the nurses come and go.
In the evening, my blood enzymes are cleared of any wrongdoing and I am free to go. The night air outside the ER entrance is gentle and fresh, and an oval moon is high in the dark sky. It is good to be out of the bright light of disappointment at life's hardships, out of the fear that even more are coming. Of course, even more are coming. We just don't know when.
So enjoy the night. Enjoy the season. Do and love the things you can do and love now. Do and love them in the awareness that they will not always be within your power. They are now, though. You have them today. Seize the day, then, and bless it.