Monday, December 31, 2012
Hearts and flannel pajamas
It's New Year's Eve, and I'm lying on my right side on an black exercise mat in a dark room, wide awake, my eyes fixed on the empty space under a small cot about a foot off the floor, my left hand gently resting over a beating heart belonging to a 2-1/2-year-old in red footie Santa print flannel pajamas, As I lie silently in the quiet night, I'm filled with both overwhelming happiness and deep grief, pondering the meaning of life and birth and death and luck and injustice and awe, with never-ending questions and a troubled, conflicted mind.
Our grandson Joshua is spending the night with us - his very first time for an overnight visit. After he played with the dog, ate some supper, took a bath, cuddled with his grandpa ("Papa"), and read a book, I took him to his little cot. His parents told us to put a blanket off to one side on the floor, just in case he rolled off. I had just the thing - my cushioned exercise mat, and I rolled it out on the floor right next to the cot. Josh crawled into the cot, I covered him up, gave him his stuffed animal and blanket, turned to leave, and that is when he glanced over at the mat, asking me what it was. I told him that was something nice and comfy in case he rolled off the cot. He pointed at it, looked me straight in the eyes, and said firmly, "You sleep there." I told him I would stay there for awhile, not all night, but just to help him get to sleep. That satisfied him, and I lay down with my left hand over his chest to let him know I was nearby.
I had no fear that I would accidentally fall asleep there. In the first place, the mat is not that comfortable to sleep on, and in the second place, I was in emotional turmoil. Ed and I had just received a message this afternoon on our answering machine, a message which we listened to only when we arrived home later after having picked up Joshua. A neighbor, 59 years old, had been out shoveling snow the other day and had a heart attack and died. Bob had been president of the neighborhood road association, of which I am secretary, and we had enjoyed knowing him along with his wife. Bob was a year older than I am. Although I am not privy to his medical details, he seemed in perfect health. He was a kind gentleman. The fact that he was suddenly gone was shocking.
As a medical transcriptionist, I transcribe all kinds of medical reports on a daily basis - people trying to kill themselves, old people who want to live and sometimes who want to die, cancer survivors and others who have just been told they have cancer with little time left, teenagers who need appendectomies, women who give birth in planned, happy pregnancies and others who give birth in anxious, unwelcome pregnancies, kids with out-of-control asthma, folks with dementia, patients with strokes, fever or vomiting, people who are withdrawing from alcohol or drugs, and patients who are just normal people living their normal lives getting their mammograms and Pap smears and blood tests and physicals and just going about their earthly existence. Any MT will tell you that it is not an easy job to be a part of these patients' stories. We type, we laugh, we cry, we worry, we celebrate, we grieve with every report we transcribe. But the fact that all day long I hear these medical stories does not mean I get inured to them. A good MT, just like a good nurse or doctor or other provider, always keeps in mind that these are real people and their lives - not reports, numbers, codes, or folders.
Why is life good to me right now - blessedly, incredibly good to me - and others are so unfortunate? How does a man my age - a good man, decent man - suddenly die and I'm still here? I'm not only here; I'm holding onto my dear grandson who is calmly sleeping by my side - and next week, I will welcome my next and final grandchild, Emily, when she is delivered into the world.
It's not fair that I am cuddling my grandson while Bob's family is in mourning. I grieve with them, curse this unfair, unjust world of death and sorrow, even as my heart overflows with happiness in the presence of my sleeping toddler.
So this is how I find myself pondering life, looking into the darkness, weeping tears of gratitude and sorrow, anger and joy - all at the same time. I finally quietly get up, take one last glance at my sleeping Joshua, and with a heavy heart, tiptoe out of the room. My happiness tonight is tempered with grief. Life is never easy and it's never simple to understand. Loss is hard to bear, and sometimes the tears of happiness intermix with the tears of sorrow so much that there is no separating them. And life - for me, for Bob's family, for the patients whose records I transcribe, for those who are celebrating and those who are grieving, those about to give birth and those burying their loved one - goes on. I understand the circle of life - I just don't like part of it sometimes.