Last August when Mama was in the hospital, she had a really rough time. She had been admitted with a temp registering over 105. I don’t know if I’ve ever been more frightened in my life. They took her back immediately and left me to do the intake…..and worry what was happening back there. She was dehydrated, her blood levels were off–it wasn’t good at all.
As happens they needed to “get a vein” on Mama quite often during that ten day HospitalStay. Putting in an IV was especially tricky. Mama did not, for whatever reason, have what could be deemed “good veins.” I watched her in pain as nurse after nurse tried to find a way to get it set up. Eventually they did, but each time Mama was left more exhausted than before. And unfortunately, the vein would give out I guess or she would be in great pain, and they’d have to move it again.
Between me, my Aunt, and my siblings we stayed with Mama pretty much around the clock. I spent the nights with her. Though you could still hear voices in the hall and the lights were as bright as ever out there, there was a hush that came over the hospital after dark. People who came in the room talked in low tones, and were more deliberate in their movements. Often I dozed through the comings and goings. One of the symptoms of Mama’s newly diagnosed syndrome was that she could run a fever and then sweat so profusely the bedclothes would need changing. The staff was very good about helping her and sometimes changing the linens twice in one night. They understood. I’m so thankful for that. And Mama, who had been to nursing school, kept a keen eye out for which ones had those special bedmaking skills. Before she was discharged, I knew what was considered the right way, and who the best bedmakers were on our floor.
One night I had been sleeping for a couple of hours when I awoke to voices talking quietly, almost a whisper. I sat up and Mama said, “Oh Tara, you have to hear the story that Sonya* just told me. She’s the best at setting up IV’s.” I smiled and rubbed my eyes. Mama was beaming. Sonya was finishing up connecting the IV, but it was in, and Mama wasn’t hurting. Oh so thankful. “I’d like to hear it.”
Sonya had been in nursing school in Virginia I think. Mama liked that because her baby boy and his family live there, and it was a connection for her. Eventually, Sonya wound up in New York doing some training. Late one night she was having a hard time getting a vein on a patient. One of the more experienced nurses told her to go up on the ninth floor to see Harold*. He could help her with accessing veins. Sonya went up and found Harold, an older gentleman patient diagnosed with AIDS. He was a former drug dealer. One of the aspects of his business was showing new folks how to get a vein, in the hopes that they’d get hooked on the drugs I suppose. He was very, very good. Maybe at selling drugs too, I really don’t know. But eventually he wanted out of it. He quit dealing, turned his life around and was involved in many good programs helping people before AIDS put him in that hospital. On the ninth floor. Where he taught Sonya–very well–how to “get a vein.”
The next morning as we sat, like you do in a hospital room, I thought about Sonya’s story. “Hey, Mama, did you ever think you’d be thankful for a drug dealer and his skills?” I don’t remember her answer. She might have been sleeping. All I know is I was and still am thankful for him. And for Sonya who took the time to learn from someone others might have overlooked, something that all of her patients from then on would benefit from.
A few weeks ago I wrote about all the shades of gray in our world. And remembering this brings it home for me. So often in the past couple of weeks I have said to my Aunt or my friend or to my oldest–and yes, in frustration quite honestly–“See, no one can be put in a ‘white’ or ‘black’ box. We are all a mixture of good and bad, light and dark, and we all go in the ‘GRAY’ box.” *sigh* So often I wish I could just write off someone who has upset me or disappointed me because there was nothing redemptive about him or her. But it’s just not that easy. There’s no all the way on anything or anyone. It’s always a mix.
And that’s why I love this story. The story of how my Mama, a feisty but sweet Mama of four, volunteer, Winnie the Pooh lover, great cook, reader, artist, and writer was touched and blessed by a drug dealer from New York City. Because that part of his life did not ultimately define him. Just as no one part of Mama’s life defined hers. We are all these amazing stories whose lives intersect in the most fascinating and ordinary of ways and at the most interesting times. And when they do, isn’t it breathtaking the stuff that can come of it? When I think about the ripples, all the lives touched in a good way by Harold because he was a part of helping programs, because he was willing to share his skills with nurses, I am blown away. Just as there’s no way of counting the lives that Sonya touched and still touches as she goes about caring for patients and helping people heal and be comfortable. Or how many little lives my Mama touched all those years she read to children in classrooms at Byron Elementary. I think that’s one of the coolest things ever. How our stories travel far and wide to places we’ve never even been. My Mama and a drug dealer’s lives connected? That’s the most beautiful shade of gray I’ve ever seen. Light in the darkness. I love it.
*not their real names