I didn’t want to write about this tonight.
Seriously, I’ve spent much of today debating myself about it. So much so that I have a headache (which could be non-related, but still). I have other things to share. 80’s music at a skate rink and a turtle shell-inspired story. Good stuff, right?
But my heart says no. Tomorrow those other stories will still be here. This one has to be written. Tonight. So I can let it go.
And so I begin.
A year ago I spent the day at the hospital in Warner Robins with Mama. There was all kind of discussion about moving her to Macon, that they had specialists there who could help her. Once the decision was made (and Mama had to be convinced too y’all, not an easy task), we had to wait on transport. All. Day. Long. I understand, looking back at the big picture. But in the moment, I hope you’ll understand when I say there was a bit of impatience on our part. They told us she would be moved and then we waited for HOURS. In the meantime, the Fella brought Aub to come get my car, so she could get to and from work the next day. I waved at my children from the window. Mama’s pastor came by and made Mama feel so much better with his presence and prayers. He lit a fire under her faith with his gentle words and she felt much better, at least mentally and spiritually. Physically she was still in a lot of pain.
Finally the crew arrived to take her to Macon. I had been asking all afternoon if I would be allowed to ride with her. I had only heard from one source that I would be able to, so I had been a bit nervous about letting my only means of transportation go. When the male and female ambulance EMT’s arrived, I asked once again. I was told it would be okay. (insert huge sigh of relief here) They moved Mama to a stretcher which caused her to tense up and pinch her mouth to keep from crying out. We went down hallways and through doors with special admission only and around to the back of the hospital. The man led me to the ambulance, and they loaded Mama in the back. The woman sat in the back with her. When I thought we were about to leave, the man said he’d be right back, and he went back in the hospital. I sat there, listening to the movement of the EMT in the back as she hooked up the necessary equipment. I heard Mama’s muffled voice. I couldn’t really see what was going on through the opening, so I chose to trust that Mama was okay. Anything else would have made me crazy.
Finally, the EMT came out with a Styrofoam cup. He placed it in his cupholder and cranked up. The radio station blared music from a classic rock station. Oh. My. Word. When I say “blared,” I am not exaggerating. If I weren’t already so far over my stress threshold, that would have sent me there in one drum beat. LOUD. He said, “I just wanted a cup of coffee before we leave.” Umm. Okay? I mean, I guess he’s allowed. I don’t want to tell him he can’t have a cup of coffee, but I hope you will understand that this whole thing had us wishing for a sense of urgency on EVERYONE’s part.
We left the hospital, heading west on Watson to pick up 247. An interesting choice of route. (I don’t know why, I guess because I have my Daddy’s sense of direction–a good one thankfully–but I find myself constantly calculating the best route or re-routing in my head.) When he turned on 247 and passed the base, I decided to try for conversation. I can’t help it, it’s what I do. (That, I got from my Mama.)
Somehow the subject of coffee came up. I asked him if he’d ever been to our favorite coffeehouse.
“Um yeah, once,” he said. “I don’t like all that fancy coffee. I just like it simple.”
Okay. Strike two.
Please forgive me, but I had already cut him some slack when we had to wait for them to arrive to begin with, and then again when he went back in for coffee. But then he blares music that there was NO WAY my Mama was enjoying, and he slams my favorite coffeehouse that specializes in sharing light in the world?
We talked a little about his recipe for chicken salad, his family, I think, and the fact that he also works at a firehouse part-time. This I learned when he rolled down the window and talked/hollered with the guy in the firetruck next to us at the light. Um, no I’m not kidding.
He did swing me back in his favor just a little when he explained his choice of route without me asking. “We’re going to take Broadway in. The interstate bumps too much and will be more uncomfortable for her.”
Okay. We’ll take it.
When we got to the hospital, I saw Mama’s face. She was in pain and holding it in. We parked in what I think must have been UNDER the hospital, barely eking out a place for the ambulance. It was packed on that Friday around six in the evening. They wheeled Mama around the other ambulances, exhaust blowing from the still running engines, and all I could think was, “How sanitary is this?” But I guess, at that point, it doesn’t really matter, does it?
We wound through the patients in the hallway of the emergency room. Bless all those poor sick souls. They all looked miserable. Yet several gazed upon us with sympathy in their eyes. We went through more secret special doors and headed up to the fourth floor. A room with a couch (oh thank you Lord!). Mama had to be moved once more from the stretcher to the bed. The two EMT’s were more gentle this time. Mama couldn’t help it. She moaned a little. The female EMT stepped back to the door, as the man paused. He looked at Mama. “I hope you feel better soon, Mrs. Joyner.” He nodded, looked over at me, and headed out the door.
The whole thing was very surreal. Mama was literally slipped in through the back door. She didn’t get admission papers taken care of until much later. As we sat wondering if anyone even knew she was in the room, we wondered where the bathroom was. And we eventually decided, as we laughed nervously, that this must be one of the special rooms without one. (We did see it later–it was behind the door to the hallway that had been open the whole time.)
All of this was before they moved her to the CVICU around 10 that night–a room that would be her home for the next two weeks (after which they moved her to the STICU). It was before the doctor came in, complaining that she had been calling the Warner Robins hospital all day long wanting to know when Mama would arrive. Before we comprehended the sense of urgency that Mama’s condition caused amongst the hospital staff. It was before the doctor said that she didn’t have the really bad life-threatening condition (just a highly contagious one), an opinion that was reversed just twenty-four hours later, followed quickly by the first of three emergency surgeries. This was before all that. A day that began with me feeding my children breakfast and heading out the door ended with me sitting in an ICU waiting area, waiting to hear if Mama was okay and to ask why the rush to move her to ICU.
And when I’ve thought back on that day today, all day long the thing that pops into my head immediately and stays there is that cup of coffee sitting in the cupholder.
It was such a simple, mundane thing for him to do. Get a cup of coffee before he hits the road again. Just as a businessperson might grab one before tackling the next report. Or a student might grab an espresso before beginning work on a ten-page paper. We all do it, right? Take a moment before the next thing.
Only in this case, the next thing was my Mama. The situation and she herself were at the top of my priority list. In those moments I couldn’t care less if he were as thirsty as a man crossing the desert. Getting my Mama well was all I had on my mind.
It’s a wonder all I did was think ugly things. I’m surprised I didn’t say them. But then again, that was before Mama died, and I still had a little bit of a filter. He wouldn’t be so lucky these days, I’m afraid.
As I rode in the car home from a birthday party this afternoon, I thought about how many times I “stop for a cup of coffee,” not appreciating the situation those around me might be in. I stand daydreaming in the line at the grocery store, not aware that the woman behind me might be in a rush because she’s been at work all day and has a sick child at home. Or that the cashier might just need to hear a kind word from somebody because she had her heart broken the night before. So many times each day, I just keep on going to the next thing.
For me that cup of coffee stands for more than a thirst or even a caffeine addiction. It represents the importance of being aware of what’s going on around me and shifting my priorities as needed. If he had taken the time to turn off the radio or ask if the station was okay or just turned it down, what a difference that would have made in my attitude. As it was, I felt like Mama was “just another body” to carry up the road to him. One more checkmark on the list until he could get off and go home later that night. And no one, not on my watch, was allowed to treat my Mama any way other than the special person she was. Especially in the hospital. She was so sick, the most vulnerable I’ve ever seen her in my whole life. To treat her as someone who could wait on a cup of coffee or not even have a choice about the music or volume…..that broke my heart.
And maybe he got it. I saw something shift in him as he left us in that room that evening. Maybe he finally saw her as a woman, a person, a Mama. And maybe, just maybe, he realized that no one’s life is worth putting on the back burner…..not even for a cup of coffee.
A good lesson for us all to remember, I think. Especially me.
Dear God, please don’t let me get so bogged down in my own needs and wants and grief that I don’t even see that there are those around me hurting and needing to be loved and respected and heard. Amen.