Saturday, July 08, 2006

When the black haired nurse wants to know how close a friend you are.

They've raised the parking fees at the hospital again.

I know this because I'm at the stage of life where I go to the hospital a lot. In the past year, I've been to see my friend Margaret, my grandmother and theChalicerelative when she had knee surgery. (To ministers, this probably doesn't sound like much in the way of hospital visits. For a layperson, it feels like a lot, particularly since each person got multiple visits.) In less than two months, Honorary-sister-in-law-Tina will have her baby.

So today when the Chalicerelative called to say that her best friend had been in a car accident and was in the hospital, I knew the drill.

I should mention that I do not have a friendly family. I have an angry, snarky family with lots of mental illness and crime. We do not have "family friends." Or at least not many of them. Linguist Friend has become one. Mary-who-Dances is one. The ChaliceRelative's best friend Nancy Lee is one. That's really it.

So when Nancy Lee was in the hospital, I knew what to do.

I went. I went and I saw the raised parking rates with some disgust and I parked and I went to the ER first, and then the ICU, where I was told it was time for the change in shifts, so I went to the cafeteria and waited for an hour and studied LSAT, then I came back up and got in to see Nancy Lee.

The black-haired nurse followed me in and introduced herself. I introduced myself.

She asked who I was in relation to Nancy Lee more directly.

"I'm a friend."

"How close a friend?" She wanted to know.

"Like, on a scale of one to ten?" I asked.

She explained that when people who are in the ICU have a whole bunch of visitors who aren't close friends, they tend to find that agitating. I didn't see any point in mentioning that Nancy Lee was, in fact, asleep. And if I sat next to her and quietly watched her breathe for half an hour or so, she would probably never even know to say nothing of finding it agitating.

I didn't know what to say. How do you say "there are about five people on the planet whom my father can stand and she's one of them" or "I would have moved my wedding reception if I had realized in time that the hall was inaccessible for her" or "One time she was in the hospital and I made her a 'bluebird of happiness' where I took a stuffed animal bluebird and drew an issue of 'Presbyterian Survey' on a folded file card with headlines she would love to see and sewed the magazine to the bird's wings so it appeared to read it" or "She took me to lunch every year for my birthday when I was a kid" or "She has consistently taken my side against the ChaliceRelative at times when that was very, very necessary."

(Actually "She threw my wedding shower" would likely have been sufficient, but I didn't think of anything as succinct as that then.)

Nancy is one of nature's sweetest, most benign creatures, and I realized that I hadn't a clue how many lives she had touched as much as she had touched mine. Maybe I wasn't very high on the list. Maybe I was. I could make a case for either in my head.

So I just said "Can I leave a note?" and the nurse said yes and I pulled out a business card, wrote on it that I loved her and that I'd come by to see her and that next time I would claim to be her minister so I could stay longer. And I folded the card and drew a cartoon of myself waving "hello" on the blank space, setting it on her bedside table like a place card.

And I went out to the car.

On the way out, I noticed the parking garage was offering a deal. A ten visit parking pass for twenty bucks.

I went ahead and bought one.

PUBLIC SERVICE MESSAGE: For goodness sake, get an advance medical directive.



PeaceBang said...

Just in case they ask you for clergy identification, you might want to say you're a close friend and a deacon or something.
Carry a Bible and you're in like Flynn.
Sorry to hear about Nancy. I hope she heals up.

Anonymous said...

Great post -- the kind of thing that newspapers or magazines should run as their "last word" columns. I'm currently dealing with the reverse process, wherein my family, which used to have loads of family friends, is now shedding them like an angry bird does feathers. And without growing new ones.