Friday, November 9, 2012

Holding Hands {What I'm Holding}

Someone held my left hand so gently, rubbing the back with her thumb. The hand's mate stroked my arm, as I might do for a young child upset by illness. Whose hand was it? Female, certainly, too soft and small to be my gardener husband's; skin too smooth with youth to be my mother's. Had my baby sister come? But who was minding the boys, and why wouldn't my eyes open? The kindness of the touch wrote love on my arm.

Gradually I began to see a bright blur that made me squint. My head turned toward the other hand--Allen?--rubbing my right shoulder. The face came into focus. Oh! The doctor! When did he return, and what was he saying? He repeated it until I could understand. Yes, yes, I could hear him. But where did Fernando Ortega go, and why were my earbuds ringing so high and steadily instead? My phone must have been acting up. The doctor persisted with his questions, Did I have tunnel vision? (Oh, is that what this is?) OK, sure, I nodded.

Then I remembered having said I was lightheaded, and my beloved's face moved into view. Oh, good, he's here. Someone had reclined the chair which held me, but I still felt lightheaded and queasy. I started to ask him if I had fainted, but even in my disorientation it occurred to me that perhaps I should assume that I had, that perhaps that was the most likely explanation for these strange goings-on and the level of concern around me. Instead, I asked, "So... how long was I out?"

"Not long," he replied.

The kind hand was gone from my arm, and a blood pressure cuff replaced it, squeezing hard before the click, click, click, and slow hiss as it released air. The room held its breath a moment before the doctor said, "Take it again." The nurse replied in the affirmative from my left side. It was her hand, then? Astonishment and gratitude rose up together; she had been all stern, quiet business before I fainted, yet when I was in trouble she treated me like a sister, a friend. First impressions don't always tell the truth, it seems.

On the second reading, the doctor asked if I thought I could drink some coffee or tea. My pulse was only 41, he said, and my blood pressure was still 80/40, even with consciousness regained. We could not continue with the tumor removal like that. Yes, I could drink some coffee. (This office had good coffee, but I didn't trust their tea.) Allen was dispatched to fetch me caffeine and alarm update my parents, who waited in the lobby.

The doctor left with him, leaving the nurse with me. I apologized for causing a fuss and thanked her for taking care of me. She refreshed the cold cloth on my forehead and asked me more questions to type into my chart before returning to my left side to take my hand again. I told her that I used to grow lightheaded routinely in health and science classes when teachers told gory stories, but that life with chronic illness, lots of needles, and multiple surgeries had desensitized me to the point that this really surprised me. She began to share a little of her own health story when Allen returned.

They helped me sit up a little, slowly, so I could sip my drink. The doctor popped his head back in, seemed pleased to see me drinking, and asked if the coffee was the way I liked it. Nodding and patting Allen's hand, I just said, "He knows," and he does. It's nice to be married a man who knows how I like my coffee, especially since he's the only reason I bothered learning to drink it.

After a few sips, the doctor returned to repeat my blood pressure, and it had normalized. "Your color's back," the nurse said. A few more sips, and they repeated the readings again to make sure I was stable.

"Are you sure you want to do this today?" the doctor asked. "If this has made you too anxious, we can send you home and reschedule at another time."

"I want to get it over with, please."

"OK, then. If you're sure you're all right."

(They hadn't even started cutting yet. We had only proceeded as far as the local anesthetic and sensitivity test when the world went black.)

The rest of the procedure went smoothly. Microscopic inspection confirmed the doctor had removed all the cancerous cells on the first try. Recovery will take some time, and I'm on a shorter-than-usual activities leash for eleven days, until the stitches come out. Today only my head hurts instead of my whole self.

The pieces are still coming together from the scary start yesterday morning. The complexity of our bodies amazes me. Despite my perception, my eyes never completely closed, Allen said. During what seemed merely a long blink to me, noise and hasty activity had erupted around me. Allen said I was unconscious less than a minute, but I wasn't immediately certain I had fainted at all.

Later I remembered the verses about God holding our hands, but only when I looked them up just now did I realize I had read one of them yesterday morning before the adventure started:
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there Your hand will guide me,
Your right hand will hold me fast. (Psalm 139:9-10).
The verse of Psalm which had stuck with me at the time was a different one, about God having scripted the day before I even was:
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them (Psalm 139:16).
How glad I am that He wrote into the script the loving hand of a stranger to remind me of His. Taking a hand is such a simple action, but in that moment when all senses but touch had deserted me, when I wasn't even certain what was wrong, one nurse's simple kindness reassured me that everything would be all right.


As a way to reflect on the week, my friend Amy has begun a Friday series of blog posts called "What I'm Holding."  At the risk of oversharing, this story of being held seemed a good place to begin to keep company with her in this way.

What else I'm holding~
An ice pack on my aching head
Extra prescriptions to relieve pain and prevent infection
A few hairs fewer for God to number
A dear husband at home to take care of me
Leftovers in the refrigerator from the supper my mom prepared
Comfort in the knowledge of gracious prayers lifted on my behalf
Mixed emotions about the results of the many elections just held
Relief that the surgery is behind me
A full laundry hamper that is not my responsibility today
A half-finished crocheted hat to cover the stitches when I feel like going out again
A cleared schedule for a week to rest and mend
Incipient holiday gift planning
Stack of magazines to peruse
A long Netflix queue and temporary control of the remote
Red pears and Cortland apples
Smiles at Ebony barking at dream squirrels while he naps next to me
The lingering, comforting awareness that God is the one who holds my hand, and gratitude that sometimes He sends someone else to remind me.

sharing with Teagirl in a Coffee World today

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