“How’s everything going?”
“Oh, crazy-busy, as usual!” with an exasperated sigh.
“Oh, yeah.” (Eyes rolling.) “Me, too. Crazy busy! Well, try not to work too hard.”
“Yeah. You too.”
This summarizes so many of the brief exchanges I have with the people I see during the day. Work friends, mostly. People I like. Some of them I love. But we’re all busy. Of course. And until resources are unlimited – or maybe not even then – we’ll all be “crazy busy”, and reminding each other of it every chance we get.
It would be interesting if one of us would respond, “Everything is going very smoothly, actually. My work is fulfilling, and my team is happy. We go home at a reasonable hour and get a good night’s sleep. Everything is going at a reasonable pace and I have a very balanced life.”
Our first reaction would probably be envy. Accompanied by the thought, “Clearly you’re not working hard enough.”
It all seems so important. And so urgent. Well….at least it’s urgent.
Last week, I came off of a “crazy-busy” period at work – an acquisition, preparation for a Board meeting, the start-up of a new system – when I stole away for a few days to visit a sick friend.
Wait, that description won’t do. She’s not just a “sick friend”. She’s a sick, friend.
First of all, she’s someone who’s been my friend for a good 30 years. Since college. We plugged through the 80s in a gang of friends who has stayed in close touch all these years. The kind of friend who’s seen all your stages and moods and hairdo’s. And still loves you anyway. That kind of friend.
And when I say “sick”, I mean sick. Like….in the world-renowned hospital where she’s now been for 7 weeks, the chief doc described her to a gaggle of med students as “the sickest patient in this hospital” sick. Maybe it was the rare combination of four life support machines she was hooked up to. “Take a look,” the sage doc said to his students. “You may never see this setup again.”
And that set-up worked.
It got her from a bi-lateral lung transplant (her lungs were failing as a result of a rare autoimmune disease she’s been fighting for almost 20 years), past a post-op pair of strokes, and back to independent breathing and even walking a lap around the hospital ward.
She’s weak, though. Her muscles have atrophied and she’s still being fed through tube in her stomach. Now the biggest thing may be that she’s lost her stamina. And she’s working hard to get it back so she can get the hell home.
She’s working hard.
Every minute is a battle. Mentally and physically.
I yanked myself out of my work life so I could offer some comfort and maybe some relief to my friend and her family. I left what I thought was a crazy-busy period, and I got my definition of “busy” all cleared up.
As I sat in her room, trying to assess what she needed and offering feeble comforts like adjusting pillows or putting her hair in a fresh ponytail, I was spellbound by her. Realizing that every hour is a battle. And I was arriving at about the 1200th hour of hospitalization. Nurses came and went constantly – changing her IV, picking at in-grown stitches, tearing dressings off her delicate skin, taking her blood pressure, checking her circulation, listening to her new lungs, unclogging her feeding tube…
She would glance at the TV and make a dry comment about the presidential candidates or Muhammad Ali’s funeral. Then in the next breath who would say, “I need my anti-nausea medication. Could you call the nurse?” and I would be reminded that we weren’t just sitting there together watching TV. She was at work. She was crazy-busy.
While I was there, her husband was able to get in some time at the office. His employer is one of the smart ones. The ones that know a “keeper” when they see one. The ones that think of this “employee” thing as a long-term arrangement that’s stronger when it weathers bumps in the road with patience – and even generosity. The ones that know dedication goes both ways. And that loyalty begets loyalty. And so he wants to work when he can. When he has help. I can help.
I can be by her side. Letting her rest, and helping her up. Keeping her jacket close as we travel from the occupational therapy session to the physical therapy session. Following her with the wheelchair as she sets a new “personal best” record for walking distance in the hallway.
I’m a mother to four kids. When they were sick or injured, I would defer to doctors and nurses initially, but when we were on our own, I would assume a position of confidence and command the situation. I knew what to do, and I did it. Nothing freaked me out. Not vomit. Not poop. Not blood. (Except once when I caught a glimpse of a deep gash across my son’s face that caused me to go weak at the knees…)
But in this situation – one so serious and so complex, I felt in over my head. Searching for a thing to do. Re-arrange the pictures on the nightstand. Offer a swab of water to moisten her mouth. So I sat quietly, letting her rest and watching for signals. Like an eager intern who is willing to make copies or wipe up spilled coffee. Anything to just be here. And to witness this miracle taking place. This hard battle….being won. One obstacle at a time. Unrelenting yet all surmountable by my friend. My strong, resilient, exhausted, well-loved friend. She knows what to do. And she’s doing it.
My favorite moments were when her husband arrived to see her. He would appear – having fought through his own “crazy busy” day – like a knight in shining armor, and our girl would glow. For him. Knowing they’d both had a big day. And that they’d been together throughout. For one cannot wander far from this situation. Not unlike a mother leaving a newborn in good hands. You have no reason to worry…She’s safe. But you know where you really want to be, and even though work might provide a temporary distraction, the pull back to the bedside is strong.
And even if she’d had a bad day, she would gaze at him and smile. She’d tell him the truth about the day. Ups and downs. And he’d enter it into the detailed journal he was keeping in his head since forever.
Healing is a team sport. In the center is the heart and soul: the sick person upon which the team is built. Then there’s the right hand and the left hand: her husband and their twelve-year old son. Then there’s her Mom. And her vast medical team. World class. Completely committed to her. Then on and on, in spiraling circles reaching out beyond that rock-solid core, are her family and her friends and her co-workers who fortify and cheer and cry and pray. We’re clumsy and uncertain, but we’re earnest and in awe of her.
And now that I’ve visited the hot core of this star, I cannot get it out of my head. Even as I return to my own routine and my many responsibilities, I’m humbled by what I’ve seen. I think about things like breathing in and breathing out. And chewing food. And drinking water. I’m still with her in that quiet room with the beep-beep of the machines.
And her lying there.