When I finally got to my hospital room at 3:00 a.m. last Thursday morning, I was acutely aware that there was someone else already in the room on the other side of the curtain. And I was a little embarrassed by how loud we were all being, completely disregarding any need she may have had to get a good night’s sleep. Ah … life in a hospital!
The next morning (i.e. a few hours later!) we introduced ourselves. Her name was Cora, she was 91 years old, and she’d apparently been admitted only a little while before me with the same condition: pulmonary embolism. She wasn’t a big talker, and I was often busy with my laptop (frequently with my ear buds in) so it’s not like we chatted up a storm. But there was an immediate connection and we instantly hit it off.
We commiserated with each other over how frequently we had to have blood drawn. “Uh oh, Cora, here come the vampires again! I thought they were only supposed to come out at night? Do you think we have any blood left to give them?” And she’d just cackle, agree, and cheer me on.
All the phone calls I got were on my cell phone; Cora, not having a cell phone, relied on her room phone to make and receive calls. Well, our phone lines got crossed so every call she got initially rang on my phone first. I’d have to tell them the correct number to call and they’d call back. She got a LOT of calls so I started calling her Miss Popular. My phone would ring and I’d say, “Gee, I wonder who THAT could be for??” And she’d just cackle away. (Of course, the one call I DID get through the hospital system went to her phone and she got great pleasure in turning the tables on me!)
Every morning, after the “vampires” had left, she’d be the first to ask if I was doing OK. We’d compare notes about how we slept, anticipate what we might enjoy for breakfast, and wonder aloud how long it might take for the tech nurse to bring us water to wash up. I got to meet her two sons and several other visitors (including visiting nuns who brought her daily Eucharist — I’d follow along with the liturgy even though I didn’t partake). At one point she asked me what I did for a living. When I told her she said, “Hm … well you sound real smart” (which led me to replay the various conversations I’d had with family and friends that might have come across as particularly “smart” to an outside observer!).
She was a perfect roommate who made the time there much more tolerable and even enjoyable. Having heard some of the other more obnoxious patients on the hall, I was very grateful for Cora! But the most interesting thing about this is that our whole relationship developed sight unseen; we could only HEAR, not see, each other through the curtain that separated us.
So, when the physical therapist decided to have her walk around a bit to see if she was ready to be discharged, I got a little excited. I was finally going to see my P.E. Buddy (as the nurses called us). It was a little like those reality TV shows where someone has gone through a big makeover of some kind (weight, hair, clothes) and there’s the BIG REVEAL. I sat up expectantly in my bed and when she came around the curtain I exclaimed, “There she is! There’s my girl!” And she smiled shyly at me and cackled some more.
Turns out she doesn’t live far from me … but I’ll probably never see her again. They say that some people come into your life for a reason, others a season, and still others a lifetime. I think for Cora and me it was the first: a reason. We were there to make a potentially unpleasant, stressful, scary five days less so for each other. I tried to do that for her; she definitely did that for me. Thanks, Cora!