There has never been a doubt that Lelia and I were destined to be together in Room 505 in the Transitional Care Unit of St. Vincent's Charity Hospital. Somehow I knew from the beginning that this patient and I were meant to share the agonies and joys of life together just as we shared a room together, if only for a brief time.
Our beds were close enough so that we could join hands at night and pray together. We shared the stories of our lives and rejoiced, as well as commisserated with each other, over our blessings and our griefs.
I was recovering from my fourth hip replacement surgery and Lelia was recovering from heart surgery. Since I was hospitalized 250 miles from my home in WV and Lelia was in her home town, I got to enjoy the visits of Lelia's family members. (Most of the visits from my family came via long-distance telephone.) I especially enjoyed her great-grandson, Kendall, who was 5 years old. Lelia's husband, Jim, often brought Kendall to visit his great-grandmother. In order to give Lelia some private time with her husband, I often took Kendall down to the nurses station, where M&M's with and without peanuts were on sale for some children's charity. It was on these private little treks with Kendall that I got to know what a bright, adorable little boy he was.
Lelia's surgery had been a long and difficult one. During the procedure she suffered a stroke which affected her optic nerve and rendered her blind. Since she had been told that her blindness was probably temporary, she spent each day hoping that that was the day when her sight would return. And each night we joined hands and prayed together that such would soon be the case.
On Thursday, when the neurologist came in to see Lelia, I was in physical therapy and hence did not hear him say that her condition was probably permanent. When I returned to our room and learned the reason for Lelia's grief, I hobbled over to her bed and sat on the edge beside her. There we embraced each other and cried together for many long, grief-filled moments.
Lelia was greatly concerned that Kendall would be devastated by the news that his great-grandmother was blind. During his next visit, when she had decided that she could not put off telling him any longer, she called him over to her bedside and said, "Kendall, you know that grandmother can't see very well." His reply was, "Do you mean you are blind?" She said, "Well I can't see very well." To which Kendall replied, "Don't worry, I'll talk to my father about it." Since Kendall has a real father, a step-father, and a great-grandfather, Lelia didn't know to whom he was referring. So she said, "Whom do you mean, Kendall, your father?" Kendall replied, "Don't you know, Grandmother, I mean God."
Lest you think that our time in 505 was spent only in grief and misery, let me assure you that Lelia and I shared many funny stories and told each other many jokes. We both have a keen sense of humor and saw many funny things in each day's happenings. For example, Lelia and I were unable to use the same potty in the bathroon we shared. I am 5'8" and required an elevated commode seat because of my recent hip surgery. Because Lelia is only 4'11", she simply could not sit on such a high commode without her legs dangling. Hence each trip to the bathroom became an event - a ritual, rather like the changing of the guard. Unfortunately, one night I did not notice that the elevated seat had not been replaced after Lelia's last trip to the bathroon. I literally, fell into the potty, which could have been a major catastrophe, but, since no damage was done, it became for us something else to laugh about.
Who would have guessed that I am a white woman from West Virginia, whose
ancestry is from Northern France near the Belgium border and Lelia is a
black woman from Cleveland, whose ancestry is from the Pygmy nation in
equatorial Africa? Lelia and I were so aware of the things we have in common
as members of the human race that we simply never noticed the difference
in the color of our skin nor our diverse ancestry. Love, indeed, is color-blind.
© 1997 Olga S. Hardman