Christmas 1990 on Nursing Unit H70

    Olga S. Hardman

For 4 days I have listened as "Alvin and the Chipmunks" with electronic precision enumerate who is getting what for Christmas. Punctuating the monotonous tune comes a delighted shriek of joy or a mournful wail of anguish as Richie's life is revealed to me through the hospital room door. Today I shall wheel myself out into the hospital corridor and see what I have only heard since Tuesday, the day of my third hip operation.

Richie sits in a wheel chair in the hall beside the Christmas tree. On a cart, lovingly placed beside him by caring nurses, sits a plastic red and blue tape player and a doll. The doll wears a pink dress and on her head is perched a large Mexican sombrero.

As the chipmunks sing about the partridge in a pear tree, the nurses at the station engage in a "sing along with Rich." Rich conducts from his wheel chair with his only functional arm. Warm mellow contraltos and sopranos join the synthetic chorus of Alvin and the chipmunks. Every face on the unit erupts with joy and Richie's explodes with laughter. 

Cathy, the aide who ran downstairs to get me a Sunday paper this morning, plants a big kiss on top of Richie's head. He shivers all over, looks up at her and says, "I wuv you Caffy."

While the "little drummer boy" maintains his steady rum-pum-pum, Richie asks Vickie, the unit secretary, to approve his choice of purple for the girl's hair in his coloring book. Vickie is one of Richie's most supportive and encouraging cheer leaders and suggests yellow curls on his next picture.

Richie is a cerebral palsy victim who has been here for 4 months and will be here another 6 weeks for I-V antibiotic therapy. When his infection is all gone, the orthopedic surgeons will put in a total hip replacement. Richie will probably celebrate his next birthday on Nursing Unit H70.  He will be 29 on August 24th.  Richie makes my third hip replacement seem insignificant.

It often seems that life is like a piece of music, periodically transposed from major to minor keys and back again. It is Christmas Eve, 1990, my 3d hip replacement surgery has been successfully completed, and I feel like I am sitting on a strong major chord. 

I am encouraged for the human race as I observe the courage, endurance, and compassion which has been exhibited to me this past week. Every day I have been forced to consider the significance of coincidence. Bernie Siegel says that "coincidence is God's way of preserving his anonymity."

Wasn't it Victor Frankl who said "life without meaning is unendurable?" I concur wholeheartedly. I believe there is a personal and specific meaning to everything that happens in one's life.... that often painful events must be endured before we can know that meaning. 

There is a Christian saying that seems to apply here: "God fits the cross to the shoulder." It does seem that we are asked to endure that which builds and strengthens the virtues of which we are most in need. Obviously I am in need of more patience and humility.

It is a relatively quiet evening.  This is the first time I've had opportunity to engage in the kind of soul-searching I remember engaging in as a child. I remember so well looking into the large vanity mirror in my bedroom and saying repeatedly, "I'm me - I'm me.... " as if the repetition of the words would somehow make it all clear - this great mystery of being. The vision in the mirror 61 years ago was of a 9-year old with dark-brown hair cut straight around the sides with bangs hanging over the forehead and dark-brown eyes. Although the vision in the mirror today is much different, the great mystery remains.

It's Christmas morning! Richie and the chipmunks are going great guns outside my door. I've bathed and am dressed and ready for Mark and Jim to pick me up for my return trip to Clarksburg.  I have just uttered my umpteenth prayer of thanksgiving for the gift of healing.

© 1990 Olga S. Hardman