Sunday, April 17, 2005

Reading Between The Floors

There are technically seven floors in the hospital where Amy has become something of a fixture. One floor is not readily accessible to the public; it's a mezzanine which only shows up if you take the wrong elevator or the stairs. Several floors cater to patients with specific needs: transplant patients...oncology patients...psych patients. Amy is almost always housed on the 5th floor which specializes in surgical recovery because the doctor who admits her is a surgeon and many of the nurses on that floor are familiar with Amy.

I have ridden that elevator more times than I want to all hours. I've found myself with all sorts of people in the elevator. Rich people, poor people, occasionally a few doctors or staff members, but most of the time the occupants are family members of patients.

Many times there are no pleasantries exchanged beyond "What floor?" as one of us pushes buttons for the rest, but quite often there is a wordless sharing of emotion.

This morning I was at the hospital early and an older woman joined me on the elevator. She was carrying several bags and I instantly knew the drill...two bags full of stuff for her loved bag full of stuff for her. I knew what was inside - things to keep her occupied as she waited at a bedside.

Things to keep her mind from going places she didn't wish to go.

Each bag bore the name of some fancy store or high dollar product. All were seemingly brand new.

I was carrying the tattered leather computer bag I haul everywhere stuffed with magazines, books, crumpled crossword puzzles, my PDA, phone and snacks. In my hands I held coffee and the Sunday paper.

The woman looked at me, leaned back against the elevator wall and sighed.

I smiled and nodded. She got off the elevator a couple of floors before me - Oncology.

This afternoon, as I was leaving, the elevator doors opened on the first floor and there she was again. She still looked tired and worried. I understood but said nothing. I held the elevator door open for her as I got out. She smiled and nodded...then she sighed once more.

No more had to be said.

Suffering and elevators are great equalizers.