When I first came to Orchard Creek to visit my friend Marcy, many months ago, I was a little overwhelmed. Did they have visiting hours? Did I have to be quiet and hush-hush? Could I bring in food gifts? I psyched myself up for this visit, bought a small African violet, and stopped in on my way home from work. My friend was lying on her bed, still and quiet, staring off into space. She said, “I’m sorry, I really don’t want to see anyone right now.” I put the flower on the window sill, said goodbye, and fled.
Were I to repeat this visit with what I know now, things would be somewhat different. There are no visiting hours, at least during the day. Patients welcome food (to supplement pistachio pudding and other usual gourmet delights served here). And some of the noisiest people around are the visitors, who seem to think everyone (including staff) is deaf and edging toward senility.
The other day my neighbor across the hall had a visit from her Pastor. Both of our doors were open, but I was busy reading, and it wasn’t until they were well into their conversation that his voice intruded on my concentration. The pastor was shouting, his big deep ministerial voice revved up to full sermon mode. Was he ever loud! Now my neighbor has a shattered ankle, but I have never noticed any signs of hearing loss, so perhaps the Pastor had her confused with someone else. But whatever his delivery concept, I was the recipient of liberal sprinklings of New Testament quotations and an extended monologue on dealing with a daughter whose values were not shared by her mother. Then they prayed, and then he left.
Now we Unitarians are a pretty tolerant bunch, but I felt intruded upon, and forced to know more of my neighbor’s personal tribulations than I ever wanted to know.
Secondly, you can bring food and flowers. I particularly enjoy chocolate and fresh fruit, small fruits like grapes and apricots that don’t drizzle juice down your arm or smell up the room when thrown half-eaten into the wastebasket. Books are good, too. And magazines and newspapers.
During these times at Orchard Creek—and also at the hospital—I have really enjoyed visits from friends. It’s what keeps me connected to the Outside World. Yesterday I was visited by a woman I admire, a retired Unitarian minister who lives in this neighborhood and just discovered I was at Orchard Creek. The great thing about her visit is that I haven’t seen Nancy in a long time, and it was years since we had the time to sit and talk, and discuss some important issues in our lives.
Rebecca came next—bringing REAL coffee brewed in a coffee press, and all the fixings, including coffee mugs and cloth napkins and homemade banana bread. We had a great Girl Talk, something we haven’t found time to do much of during the mayhem of each of our lives in the past several months.
Today Pam came—she’s a wonderful musician and we always met at music festivals and sat in jam sessions. I loved looking over her shoulder as she played hammered dulcimer—her playing was so fresh and original, and she could make even the most dull tune sound new and joyous. But again, we never had time to talk and explore our common places in life. This evening we did just that—and it was a great gift Pam brought me—laughing together for two delighted hours!
I usually have a couple of visitors every day—some regular and cherished ones, and some surprises, like Pam. The joy of all of this is the companionship, of course—the time spent in the luxury of one-on-one conversation and caring. I am reminded of how poor my life has been because I have scheduled too little time for human relations and building friendships which are one of the great enrichments of life of life.
But I must return to Marcy’s story as well: remember when she said, “I don’t want to see anyone right now?” Patients have rights too, and one of them should be to limit or refuse company. Marcy knew this, as should everyone who visits a patient. The patient’s first job is healing oneself— and the visitor must understand this.
Management Update: Quick Draw (Operating Surgeon) was pleased at the surgical progress last Wednesday. However, there are some anomalies in the lab tests today which seem to indicate that my infection is kicking up. Dr. Spiers has ordered some more tests and swabs and an increase in the antibiotic, moving the treatments to daily infusions rather than every other day. I will see her on Wednesday, so I’ll know more then and keep you posted.