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“Here, I brought this for you to wear. It’s cozy and warm—One of our volunteers made it for our patients. They’re always doing such nice things for us,” said Christina, the CNA assigned to me for the night. Then, she handed me a white flannel gown with prints of small red cardinals perched upon bare branches.

Because last Friday night’s storm had knocked out the electrical power in my home, its restoration being uncertain, I obtained a respite bed at Evelyn’s House, the BJC freestanding hospice facility where I availed myself of their oxygen and nebulizer treatments for my lungs. I hoped to make my transition from this facility and welcomed the experience of its services. I was not disappointed.

Seasoned and skilled staff, still masked for protection from Covid, welcomed me and promptly came to my assistance when needed. Their responses to my questions orientate me to the facility and my private guest room with its tasteful framed prints affording colors of the outdoors. A large window and a glass-paneled door looked out upon the private patio with an iron table and chairs, a bird-feeder, a lush meadow with four-year old-trees, the age of this facility. Two fauns spent much of Saturday afternoon with me.

Covid restrictions kept me in my room where I continued my exercises, read 1776, the historical novel by David McCullough, and prayed for those around me. Not a sound from anywhere did I hear, those twenty-four hours I was there.

And during the night, the cardinal-print nightgown contoured my body with cushiony warmth. I’m grateful for my stay at Evelyn’s House, there being only sixteen guest rooms for the use of the entire BJC system. 

“Hi, Liz, I’m here! Got a surprise for you!” the voice called from the front door. It was Alice, my hospice nurse. “Stay where you are. I just couldn’t resist!” she added, her speech lilting like a Scotch folk singer at a fair. My curiosity mounted as I heard a second pair of footsteps following hers moving through my bungalow. I finished my nebulizer treatment, then remained seated upon the kitchen stool, my eyes toward the window.

“Thought you’d enjoy these—Just clipped them this morning—From my Rose of Sharon tree, by the garage.” I smiled and turned around as she placed a plastic cup with four creamy pink blossoms and a cluster of splitting buds on the dining room table, the setting for my weekly check-ups. “And Sam’s with me, another student nurse who’ll graduate soon. You’re so good about letting our students evaluate you, especially with Covid. This batch hasn’t had much experience with patients—only with the Life/Form manikins.”

Both Alice and Sam, the student nurse, in masks and uniform blues, received my thanks as I studied the arrangement and prepared for the usual questions on my overall functioning. Again, not much new to report—Still plateaued upon my present weakness, shortness of breath, and exhaustion, until the next drop of my symptoms whenever that occurs; such has been my experience since the November 2019 hospice sign-up.

Besides Alice’s occasional gifts of flowers and colored leaves, I’ve also received her lightness of manner, sometimes verging upon hilarity that colors my trust in her expertise. When my time comes, I know I’ll be in skillful hands, related to her warm heart that knows deep things.

“Hi, Liz! It’s Alice. Come to check on you again—Finish your nebulizer first, though.” Her voice fills my home with morning’s brightness as she settles around my dining room table, its center resplendent with red-fringed yellow tulips. Tapered fingers unzip her case and whip out her computer, notepad, and pen as I finish my breathing treatment and adjust the nasal prongs of my oxygen.

“Good to see you again, Alice,” I say, supporting my steps with my cane and sitting opposite her. On the table was therapy putty for my hands lest my terminal illness further weaken them, and a glass of water to loosen mucus from another lung disease, prior to coughing it up in an emesis basin. “Not much new to report. My weakness, shortness of breath, and speech worsen, but imperceptibly so. Certainly, I’m not where I was one month ago, but I still get by with my helpers—Even take short walks in the sun. Still keep up my deep breathing and stretching exercises.”

Her dark eyes warm me, despite the put-off of her black mask as she takes my vital signs: all normal—they always are.

“Seems like I’m really into my old age. I never dreamed it would look like this. Often atop my bed, I pray, stillness enfolding my body and psyche; at others, grief for my intransigent stuff seeping into global darkness like raw sewerage. Here is where the mantra, ”Mercy!” comes in, cried with vehemence.” She leans toward me and listens, not wanting to miss a word. 

“Yet, each day, there’s something new to learn. Yesterday’s was critical: stop seeking answers where there are none, a waste of vital energy.” She nods and with her eyes hugs me before leaving.

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