"It'll only be for a few days," the doctor said. "We don't have the resources to repair the multiple fractures, so I'm sending you to United Hospital in St. Paul."
Hope Nelson lay rigid on the examining table. She had come to this doctor's office to find out why her foot was causing her so much pain after a fall on a patch of ice. She expected to be told that it was broken. That was what the X-ray showed, but now she was being asked to go to the hospital.
"How am I going to get to the hospital?" She couldn't possibly drive with her right foot unable to even fit into a shoe and the glaringly obvious blindness.
"We can arrange for a medical transport. You'll need to pack a bag with overnight things for the hospital. I can arrange for someone to help you if you would like." Hope could not pack easily with her foot unable to hold weight and she didn't have a roommate who could help her. Her room mate Stacey had dropped out of college after discovering she was going blind. She was undergoing training at a center for the blind that was almost five hours from the University of Minnesota in Bemidji. Hope nodded and was helped into a wheelchair.
An hour later Hope sat in a van that had been equipped with medical equipment. A woman sat next to her, holding an ice pack to her foot and checking her blood pressure and temperature every hour. As the miles rolled by, she thought about Stacey. Stacey had been hit by a drunk driver, the glass had broken and hit her in the face, completely destroying her eyes. Fortunately, she was not otherwise injured. She even attempted to come back to college. Hope had helped her by reading the assignments she had in Braille. Hope had never seen someone try so hard to succeed and do it with so little whining. No one, she knew, wanted to go blind, but Stacey had taken it in stride. She didn't scream and cry about how life was not fair, instead, she asked Hope to teach her skills so she could be as productive as possible. Hope would never forget the excitement Stacey had expressed when she showed her how to find her favorite foods in their refrigerator by touch. "You're the only person who lets me do stuff for myself," Stacey had said, "Other people don't help or they help too much."
Although Stacey and Hope tried, Stacey still needed more help. She needed to learn Braille and how to do everything as a blind person. She had packed up all of her belongings and gone to Minneapolis. With Hope in St. Paul, this would be the closest they'd been in a long time.
About two hours into the drive, the driver said the highway was blocked, so they would have to go a different way. With the pain in her foot at intolerable levels, Hope was completely disoriented. The pain grabbed her heart and made it difficult to breathe. The woman noticed and said that an IV with pain medication would need to be administered. She felt the car move to the right and heard the engine shut down. The silence in the car by interrupted only by the sound of passing cars.
"I'm going to be doing things to your hand. And soon the pain medication will make you feel very loopy. We're going to put you onto a stretcher," the woman said. Hope felt herself lifted from the seat and moved. The woman told her to lay down, and when she did, the woman lifted her foot. The pain of someone touching her foot made her cry out, but soon her foot was on a pillow.
"I had to elevate your foot to try to alleviate some of the swelling," the woman explained apologetically. "I'm going to use an alcohol swab on your hand so it's sterile before I put in the IV." Hope felt a cold wetness that left almost as soon as it had come. "Now you'll feel a little prick." The IV didn't hurt at all, and Hope rested hoping the pain medication would be take effect quickly. Soon the medicine spread. Her senses were dulled, it was as if sounds came from outside of a paper bag and she could not really feel anything anymore. She lost track of the passage of time until she felt the stretcher being lifted. She was placed on a gurnie and felt herself rolling. At first, she was cold. The day, when she left Bemidji, was the coldest they had had that year. She was conscious of someone laying a blanket over her. Soon the warmth enfolded her like a warm bath. She heard a door slide open and felt a warm blast of air. The overpowering smell of antiseptic, rubber and institutional food permeated her nose.
"I'll take you to the orthopedic floor and introduce you to your nurse, then I'll be gone," the woman said. An elevator door slid open. Hope felt the wheels change texture, then heard the door close again. The elevator beeped twice and the doors opened. The floor became more solid as they moved into the hall. Another person approached.
"Hi, Hope. My name is Melanie. I'm going to be your day nurse," she gently gripped Hope's hand. "I'll be helping you get settled. I'll take you to your room, then I'll try to describe the room and the layout of the ortho floor. Okay?" Hope nodded weakly. The gurnie rolled down the hall, then turned left. "Here we are. Just so you know, your room number is 385. We do have Braille signs on the door."
"How do you know all of the things I'm wondering?" Hope asked, her voice sounding faint. "You're so comfortable with my blindness!"
"I'm what's called a special care nurse. My job is to work with people that come into the hospital with other needs that don't affect their health. Normally, I don't actually work with the patient as their nurse, but they're short on staff up here, so I'll be with you for a little bit." Another person entered. "We're going to move you to the bed on the count of three." Hope felt herself lifted and then set down on a bed. "Are you doing okay?" Melanie asked.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Hope said.
"I'll show you how to work the controls and what's within arm reach of your bed.." Melanie took Hope's hand and began guiding her to feel the things she described. "This is the remote control that works the bed. This button sits you up. This one reclines you back. This elevates your feet which is recommended for you because it will help keep the swelling down. Do you have any questions about how that works?"
"Okay, here is your water pitcher. Here's a glass to pour it into if you need some water. Here's the remote for your tv and radio. I'll show it to you in a minute, but you don't look so well. Are you in more pain?"
"Okay, I'll get the doctor. It's time you met her anyway. I'll be right back." She heard Melanie leave the room and tried to sleep. She figured that if she slept, she would not be in so much pain. She didn't know how long she had slept when she heard two sets of footsteps coming toward her. "Hope," Melanie touched her shoulder, "this is Dr. McGuire. She'll be your doctor while you're here." Hope extended her hand in case the doctor wanted her to shake. The doctor gripped her hand with enough pressure to be obvious but not enough pressure to crush every bone in her hand.
"Hello, Hope. How are you feeling?"
"Very sore! And pretty weak. Everything seems faint."
"When did you last eat?"
"Breakfast at about nine-thirty."
"You're probably very hungry. I'd also like to up the dosage of your pain medication, but you need to eat before I can do that. You're probably feeling more faint because of the hunger and the pain medication."
"What are we going to do about my foot?"
"Well, you'll need surgery." Hope felt as if an atomic bomb had gone off in her stomach. Her face must have shown her concern, because Dr. McGuire took her hand. "It won't be that bad. I won't tell you that it's going to be fun, but we'll take really good care of you. Tomorrow, I'll insert an IV into your arm, give you a general anesthetic and in a few minutes, you'll be asleep. While you're asleep, I'll insert some pins into your foot to hold the bones together. When you wake up, Melanie will be with you. Some patients are disoriented when they wake up in recovery, so it will help if you're with someone you might recognize. You'll probably be in recovery for an hour or so, then be taken back up to the room."
"How sick will I feel? How much pain will I be in when I wake up?"
"You may feel a bit nauseous when you first wake up, but that should pass by the time you're back up here. As for pain, we do what's called an ankle block before I actually do the surgery but after you're asleep. We give you several injections of a local anesthetic so that when you wake up, your foot will be numb, after we're sure you've recovered fully from the general anesthetic, I'll have you back on pain medication. Any other questions?"
"I don't think so."
"Okay. Don't be worried about this surgery, it will go well. I'll see you tomorrow." She squeezed Hope's shoulder and her brisk footsteps faded into silence. But soon footsteps returned. These were much duller than Dr. McGuire's, and they crescendoed less quickly than her's had faded.
"I'm sorry for leaving and not telling you," Melanie said sheepishly. "I went to find a menu for dinner and a snack for you for now. I got a bowl of vegetable soup and some crackers, and I'll read you the menu. They want to know what you'd like for the next week." Hope thought she smelled food, but had rejected the idea, chalking it up to a hallucination similar to the mirage a thirsty man sees in the desert. "Do you remember how to sit the bed up?" Hope nodded and sat up. "Okay, I'm going to put a tray table over your legs. You won't feel it on your legs because it has legs so it supports itself." Hope ate eagerly, not caring if she looked like a pig. After she finished, she reclined to a laying position and selected her meals for the next week. She was surprised not to be asked about what she wanted the next day for breakfast. "That's because you can't eat or drink anything after midnight tomorrow."
Hope rested for the remainder of the afternoon until she had to be awakened for vitals. She idly wondered if the blood pressure cuff would give her a bruise. She asked Melanie. "Not likely, but it can happen. Usually in people with thin blood vessels and older people." She again heard footsteps entering the room, but this time, the sound of wheels accompanied them and she again smelled food.
"Dinner time," a man announced. "Here's your dinner." Hope sat up and she heard the clunk of the table being set in front of her and the metallic clang of the tray being set on it.
"Your milk is at one o'clock, there is silver ware at twelve. In the middle of the tray is your plate. At twelve o'clock on the plate is a cup of gravy. At three are your potatoes. At six is your pot roast and at nine is the green bean casserole. Your vanilla ice cream is at three in a bowl on your tray." Hope appreciated that Melanie had used the common way of explaining where food is to a blind person. By treating her tray and plate like a clock, Melanie had easily told her everything she needed to know. The hospital food wasn't the best thing, but she thought it was better than college food. She ate slowly, and when she was done she had to wait for one of the people who delivered food to remove her empty tray.
Later, as she prepared for bed and Melanie was finding the night nurse, Hope's phone rang. "Hello?"
"Hey, Hope! It's Stacey."
"How did you know I'm here?"
"Joanne called and told me." Joanne was the Disabled Student Services office coordinator. "She wanted to tell me so I could pray for you."
"That was nice of her! How are you?"
"I'm adjusting. I miss you, though! Can I come see you after your surgery tomorrow?"
"Well I'd better let you go. You need to be healthy tomorrow." They hung up after they said their good-byes.
"Hope, this is one of the night nurses, Julie."
"Hi," Hope said.
"Hi Hope. I have a pill for you. It's a sleeping pill. A lot of people are nervous about surgery, so they don't sleep. This should help you." Hope took the pill, said good night to Melanie and Julie then fell asleep.
The next morning Hope awoke to Melanie's voice. "Good morning, Hope. How did you sleep?"
"Really well. That pill worked great."
"That's what most patients say," Melanie laughed. "I'm supposed to give you an injection to help you relax. I'm going to swab the area on your left arm." The injection wasn't painful, and it did seem to make her more calm. She was extremely mellow by the time she was taken to the surgery floor. To keep from thinking about her surgery, she thought about how good it would be to see Stacey again, but she still felt frightened. She heard Dr. McGuire's brisk footsteps approaching.
"Hi, Hope. I'm going to put an IV into your hand so we can start the general anesthetic." Hope felt the prick, then slowly, all faded to black.
The bustle of footsteps. The bright light. The squeeze of something on her arm. Where was her foot? She could not feel it. Where was she? She did not recognize anything. She faintly recalled her name but little else. Was she dead? She didn't really think she could move.
She forced her left leg to move and it shot against the bed. "Where am I?" She managed to croak.
"You're in the recovery room," said Melanie. "How are you feeling?"
"I don't know." The truth was, she did not know. She felt so strange, she could not explain it. "Very strange."
"That's normal. You'll feel better soon." Hope lay back, hoping that she would feel better. Every ten minutes she felt the squeeze of the blood pressure cuff and heard a noise like a tire pump. "What is that noise?" She asked Melanie after a blood pressure check.
"It's the blood pressure cuff. It's an automatic one so that us nurses don't mess up and forget to take it every ten minutes." Slowly, Hope became more aware of her surroundings. She heard other patients moving around. After what she assumed was a half an hour, she felt like herself. Melanie gave her a glass of water and she drank it gratefully. Since she had not been allowed to eat or drink anything since bedtime the night before; she was thirsty. Within an hour, she felt clear headed and taken up to her room.
"Lunch will be here soon, but I have to go."
"They've got enough nurses up here now. They can tell you're an independent person, so they just want me on a consultant basis."
"What does that mean?"
"I'll just help when there's a problem."
"I'll miss you!"
"I know, but I'll be up here frequently. I will see you later."
"Good bye." Hope heard Melanie's footsteps leave the room and felt herself start to sink into self pity. How long would she be in the hospital? Would anyone be able to come visit her? She hoped she would not be alone the whole time.
Tap, tap tap. The sound penetrated into the deep fog of depression that had begun to settle over her. It sounded like a cane. Could it be? The only person she knew that might use a cane and knew she was in the hospital was Stacey. Maybe the visitor was for someone else.
"Hope? I have a visitor for you." A woman said. "Are you up for it?"
"Sure. Send them in."
"Hi, Hope. How are you?"
"Stacey! How did you get here? Aren't you supposed to be in classes?"
"Nope, it's Saturday." Hope had not thought about what day it was. She had focussed her whole thought process on the impending surgery.
"I forgot about that. I've been pre-occupied. How are you?"
"Pretty good! I'm learning so much! I was able to bus here on my own. I never thought I'd be smart enough to figure it out. I guess I'm smarter than I thought."
"That's great! How is reading Braille going for you?"
"Great! It's not nearly as hard as I expected it to be. I wrote you a letter. Do you feel will enough to read it?"
"I think so. I'll stick my hand out to my right." Stacey put the paper into her hand. Hope read eagerly:
I hope the surgery went well. I know that you'll recover quickly. And when you do, I'll be ready to join you. I leave for California to get a Guide Dog right after Christmas, so I'll be ready to move back in with you when you're well.
I'm glad I had you to help me get used to my blindness. I admit that I was really scared. But you'd done such a great job as my room mate, I was able to know that I would be okay. The people at the center are great. Between you and them, I'll carry on and have a great life.
Hope was thrilled for her friend. She knew that Stacey worked hard to get her life back. She could not imagine losing one's sight. When Stacey lost her vision, she was despondent. Hope had not been able to understand. She had always been blind, so for her, blindness was not anything to be upset about. She was sad when her friends would describe something that was beautiful and she longed to see it, but in general, she did not miss sight at all. But by writing a journal entry from what she thought Stacey's perspective might be, she understood more clearly how Stacey must feel. Everything in Stacey's life had been changed. She had to learn how to do everything differently and relate to the world without vision.
"I'm so excited for you! I'm glad you're okay with your blindness. Getting a Guide Dog will really help you!"
"That's what I think. I had to get my cane skills up so I can get a dog."
"I know it's hard work, but it is worth it!"
Their conversation was interrupted by a nurse.
"I need to take vital signs. Your friend will need to step out of the room." She turned to Stacey. "Can you do that?"
"Sure. I'll be back," Stacey said. Hope heard the door shut and her blood pressure and temperature were taken. The nurse checked to make sure her foot looked as normal as could be expected. Then she helped Hope get to the bathroom using a wheelchair, then let Stacey come back in. They talked for an hour, then Stacey needed to leave.
"I've got church in the morning, and I want to practice cooking." They hugged, not an easy thing to do when one person is in a bed, and Stacey promised to come back.
That night Hope ate dinner alone, then read a book she had brought. The nurse opened the door.
"I have to take vitals again. But do you mind if I ask you some questions? I've never gotten to work with a patient who can't see before, and I want to be a better nurse. I want to help my patients, but I don't know how."
"Sure. I'm open to questions."
"I'm assuming you're reading right now. How does that work?" For the next half an hour Hope explained Braille, using a cane, Guide Dogs, how she chose her clothing and how she did simple daily tasks.
"How can nurses be most helpful? I mean, we can ask Melanie, but even she doesn't know everything. Most of the time she's just guessing about how to help patients too."
"A lot of what Melanie did was right. When you get a new patient, show them the room and anything they'll be using. Let us feel things before you use them on us if you can. Tell us before you touch us. Tell us who you are when you come into the room, and if there's another patient in the room, address both patients by their names so we know when you're talking to us and when you're not." The nurse thanked her, then said
"I never introduced myself. My name is Shelly. Now I really should take your blood pressure and temp and then be gone. Otherwise they'll send in a search party."
That night, Hope fell into an exhausted sleep. She did not awaken until Dr. McGuire came in on rounds.
"Good morning, Hope. How are you feeling today?"
"Okay. I'm not too sore. I'm a little restless though. Laying in bed gets boring!" Dr. McGuire chuckled.
"I know. I've ordered some physical therapy so you can keep moving. I want you strong when you're able to walk. I'll have someone start working with you today."
"Will I learn to be less dependent while I'm in a wheelchair? I know I can't walk yet, but I'd like to be able to do things on my own."
"I think so. I've never worked with a blind patient who can't walk for a while before. The physical therapist, Jenny, will know more about that. She did her masters degree on physical therapy for the blind."
Jenny turned out to be a young woman who knew a lot. She had Hope work with arm weights to strengthen her arms, and taught her to transfer between her wheelchair and the bed, chairs and even the toilet. When it was time for lunch, Hope was exhausted.
"I'll come back tomorrow. You've done well at transfers, but I don't want you making them by yourself yet. Let a nurse spot you, and if you get tired, let them help you."
"Have a good day."
That afternoon Hope rested wearily. She was tired, but did not want to fall asleep because she wanted to sleep well that night. She watched TV, but do found it pointless. She had never liked talk shows and soap operas, and it was impossible to follow anything that happened in the cheesy afternoon movies without someone sighted telling her what was happening.
"Hope, it's Melanie. I brought you some books." Hope heard a dull low-pitched thump. "I know it must be boring in here, and I figured these might help. Some are talking books and some are Braille."
"I have to leave now, but I wanted to deliver these before I go home. I set them on your night table."
"Thank you so much! You were right I was getting really bored!"
"It's no problem. I have to go home now. It's starting to snow, and I live thirty miles away. I'll see you tomorrow."
The next two weeks were a blur for Hope. She sank into a routine: Awaken when Dr. McGuire comes on rounds, eat breakfast, work with Jenny until ready to drop, eat lunch, read books, eat dinner and fall asleep exhausted. At least she didn't become disoriented like some patients. She had a talking watch to tell time, and listened to the radio to know what was happening in the outside world.
About two weeks after she had first been admitted to the hospital, Hope was taken to get an X-ray. The technician manipulated her foot into several positions to get the best possible picture of how she was healing. She remembered having the same pictures taken in Bemidji just before being taken to the hospital, but this time it didn't hurt nearly as much.
"Hi Hope," Hope was surprised to see Dr. McGuire so late in the day. It was nearly five in the afternoon and there was no light outside.
"Hi Dr. McGuire. What's up?"
"I just got the results of your X-rays and I want to go over them with you."
"Okay. Did I pass?" Hope smiled trying to show that she knew you cannot pass an X-ray test. Dr. McGuire laughed.
"You're healing very well. You're ready for the next step in physical therapy. You can't put weight on your foot yet, but we can start having you move it. You are healing much more quickly than I would have expected. You could be out of the hospital soon."
"That's great! How long before I can start weight baring stuff?"
"You can start working in the pool next week. The incisions have healed completely, so there will be no risk of infection. I'll have you X-rayed again in two weeks. I expect to have you out of the hospital soon after that. Maybe a few days later."
"That's awesome! I can't wait to get back to college."
"You should be recovered enough to return a day or so after you are released. I would take a day or so off so you can make sure everything is in order. For some patients can be overwhelmed when they return home. And I'll want Jenny to refer you to another physical therapist when you leave here. You'll still need to work with your foot so that it returns to full strength."
Hope worked harder than she had for the first two weeks in the hospital. She continued her work with her arms, but also started working with resistance to her ankle. One exercise was to place a band made from rubber on her foot. Jenny held the end of the band and Hope pulled her foot against it. Jenny varied the resistance so that Hope gradually got stronger. Within the week, Hope was ready to begin walking in the pool. But this became frustrating. She could not stand on her foot. She could not make her brain tell her foot to move and hold her weight. She could not balance, and Jenny had to hold onto her so she would not fall.
They worked on walking in the pool for five days, but still Hope could not do it.
One day after Jenny had tried her hardest to help Hope, Hope could not take it. She broke down in tears. There was no one in the room, so Hope was not embarrassed.
"I can't do this anymore. I'll never be able to walk again. I'll have to give up my life and everything I've worked for so that someone can help me wheel my chair to the bathroom. There's no way a blind girl can use crutches which is probably the next step, so I'll just have to stay in bed forever." Though she did not speak aloud, she was deafened by her own words. That must have been why she did not hear anyone enter her room.
"Hope?" Hope dabbed at the tears running down her cheeks.
"I was just notified that you requested a clergy visit three weeks ago. I'm not a pastor, just someone who likes to help patients and believes in the power of God. Is there anything I can do to help you?" Hope was so relieved that she told the woman everything. She told about the hope she had clung to for the past three weeks and how that hope was quickly diminishing. She told of her frustration with her inability to walk. The woman asked Hope if she could pray for her.
"Please!" The woman covered Hope's foot with her hands and began to pray.
"Heavenly Father: We don't understand why this has happened to Your child Hope. We know that you are not the father of illness, that you don't want us to be in pain. But for some reason we can't understand, Hope is hurting. She can't seem to walk, and she finds that difficult. Lord, she needs You to help her. She needs Your healing. She needs You to draw closer to her than You ever have before. Please heal Hope. We ask in the Precious Name of Jesus, Amen." Hope had been moved to tears.
"THANK you," was all she could manage to say. The woman didn't respond, instead, she heard the door open, and Shelly came to check her vitals. Hope told her what had happened. The nurse stood speechless, then began to tell Hope a story that brought a gigantic smile to her face.
"Ten years ago on the orthopedic floor, there was a nurse who loved her work. She would work overtime without any pay. She was the first to volunteer for any duty, on holidays or even when the snow was two feet high. One day, she was in a terrible car accident. She broke her spine, and the doctors said she would never walk again. But she proved them all wrong. She worked on this floor for five more years before she was killed in a plane crash. After that, we've seen a lot of visits like what just happen to you. I was a patient here three years ago. They said I'd never be able to work as a nurse again. A woman visited me, just like you. I asked her why she did this, and she told me that she made these visits at the request of the nurse in heaven. She was not that nurse, because you can't die then become an angel, but she did things at the request of that nurse. I know that we never told anyone you wanted a pastor to visit you. We aren't allowed to. And I know that I never saw a woman enter or exit your room." Hope did not know what to say. She did not even know what to think. Shelly quietly took her vital signs and left.
The next day, Hope got ready for her work in the pool. She did not feel the same deep sense of foreboding she had for the past week. She still found it difficult to put weight on her foot, but something in her mood had changed. She no longer doubted that she would walk. She understood that it was not going to be easy, but she would learn to walk again.
The longer she worked, the more positive she felt. As long as she was trying, she felt okay. If she gave up, she felt terrible. When the woman who had prayed with her returned a week later, she told her what had happened.
"I was sent to help you, not just to make you well, but to heal you. You needed to go through this struggle to be a strong person. You have learned that as long as God is on your side, you can make it. That was my goal."
"Are you angel?" But the woman was gone again. Hope had no one to talk to, but she needed to talk to someone. The only person she could think of was Stacey.
"I have to tell you my story!" She exclaimed exuberantly. She told Stacey her story and was met with the same silence Shelly had displayed.
"I had something like that happen to me. Do you remember when I told you I couldn't figure out how to write now that I'm blind? I couldn't even sign my name. They worked with me, but I still couldn't do it. I was crying on the way to my apartment and a woman stopped and talked to me. She prayed with me and I felt better. It took me forever, but I finally got my handwriting back. Two weeks later she came and talked with me. Shall wouldn't tell me who she was, but she told me the same thing she told you. I needed ! through this struggle and I would be stronger for it. From the way you described her, it was the same woman. Who do you think she is?"
"She's got to be an angel... A healing angel."