Story is about a woman pondering end of life and receiving care from a stranger.
| Hazel’s lids felt gritty as she opened her eyes and squinted. Slowly, she looked to the right at the long window, where outside snow was falling heavily. The big flakes looked wet; the kind that are real sticky and very annoying as it sticks to the bottom of boots.
Footsteps caught her attention and a woman in dark purple scrubs appeared in the doorway. With a smile in her voice the woman said, “Hazel, you’re awake. How are you feeling? Any pain or discomfort?”
Hazel tried to reply but her throat was tight and she could only manage a faint croak. She ran her dry tongue over parched lips and noticed the burning in her gullet.
Gently putting a hand on Hazel’s shoulder, she said, “Relax Hazel, it’s alright. Your throat is feeling dry, and uncomfortable, right? That’s normal. The tube was removed a little while ago.”
The nurse reached for a plastic glass on the bedside table and raised it to Hazel’s lips. “Now Hazel, do you remember why you are here? You had heart surgery. The doctor will be in later to check on you. I’ll leave the water right here within reach. Hit the buzzer beside your shoulder if you need anything.” With her parting words, she took a quick look at the monitors and exited.
Seconds later Hazel looked at the doorway, and noticed a man standing there. He was tall and slender wearing a long light gray coat. In his hand was a hat. The kind well-dressed men wear. His face was clean-shaven and his blond hair was perfectly coiffed with no hint of being exposed to the wet snow falling outside. As their eyes met, the man moved out of the entrance and stood at the foot of the bed.
“How are you feeling Hazel?” He asked, in a velvety-smooth voice that reminded Hazel of ice cream sliding down her throat on a hot day in July. In those five words, she felt a soothing calmness.
“I’ve felt better.” Hazel answered in a scratchy voice that did not sound like her at all. “Who are you?”
“My name is Nicholas, but you can call me Nick.” He glanced at her hand and noticed the IV and the clothespin-like device on her finger. Above and behind her were machines and various screens that indicated oxygen level, blood pressure, heart rate and other vitals. He put his hat down on the windowsill, took a seat on the chair beside the bed and gently put his hands on her wrist and back of her hand. His touch was warm and reassuring. “I heard you were here, and thought I would drop in.”
“Did my sister Pat send you to visit me? Are you from her church?” Hazel asked. “Where are Pat and my daughters? I thought they would be here.”
“Pat, Cheryl and Gwen are snowed-in at Pat’s in Markham. They tried to get here, but everything is at a stand-still out there.”
Nick slightly shifted his touch on Hazel’s wrist and hand. She instantly felt a warmth flowing up her arm and through her body. Her muscles relaxed, and her breathing became easier.
Silence. Finally, Hazel spoke, “I’ll be 63 next month. My dad, died, when he was 63. He wasn’t feeling well one morning, so he went to emergency. He was admitted. That night, he went to sleep; never woke up.”
Nick gave a slight nod, and squeezed Hazel’s wrist.
“I’m not afraid of dying; just, don’t want to leave my family. I have grandchildren, five of them. When I was young, a psychic told me that I would have four children, two boys and two girls. She was right. She also said one of them would be famous. I want to be around to see that.”
Big tears rolled down Hazel’s face. The tears were followed by a slight choke. Nick stood up, moved around the bed to the table with the glass of water. He held the glass for Hazel, and once again the coolness of the water felt soothing in her irritated throat. As Nick placed the glass back on the table, he reached for the box of tissues and handed her a few. Awkwardly, Hazel dabbed her eyes and blew her nose.
Hesitantly Hazel asked, “Do you think that we know when we are going to die? I believe, Dad knew his time was up. Some of the things, he said in our last phone call, sounded an awful lot like goodbye. He knew.”
Hazel paused to take a slow, deep breath. “A friend said she knew the last time she saw her father; that would be the last time. She kissed him goodbye and said that she loved him. That was the first time she can ever remember saying to her dad, that she loved him. A week and a half later; gone. She was always grateful she had the chance to tell him she loved him that day.”
A slight movement to re-position caused Hazel to wince. Her ribs were hurting, and there was a dull ache in the middle of her back. Nick, once again, placed his hands on Hazel’s arm and she could feel that wonderful warmth return and the pain subsided.
“So, do you think we know we are going to die? Or that people know when a family member is going to die? I believe my friend’s story.”
Nick paused and looked down at his hands. He closed his eyes briefly as if concentrating. “Do you feel like you are ready to pass on? You said, you believe, your Dad knew he was going to die. Do you feel that way Hazel?”
She thought for a moment, bit the left side of her bottom lip, “I’m awfully tired.”
Nick looked into Hazel’s eyes. With gentleness in his voice that was felt, as well as heard, he said, “Being in here is really scary, especially when you don’t have family with you. And this is your first time in a hospital for anything serious. It is understandable that you are feeling scared and lonely.”
Tears welled in Hazel’s eyes. The buildup of stress from leaving her home in the north, saying goodbye to her sons and their families, travelling to the city and to the hospital, and the fear of the surgery flooded out with the tears. Hazel cried and cried. After several minutes there were no tears left. Hazel heaved a concluding sigh.
Nick gently squeezed Hazel’s arm one final time. He glanced out the window, “The storm seems to be letting up a little. I think I’d better be going.” He turned to Hazel and, with a slight nod of his head, softly said, “Blessed be”.
“Thanks for dropping in Nick. I’ll tell Pat you were here.”
A few seconds passed. No more than a minute, and Hazel could hear familiar voices approaching her room. Footsteps that sounded squishy, and squeaky, from the snow echoed, followed very closely by three women bundled up against the elements.
Gwen was the first to approach Hazel and kiss her gently on the cheek, “How are you feeling, Mom?”
“Not bad. How was the drive? I hear it’s really storming. You didn’t have to come. You could have waited until the weather cleared.” Hazel paused. “I’m really glad you’re here.”
Hazel looked up at her sister Pat. “You missed Nick. He was just here. Didn’t you see him in the hall?”
Pat wrinkled her brow. “Nick who?”
“Nick; from your church. You asked him to stop in?”
Pat hesitated for a quick moment before replying, “I don’t know any Nick. I didn’t ask anyone to come in and see you.”
At that moment, the nurse in the purple scrubs came in with a fresh glass of ice water. She looked around and smiled, “Hazel, I’m glad to see your people are here. Quite a storm out there.”
Without a second of hesitation, Hazel asked, “That man who came in as you left the room last time; is he a hospital chaplain or something? I thought he was from my sister’s church. Really nice fellow.”
The nurse looked at Hazel and replied, “What man, Hazel? I’ve been at the desk across the hall since I was last in here an hour ago. No one has come in or gone out of this room. She paused than added, “The pain medication will cause some very interesting dreams.”
Hazel looked at the four faces and they all had the same look of sympathy and understanding. She gazed beyond Gwen’s face, out the window and watched the snow. Her eyes caught sight of an object on the windowsill. It was a hat. The kind that well-dressed men wear.