Valentine's Day is more than a card and a box of candy...
| A Valentine’s Day with Lots of Heart
By Donna Lowich
For a holiday that is the symbol of love and that is celebrated by heart-shaped boxes of candy and bouquets of flowers, Valentine's Day of 1986 didn't seem like I had too much to celebrate. It marked my first whole month at the rehab center and I was miserable. Not only was I separated from my family--my husband, Walter, and my four-year-old son, Jeffrey, but the surroundings in the hospital were difficult, as well. I had undergone two spinal cord surgeries that had left me paralyzed from the shoulders down. I was working hard each and every day to change all that. I just wasn’t getting much in the way of cooperation from the hospital staff.
The doctor had decided that I was taking in too many fluids, so she allowed only a small can of juice at each meal. This edict, unfortunately for me, coincided with the breakdown of the thermostat in my room, which measured the temperature to be a more-than-balmy, consistent 94 degrees. To be fair, they did send in a janitor who fiddled with it for a few minutes before pronouncing it “broken”. And broken it remained for the rest of my stay--a total of four months.
As bad as that was, the nursing staff assignments had just recently changed which meant that Jeannette was assigned to me. Jeannette, the one nurse nobody wanted anywhere near them, was now my night nurse. She was distinctly unpleasant to everyone, and especially to me, or so it seemed.
Due to my paralysis, she spent “too much time” (according to her) in my room. She pointed this out to me night after night. This was going to be a long six weeks, the duration of her assignment on my hall.
But this was a Friday night, and the hospital was having a Valentine’s Day party for all of the patients. It was going to start at six o’clock, lasting for approximately three hours. I was looking forward to it all day, or more accurately, all week. It was a treat to think of escaping the overworked thermostat in my room for a little while. Plus, leaving Jeannette for a while evoked some pleasant thoughts, as well.
It had been snowing in the afternoon, so I didn’t think there was much of a chance that Walter and Jeffrey would be able to make it to the hospital for their usual Friday night visit. After all, they were almost an hour away from me, and that was traveling in good weather.
At four o’clock, my day at physical therapy ended. I went back to my room, only to be closely followed in by Jeannette. The doctor, in her quest to annoy me, had ordered a procedure that required me to go to bed. Jeannette and an orderly helped me lay down. Once the procedure was done, she began taking off my sneakers and socks.
Startled, I asked, "What are you doing? I've got to be up because the party's tonight!" Apparently, I was going to stay in bed because as Jeannette tersely replied, “I don’t have time to get you up again.”
My surprise at this turn of events changed quickly to devastation. I was going to be the only one to miss the party, but worse than that, I would be in that insufferably overheated room. I would be in bed until someone helped me to dress late on Saturday morning.
I couldn’t believe how quickly my luck had changed. "Please, Jeannette, please don't leave me here." But Jeannette turned a deaf ear to my pleas. She had already decided my fate, and she wasn’t about to change her plans for me, that was obvious.
She abruptly left the room without saying another word. Luckily, the orderly stayed to comfort me, an act of kindness that I remember gratefully to this day.
The telephone at my bedside rang and she answered it for me. It was Walter! I must have sounded upset, because he asked me what was wrong. He had called to say the snow had stopped, and that he and Jeffrey were going to come. Once I was sure that they were going to come out anyway, I described what had just happened.
He and Jeffrey had been talking of coming once the snow had stopped. My current circumstance gave him even more resolve to come, literally, to my rescue.
It took them a bit longer than usual to get there, but soon I heard Jeffrey’s giggles and his little running steps on the hallway, in a staccato pattern interrupted by Walter’s long, hurried strides. There were hugs and kisses all the way around. Walter helped me with my sneakers, and soon it was off to the party.
There was a raffle for a door prize for the children who had come to the party while visiting their relatives. Jeffrey won! The prize was a bottle of liquid for making bubbles and a small rubber ball, but Jeff was excited to win. He was happy that is, until he saw a little girl who was about his age who was devastated that she hadn't won. So, he walked over to her and gave her his prizes. I was so proud of him! The little girl's mother came to thank Jeffrey and to tell me what a generous gesture it was. There was a lot of generosity going on in my family that evening; I felt truly blessed.
Going back to my room, I saw Jeannette at the nurses' station, where she glared at me as I passed her, smiling and very happy to be surrounded by my wonderful family. Even though I was still stuck in my overheated room for another four months, with Jeannette intermittently performing her angel of mercy duties (at least as she saw them), I had a new outlook. Gratitude and love overtook me, although the fact that Jeannette was not even so much as reprimanded for the cruel way she treated me and her other patients bothered me for the longest time.
A late change in the weather along with Walter and Jeffrey’s love and determination to help, brought me a Valentine’s Day that remains special to me all these years later. Sometimes, Valentine’s Day is more than a box of candy and a bouquet of flowers.