Today I went to see a friend in the rehab hospital. She's only a few years older than I am, and she's recovering from brain surgery to fix an aneurysm. She was having weird headaches a few weeks back, but since she had a lot of stress, I guess she didn't pay them much mind. Then one day her husband found her on the floor. Emergency workup, discovery, surgery, ICU, rehab. All in a few whirlwind days. Well, up to the ICU part. She stayed there a couple weeks after surgery, moved to rehab yesterday.
Today was the first day I went to see her. I meant to go before. I thought about it from time to time, but there was always some reason I couldn't go. It was too late in the day. I was ill. I was out of town. I was too tired. I forgot. I heard she had too many visitors. I forgot again.
As I walked in there today and felt my pulse rise and my sweat glands pop into action, I understood that what had kept me from visiting before today was simple fear. Iced with denial. I was afraid of how I'd find her. I was afraid of her debility. I was afraid I would be unable to be natural with her. I was afraid of her fear. Of her mortality. Of my mortality. Of that sneaky devil Bad Luck, or Mischance, that cruel and random force that strikes out of the blue .
She looked like herself. Except for the scar across her head and the shadows under her eyes. She recognized me. She spoke in complete sentences. She stood to hug me and only wobbled a little. Some of her words were slurred and she didn't seem to hear everything I said. Sometimes her thoughts jumped randomly. I had been warned that this was happening. She still has swelling on the brain, and blood. It will take time to see whether she will recover completely or not. She's lucky to be alive.
A scant hour before I went to the rehab hospital, I attended my own service recognition ceremony at the University, along with two hundred others. I stood in line, received my handshake and token gift, applauded for the others, wondered how 15 years had flown by so fast. While the other honorees lined up, I sat yawning in my seat, sneaking looks at my reading book between claps, wondering what kind of food they'd have at the reception. I was frankly bored.
An hour later, sitting next to my friend on her hospital bed, I felt chagrined. Here she was, struggling to form a complete sentence, and I had been bored with the service anniversary ceremony. I should have spent that time awash in gratitude. Gratitude that I was alive and well and capable of working fifteen years.
I take my health for granted. I take my life for granted. I forget to be grateful.
There's nothing like the illness of a friend to put things in perspective.