When, as we wander through life, do we stop looking into the eyes of others?
As a nursing supervisor, this question blind-sided me one night when a family brought their mother into the emergency room for breathing trouble. The stale smell of urine choked us when we entered the old woman’s room. She moaned when she inhaled and sighed when she exhaled, the simple, for-granted movement of chest bones like a rusty metal cage scraping the sides of tender lungs.
Helping her breathe became the ER staff’s focus. They tried to flatten her contorted back against the inflexible foam gurney. Pulling back the covers to position her revealed hips and knees kinked into a pretzled pile of pain.
As I wheeled her to the x-ray room, I wondered how we’d ever straighten her enough to sandwich her C-shaped torso between the ramrod plates of film.
Burning anxiety — the kind a nurse feels when she knows the pain about to come to a person — crept up my chest and into my throat. I clutched her hand, roped with blue veins, and got real close to her . . . close enough to see the flecks of green and grey in her blue eyes . . . blue eyes I imagined once loved well by a man or a toddler reaching up to her from his crib . . . blue eyes I imagined dancing with daffodils on a spring day when her legs were all flesh and freedom.
She looked back at me, brow furrowed with the question of pain and the exhaustion of living.
“We have to move you a little to get this x-ray,” I said. “But I’m gonna try as hard as I can not to hurt you.”
“No one . . . has ever . . .said that . . . to me before,” she said between gasps for breath.
Tears puddled in her baggy bottom eyelids.
I don’t remember much after that, except I know we got the x-ray, and I know we hurt her some, as gentle as we tried to be, and as many pillows as we tried to stuff between her bones and the edges of equipment.
Yet I doubt the pain she felt that night hurt more than the pain of not mattering.
The pain of the unblendable.
You know: the unblendable.
The sort of folks who can’t mesh and meld their disfigured, grieving, warped and stiffened selves into life’s crowded current.
Those who can’t hide, but into whose eyes no one will gaze. No one except the ones who dare to reach beyond their own brokenness to wrap gentleness around a shivering, lonely, beholden heart.
If you or someone you know is concerned about the care of an endangered adult, contact the Adult Protective Services Program under Indiana’s Family and Social Services Administration. The APS investigates reports and provides intervention and protection to vulnerable adults who are victims of abuse, neglect or exploitation. In Boone County, the number is 327-1403, or toll-free, 1-877-284-0063. The Indiana State Hotline is 1-800-992-6978.
Amy Sorrells is a Zionsville resident and writer working on her first book. E-mail Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org.