Vials of Love

CURE, Fall 2013, Volume 12, Issue 3

Nurse infuses more than chemotherapy during treatment.

I love a woman whose name I don’t remember. I pretend it’s Aziza or Albutus—strong, gutsy and exotically Eastern European. It’s a love of deep appreciation for the warmth she displayed in an environment where sterility, ache and isolation ruled supreme.

Surely she’s moved on to spread her love to hundreds more stem cell transplantation patients. No doubt she is there holding hands, petting bald heads, arranging someone else’s stuffed animals, to greet them after their showers, as each endures the intense recovery from immune system replacement.

Her colleagues lovingly remarked that her breakfast of meat chunks at the nursing station would make them all gag. She told me it kept her strong.

Her words always bubbled over like a pot of water left to boil too long. The plump flesh of her stockinged feet seemed to pour over the sides of her thin-walled nursing shoes. She was thick and strong and radiant.

I love remembering her like I love burying my face in a warm towel direct from the dryer. Whatever brings me comfort circles back to her—her authoritative, but encouraging touch, her bedside reminders that I was OK, I was beautiful and I was loved.

Every day when she entered my room, she’d check the chart on the wall that tracked my blood count numbers. When they finally climbed, she rejoiced, dramatically saying, “Beautiful numbers for a beautiful girl!” She said it like a bird cooing at me. Her comment came at a time when I felt so ugly and so imperfect.

Her voice rolled like a lion’s purr at the back of her throat. She was a beam of sunshine amid the constant barrage of cold metal stethoscopes and the stark antiseptic white of doctor’s lab coats.

Whatever brings me comfort circles back to her—her authoritative, but encouraging touch, her bedside reminders that I was OK, I was beautiful and I was loved.

“Go shower; you feel good,” she’d push. “I make your bed while you get dressed. Look, I lay out your towels, soap, washcloth.” She’d open the door to the bathroom as if it were a palace. It was far from it.

She was really there because patients like me were not allowed to shower alone for fear that we’d collapse, so with every sunrise she’d come in to get me safely moving.

“You ready beautiful girl?” she’d ask, bursting into the room, interrupting my quarantine daze with the cheerfulness of a three-ring circus. It was like being greeted by a life-sized Russian stacking doll.

If I groaned that I wasn’t ready, she’d give me more time. “It’s OK; I be back,” she’d coo. And, she always came back. At a time when there was so much unknown, she was my constant.

She made me feel like a princess to be pampered. She’d wash the toilet seat back of the overnight spattering of my vomit while humming a polka. She’d clean from the shower the heaps of curly black hair that tumbled from my head when the chemo destroyed my follicles.

I’d groggily apologize and she’d brush me away with a soothing: “Don’t worry. Relax, sweet girl.”

Her effervescence balanced the infusions of chemotherapy, steroids, blood and pain meds. She injected me right along with the shots given by the parade of kind nurses, but her vial was filled with love in liquid form.

Those daily boosters pushed me past the sadness and toward the light. Her presence woke and calmed me when I could barely see or hear anything else.

Compassionate love can transcend a mind and body blurred by heavy narcotics and fear. Love can carry the hope that is vital to making it to the other side alive. That love can come in the most unexpected of packages. Mine just happened to be in the form of a Russian cherub who ate marbled meat for breakfast and tucked the tightest hospital sheet corners I’d ever seen.

Karin Diamond is a writer and blogger in Tariffville, Conn.