“There is a primal reassurance in being touched, in knowing that someone else, someone close to you, wants to be touching you. There is a bone-deep security that goes with the brush of a human hand, a silent, reflex-level affirmation that someone is near, that someone cares.”
~ Jim Butcher
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all
of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
~ Leo Buscaglia
A good friend of mine recently went to hospital for some scans. She’d had pain, and nothing had really helped. It was time to investigate more thoroughly.
To her surprise, and that of her husband, she was kept at the hospital, and was required to do more scans. After which she waited. An age of waiting after a long day of work. All they wanted to do was go home and have dinner. As time slipped away, as it became later and later, they worried about their dog, left alone in the dark.
The first scan uncovered a problem for which no-one had been looking. That problem created a flurry of interest, scans and doctors. Finally, late at night, my friend was sent home.
She made her husband promise not to tell anyone.
But when Ben and I bumped into her husband last Sunday morning I could see he was barely holding things together. I coaxed it out of him. And then rang my friend and arranged to have coffee. Our coffee date ended up being the morning I was floored with pain and misery from my new drugs. Still, something in me made me drag myself out of bed and dress. I told myself it was okay. I had a day off. I could soon go back to bed and rest again. My husband drove me the few blocks to where we would meet. The four of us, her and her husband, me and Ben, found a quiet table and sat down together.
At coffee I inquired about the hospital visit. One thing I’ve learned from so many years of illness, is that it helps to talk about it, and to share the secret fears in your heart. At first my friend was furious, especially with her fraught and guilty husband, but then I couldn’t shut her up. She’d needed to talk to someone, and her husband wasn’t coping. He didn’t want to talk about it. So they hadn’t. This big, life threatening, life changing thing simply hung unspoken between them like a black cloud of doom.
Just as we were leaving, my friend mentioned that she was going to see a surgeon the next day. I assumed she would be going with her husband. But no. As he sat with us he made every excuse not to go with her. She was going alone. She made excuses for her husband too. But I felt her distress.
As I lay in bed later that day, completely wrecked from my new lyme meds, my wise PA sent me a message to let me know she’d cancelled all of my remaining appointments for the week. Ben looked at me thoughtfully. Maybe you should call your friend, he said. Let her know you’ll be free to go with her if she needs some support.
I was sure she’d say no. That her husband would have come around.
She texted me straight back. Please, if it’s not too much trouble, she said. Please come.
So the next day, I did. I was too ill to drive her, but I helped her navigate there and find the right rooms. I held her hand in the waiting room and distracted her with endless chatter as the surgeon ran overtime with someone else and we waited, and waited.
In the appointment I watched my normally composed friend ramble mindlessly, in a complete panic. The kindly surgeon let her go until she finally ran out of words. I’d jotted her key medical history points in my diary, and I prompted her to go over them with him. He asked more questions, and briefly examined her.
Her films went up onto a lightbox, and then we all saw the monster in the room. A five centimetre aneurysm just above her aorta.
The room went quiet.
I held her hand. A silent language flowed between us.
The doctor discussed strategies and made phone calls. I made notes of it all in my diary. My friend needs more tests, and then complex surgery. In the meantime she must live quietly. No stress. Just quiet.
We drove home, knowing at last a little more of what might happen next. On the way we stopped into see her husband, and used my notes to let him know what was going on. I’m so glad I took those notes. My poor friend could barely remember anything that had been said.
That night I summarised the notes into bullet points and emailed them to her. So she’d be clear. So there would be one less thing to worry over.
In too many ways there is little I can do for my friend right now. But I know that my being there helped. When life gets hard it is so much easier with a friend at your side. I’ll keep calling her. Meeting for coffee. Holding her hand. Being there for her, and her husband. This journey won’t be an easy one, or a quick one. Long haul situations call for long haul friendship. After others have lost interest, or forgotten, she’ll still need support. Someone who can ask her how she is, and truly listen. Someone who cares.
We’re all on this wild crazy ride together. Sometimes we need to have someone there for us. Sometimes it’s our turn to be the one there for another.
It might not seem like much, to share the journey rather than being the one riding in on the white horse, ready to fix everything and save the day.
But as someone who has been at the receiving end of messages of support, of having a friend visit or call when I’ve been at my lowest, and having someone hold my hand through tough news, I can tell you that it helps. Sometimes it’s the only thing that does.