Every evening for 10 years Peggy and I have read books aloud to each other. Usually ones that we missed when everyone else had read them. We can count Thomas Hardy, Thomas Mann, Thomas Wolff and Thomas Pynchon and 40-50 other authors not named Thomas. Back before the Ebola scare we decided on Camus’, The Plague. So here I am reading it to her as she lies in bed at St. John’s Hospital. Certainly not the best choice but who knew? We have about 75 pages to go and must return it to the library. My words are causing her to nod off.
I’ve been here for nine hours watching Peggy sleep on and off, or chasing after the nurses to remind them what they promised to do twenty minutes ago or trying to reconcile what her eleven medical professionals are saying. We have the voices from the admitting doctor, internist, cardiologist, gastroenterologist, infectious disease doctor, oncologist, wound specialist, pulmonologist, respiratory technician, physical therapist and occupational therapist. They all concur there is fluid around her left lung. They don’t know the cause of it or how to account for her malaise and loss of appetite. Pneumonia? Yes & No. Pleurisy? Not quite. Congestive heart disease? Not typically, wrong side. An auto-immune event? Possibly. T. B.? No, test was negative.
Illness can be the greatest unsolved mystery of all. What went wrong with this body of 93.5 years, this micro-universe of cells and organs beyond all imagining? Who dunnit, this malfunction, this dis-ease? We want to give it a name as if it matters.
Now the chaplain walks in with his halo of silver hair. Father Paddy carries Ireland on his tongue channeling Beckett and Yeats. No Jesus... thank God. Just talk of literature (our religion) and the mother country. Our kind of guy.
Care-giving is, for me, just another way of being there as a nurturing presence. It’s an opportunity to find a new, deeper dimension for our love by anticipating her needs and aligning myself with her emotionally.
Peggy is an inspiration for everyone who knows her. An irrepressible spirit and indomitable optimism are fed by her faith in the creative source within. She is a person who dares. In her person and in her poetry. Her imaginative power continues to stretch into the far reaches. Her poetry is inspired. It’s fair to say she is still in her prime even as I watch her fall asleep inside her poem with her head dropping onto her open notebook and the pencil still in her fingers.
And now the operative word is aspiration as the pulmonologist walks in the room to aspirate around her pleural cavity. His needle goes in through her back and slowly he draws out the yellow-brown fluid, almost a pint of it.
She has now been here six days and we just got word she can leave tomorrow. Still a hung jury as to the cause of her illness. Maybe we’ll know, maybe not.
In a recent poem Peggy wrote, How the unseen affects the seen… So much of us remains hidden even to ourselves. Let the sleuths keep probing. It’s enough to find our resources and live in the astonishing now. I learned that from Peggy.