“In Service to Each Other” Part II
by ~ Anita J. Skocz
All of us on this spinal injury floor became family, and each of our families bonded since the stays were so lengthy. Dorothy let her hair down, and realized that the love that flowed through the halls had more value than the money she prized prior to her daughters accident. Although she had little patience with Carol’s inability to speak, her heart grew as she witnessed the friendship built out of unconditional love between her daughter and I.Carol’s outbursts of anger were being attributed to her brain misfiring to some degree. But, I sensed a pattern to “the bear” that showed itself, and it seemed that they were more prone when we were separated. I made a point to be vigilant on the timing, and something dawned on me one afternoon. While working hard to convey her needs to one of the nurses, after a few unsuccessful attempts, she was dismissed with a childlike response.
“I am having trouble understanding sweetie; we will try again later.”
Carol’s eyes took on the glow of a demon. Within moments a litany ensued, “NO! NO! NO! NO!” These were followed with a stream of tears, and the swinging of her good arm in every direction. I heard these outbursts from afar, but never watched to see what may have fueled them.
It all seemed so clear to me ~ frustration. Nobody really took the time to let her communicate her thoughts; giving up was easier. When we were together, with the help of God, we made it a game of sorts. If I did not have a clue, I would ask her to give me a minute to come up with a different approach ~ another set of questions. It took time, but we managed.
It was at dinner that night, that I announced my idea to everyone on the floor. For twenty-four hours I would not speak except for two words, NO and OK. I wanted to see how frustrating, or not, it could be. All the nurses along with everyone else took bets, and no one bet on me. They believed after an hour my mouth could not restrain from contributing to the daily horseplay, or my natural gift of gab would demand exercise.
I felt that putting myself in Carol’s shoes for a brief time, may prove to me that frustration brought on the anger ~not a faulty brain. As the day went on I was met with the same reactions. No one had the time or patience to try and understand what I worked hard to communicate. At the end of twenty-fours hours, not only was I frustrated by the lack of patience, but exhausted from the effort to make my thoughts known. My choice not to speak was only a short period of time. Carol was in the hospital for two months prior to coming here, and her desire to have someone attempt to communicate was great, but no one made the time ~ pure hell.
Everyone was surprised that I stuck with the challenge, but I needed to understand a part of Carol’s world. I must say that not being able to express a thought, dream need, want, or a valued opinion has to be a lonely place, and yes ~ terribly disheartening.
Each afternoon after lunch, I would be put in bed to rest for the afternoon therapies. It was during this time that Carol would receive speech therapy ~ a joke. The therapist was a very young man, and he was very ill equipped to keep Carol engaged. His half hour was mostly spent setting up his tools to help with the therapy. He had zero patience, and showed his irritable demeanor. After five or six appointments with Carol, he determined she would not progress any further. He informed her that this would be her last therapy session, and Carol responded in a rage.
He proceeded out of the room leaving Carol in a very vulnerable state, after his cold hopeless remarks. I asked Carol to calm herself, and to roll her chair closer to my bed. I looked her straight in her eyes saying.
“We are going to pretend we never heard his prognosis, and do you know why? We know it is pure BULLSHIT!”
Carol cooled down and started laughing. She threw her arm up over her head, and with the spunk of Scarlett O’Hara, she shouted. “OK! OK! OOOK” Then, she pointed to my mouth saying, “OK!”
At first I did not understand, but she kept pointing. Then, I realized she wanted me to repeat what made her laugh.
“We know it is pure BULLSHIT!”
Carol smiled, and let out a heartfelt “OK!” With that, she pointed to her mouth, and I received her thought loud and clear.
“You want me to teach you that nasty word?”
She lit up like the tree in Rock Center. “OK, OK, OK!”
That night, while in bed ~ we started. I repeatedly made the sound of the letter “B” until it put us to sleep. After four or five days Carol made the sound, and we were like kids at a pajama party. Then, I just did the same with “BULL,” over and over ~ night after night. While I helped her, Carol worked with me during occupational therapy. With her good hand she would massage my fingers, and help to put my brace on my arm, got water for me, and many other caring deeds. We were a team, a damned determined team, pushing each other.
In a week, in the dark of night, Carol blurted out. “BULL!” It was strong and clear, and we both repeated it over and over ~ our rallying cry. We only shared it with a few friends, and my sister Nancy. The unveiling would come, when both syllables were connected. It was hard keeping our secret, and one afternoon, while a nurse did not even try to understand Carol, in lieu of a tantrum ~ Carol smiled and said. “BULL!” She rolled away with a well earned grin, and left the nurse wondering, who was that masked woman?
After friends and family left each evening, we watched a bit of television and gleefully practiced the second stinking’ syllable ~ shhhhhhhhhhh-it. Over and over, and over again, she was determined to climb this mountain, knowing deep inside the view on the other side displayed her dreams. It only took a few days, and “shit” was flowing from her mouth with ease. Carol would giggle each time she said it; it was our nasty delight. In less than three days I woke up at six in the morning, Carol was waiting patiently for my eyes to open. With a proud gaze and her crooked smile, she slowly and with a commanding voice spoke her first two syllable word ~ “B-B-BULLSHIT!”
One of the nurses with a southern accent heard Carol’s triumph, and started jumping up and down saying,
“My God, my God, Carol just said Bull-sheee-it!’
We laughed at her southern style pronunciation, as she raced down the hall gathering the troops. Our room was filled with nurses and a few doctors, and Carol could not stop expressing herself ~ “BULLSHIT! BULLSHIT! BULLSHIT!!!”
No matter where you were “the word” echoed through the halls. And, when Dorothy came, and my parents arrived late that afternoon, Carol surprised them all. I will never forget the joy in that room that evening. We knew, if one word, many words would follow.
In a few weeks Carol was free of her wheelchair. With special shoes and a one handed walker she roamed the halls, and strengthened her once mangled legs. It was not long after that Dorothy announced that she found a wonderful speech therapist in Sarasota, Florida. They would be leaving Orlando, and returning home. At this point Carol was a master at using her one hand; she could do all her daily living skills ~ albeit painful at times.
The news was a mixed bag for us, as we bonded as sisters. But, after tears were shed, we promised to stay in touch by phone, and of course we only lived three hours away.
Each time Carol called me at the rehab center her vocabulary grew, and our conversations were minus ~ BULLSHIT! She was again cooking, and reading the classics, and found a group of other traumatic brain injury people to share with once a week. In a year Dorothy’s health was failing, and Carol was taking care of her. I was home as well, and we talked often ~ as it was emotionally hard for her to watch Dorothy decline.
The day we received the call from Carol, that Dorothy passed away, our hearts met half way, and grieved the loss of this truly transformed woman. She learned from the love at the rehab, that we all contribute to the whole of life, we all have value. Carol maintained the condo, and eventually met a gentleman, married, and gave birth to a baby girl.
The new family came to visit, and it was a sweet reunion for my family and Carol. The baby had the features of a cherub angel, and Carol worshiped her gift, and loved the title of mother. Her husband seemed a bit possessive, and stayed outside our circle of joyous chatter, as though threaten by our strong connection. We had a wonderful time, and again it was hard to say good-bye.
That visit was in 1991, and we never saw or talked again. Shortly after, her phone number was disconnected, and I believed they moved, and he kept her from calling me. I tried sending cards, in hopes they would be forwarded ~nothing.
It is so painful to write these last paragraphs, as I miss and wonder about my dear friend. But, I know we both learned so much as we served each other during those transitional months. God blessed us with so many gifts, and in my memory I treasure them all.
I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy,
I woke and I saw that life is all service.
I served and I saw that service is joy. ~ Mother Teresa
UPDATE: As I was posting this story this morning, my siser, Nancy, surprised me with her investigative skills. She found two phone numbers that may have been Carol. Anxious to try them, I dialed the first one. When I heard her voice, I knew right away. All I said was “Carol,” and she recognized mine as well. Tears ~talk, and we did not miss a beat after twenty years.