Monday, March 22, 2010

Pure Pleasure

It was a moment of bliss -- an idyllic point in time when all was right with the universe.  Past and future ceased to be as pure pleasure nourished my body, mind, and spirit. 

It’s a safe bet that there aren’t many people who feel that way about laying down in a hospital bed.

There was nothing special about the bed itself.  It was a typical “old school” twin bed -- replete with a plastic-coated mattress, side-rails that ran the full length of the bed, and a pair of well-worn hand cranks that stuck a little at the 3 o’clock position each time they were used to adjust the height of the head and foot of the bed.  Like the hundreds of other beds filling the rooms of the aging hospital, it was made up with hospital issue linens -- two white flat sheets worn thin from years of use and washing in hot water and bleach, each tattooed deliberately with the thick black letters “UMH” and inadvertently with small, faded bloodstains, ghostly reminders of the countless others who once lay between them hoping to rest, heal, and go home to their own bed.

The one thing that made this bed different from all of the others was the pillow.  Instead of the standard issue, shapeless, thin hospital pillow with the plastic casing that crinkles loudly with each movement, no matter how gently executed or subtle it was, waiting for me at the head of the bed was *my* pillow.  My boyfriend had brought it for me after slipping it into my favorite freshly laundered cotton pillow case, smooth and soft from years of use and rich with the scent of home.

I couldn’t see any of this at the time, though, even though the bed was within an arm’s length of me.  The only sights within my field of vision were the same slightly yellowing ceiling tiles I’d been staring at for the last six weeks, two hours at a time before being flipped over, like a pig on a spit, to spend two hours staring at the well-worn floor tiles and the footwear of those who ventured into the corner of the room I shared with two other patients on the neurosurgical floor of the hospital.

A patient being flipped on a Stryker frame.As I waited, my anticipation building in time with the activity that around me, I gripped the edges of the Stryker frame one last time.  After so many weeks, I’d finally become accustomed to how narrow it was -- how I needed to press my arms tightly against my sides in order to rest them on its metal edges..  I remembered the early days and how still and silent I lay, terrified that if I moved, I would crash to the floor.  I’d suffered for years from a form of vertigo that made me feel as if I was suddenly falling out of bed, no matter how much mattress stood between me and edge -- how in the hell would I ever survive my time on something so narrow and seemingly flimsy without being in a constant state of terror? But as the days passed, the width of the frame became less and less of an issue, until I somehow became acclimated to laying, and sleeping, on something barely wider than my hips.

And then it was time. 

The crew of nurses had finished all of their preparations.  The Stryker frame was pushed up next to the freshly made up hospital bed, and the complex tangle of cables and weights used to hold my spine steady as it healed were carefully disconnected from my halo. (The traction weights would be reattached to the halo once I was in the bed.)  When they were satisfied that it was at last safe to move me, my favorite nurse, Marian, leaned over me from my left, squeezed my hand (she was one of the few nurses who could remember which of my arms could still feel pressure), and, with her eyes dancing with excitement for me, asked if I was ready.

“You have no idea how ready I am.  If I never see another Stryker frame, let alone find myself doing an involuntary horizontal pirouette while sandwiched between two cheesy remnants of discarded WWII army cots, it will be way too soon.  Let’s do this.”

Marian gave a quick glance in the direction of each of the three nurses she’d recruited to help with the transfer, then counted off, “One.  Two. Three!”

After a few seconds during which I seemed to levitate, it happened.  I was in a real bed.

Pure Pleasure

I sank into the mattress with a contented sigh.  After laying for so long on little more than wide strips of canvas, it felt deep and plush, and at that moment I would have sworn on my mother’s life that it was stuffed with goose down and clouds.  At long last, my head was cradled by my own pillow, soft and familiar, a small slice of heaven even though the halo and the bolts that secured it to my skull prevented me from melting into it as completely as I would have liked.  But nothing compared to the wonder of having acres of mattress on either side of me.  I couldn’t stop moving my hands over the vast expanse of cool sheets that lay between me and the edge of the bed, marveling at how big a twin-sized bed really was.

No bed has ever felt so good.

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