Such As I Have

Such As I Have

From A 4th Course of Chicken Soup for the Soul

Such As I Have

What you keep to yourself you lose, what you give away, you keep forever.

Axel Munthe

With only two weeks before Christmas, the last place I wanted to be was in the hospital recovering from surgery. This was our family’s first Christmas in Minnesota, and I wanted it to be memorable, but not this way.

For weeks I had ignored the pain in my left side, but when it got worse, I saw the doctor. “Gallstones,” he said, peering at the x rays. “Enough to string a necklace. You’ll need surgery right away.”

Despite my protests that this was a terrible time to be in the hospital, the gnawing pain in my side convinced me to go ahead with surgery. My husband, Buster, assured me he could take care of things at home, and I called a few friends for help with carpooling. A thousand other things—Christmas baking, shopping and decorating— would have to wait.

I struggled to open my eyes after sleeping for the better part of two days in the hospital following my surgery. As I became more alert, I looked around to what seemed like a Christmas floral shop. Red poinsettias and other bouquets crowded the windowsill. A stack of cards waited to be opened. On the stand next to my bed stood a small tree decorated with ornaments my children had made. The shelf over the sink held a dozen red roses from my parents in Indiana and a yule log with candles from our neighbor. I was overwhelmed by all the love and attention.

Maybe being in the hospital around Christmas isn’t so bad after all, I thought. My husband said that friends had brought meals to the family and offered to look after our four children.

Outside my window, heavy snow was transforming our small town into a winter wonderland. The kids have to be loving this, I thought as I imagined them bundled in their snowsuits building a backyard snowman, or skating at Garfield School on the outdoor ice rink.

Would they include Adam, our handicapped son? I wondered. At five years old, he had just started walking independently, and I worried about him getting around on the ice and snow with his thin ankles. Would anyone take him for a sled ride at the school?

“More flowers!” The nurse’s voice startled me from my thoughts as she came into the room carrying a beautiful centerpiece. She handed me the card while she made room for the bouquet among the poinsettias on the windowsill.

“I guess we’re going to have to send you home,” she teased. “We’re out of space here!”

“Okay with me,” I agreed.

“Oh, I almost forgot these!”

She took more cards from her pocket and put them on the tray. Before leaving the room, she pulled back the pale green privacy curtain between the two beds.

While I was reading my get-well cards, I heard, “Yep, I like those flowers.”

I looked up to see the woman in the bed beside me push the curtain aside so she could see better. “Yep, I like your flowers,” she repeated.

My roommate was a small 40-something woman with Down’s syndrome. She had short, curly, gray hair and brown eyes. Her hospital gown hung untied around her neck, and when she moved forward it exposed her bare back. I wanted to tie it for her, but I was still connected to an IV. She stared at my flowers with childlike wonder.

“I’m Bonnie,” I told her. “What’s your name?”

“Ginger,” she said, rolling her eyes toward the ceiling and pressing her lips together after she spoke. “Doc’s gonna fix my foot. I’m gonna have suur-jeree tomorrow.”

Ginger and I talked until dinnertime. She told me about the group home where she lived and how she wanted to get back for her Christmas party. She never mentioned a family, and I didn’t ask. Every few minutes she reminded me of her surgery scheduled for the next morning. “Doc’s gonna fix my foot,” she would say.

That evening I had several visitors, including my son Adam. Ginger chattered merrily to them, telling each about my pretty flowers. But mostly, she kept an eye on Adam. And, later after everyone left, Ginger repeated over and over, just as she had about my flowers, “Yep, I like your Adam.”

The next morning Ginger left for surgery, and the nurse came to help me take a short walk down the hall. It felt good to be on my feet.

Soon I was back in our room. As I walked through the door, the stark contrast between the two sides of the room hit me. Ginger’s bed stood neatly made, waiting for her return. But she had no cards, no flowers and no visitors. My side bloomed with flowers, and the stack of get-well cards reminded me of just how much I was loved.

No one sent Ginger flowers or a card. In fact, no one had even called or visited.

Is this what it will be like for Adam one day? I wondered, then quickly put the thought from my mind.

I know, I decided. I’ll give her something of mine.

I walked to the window and picked up the red-candled centerpiece with holly sprigs. But this would look great on our Christmas dinner table, I thought, as I set the piece back down. What about the poinsettias? Then I realized how much the deep-red plants would brighten the entry of our turn-of-the-century home. And, of course, I can’t give away Mom and Dad’s roses, knowing we won’t see them for Christmas this year, I thought. The justifications kept coming: the flowers are beginning to wilt; this friend would be offended; I really could use this when I get home. I couldn’t part with anything. Then I climbed back into my bed, placating my guilt with a decision to call the hospital gift shop when it opened in the morning and order Ginger some flowers of her own.

When Ginger returned from surgery, a candy-striper brought her a small green Christmas wreath with a red bow. She hung it on the bare white wall above Ginger’s bed. That evening I had more visitors, and even though Ginger was recuperating from surgery, she greeted each one and proudly showed them her Christmas wreath.

After breakfast the next morning, the nurse returned to tell Ginger that she was going home. “The van from the group home is on its way to pick you up,” she said.

I knew Ginger’s short stay meant she would be home in time for her Christmas party. I was happy for her, but I felt my own personal guilt when I remembered the hospital gift shop would not open for two more hours.

Once more I looked around the room at my flowers. Can I part with any of these?

The nurse brought the wheelchair to Ginger’s bedside. Ginger gathered her few personal belongings and pulled her coat from the hanger in the closet.

“I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you, Ginger,” I told her. My words were sincere, but I felt guilty for not following through on my good intentions.

The nurse helped Ginger with her coat and into the wheelchair. Then she removed the small wreath from the nail on the wall and handed it to Ginger. They turned toward the door to leave when Ginger said, “Wait!”

Ginger stood up from her wheelchair and hobbled slowly to my bedside. She reached her right hand forward and gently laid the small wreath in my lap.

“Merry Christmas,” she said. “You’re a nice lady.” Then she gave me a big hug.

“Thank you,” I whispered.

I couldn’t say anything more as she hobbled back to the chair and headed out the door.

I dropped my moist eyes to the small wreath in my hands. Ginger’s only gift, I thought. And she gave it to me.

I looked toward her bed. Once again, her side of the room was bare and empty. But as I heard the “ping” of the elevator doors closing behind Ginger, I knew that she possessed much, much more than I.

Bonnie She pherd

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