24: The One Who Stayed

24: The One Who Stayed

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Touched by an Angel

The One Who Stayed

We are each of us angels with only one wing, and we can only fly by embracing one another.

~Luciano de Crescenzo

I got rheumatoid arthritis in my early thirties and as it progressed, I was increasingly debilitated. After a while I couldn’t live with the pain shooting down my back, groin, and leg. The orthopedic surgeon looked at the X-rays and described my hip exactly the way it felt to me. “It’s like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole,” he said. RA had destroyed the ball and the socket. But he offered some good news. “There’s a ninety-nine percent chance a total hip replacement would eliminate the pain.” With those odds, I scheduled my surgery that day.

The day after surgery, I stood with my new hip and knew I had gotten my life back even though I faced a long recovery with a lot of precautions. I was told not to lift my leg too high, cautioned not to bend over, and taught how to swivel to get out of bed. At no time in the first three months was I to bend from the waist more than ninety degrees. That was my healing time. The muscles surrounding my hip replacement needed time to strengthen. “It could slip out of joint and you don’t want that to happen,” my nurse said. “It’s extremely painful.” I would follow the rules to the letter. I had had enough pain.

Five days after the surgery I was home and doing well. My physical therapist went through the rundown, showing me what exercises to do to get my muscles back in shape. I loved the smooth motion of an artificial joint and gladly went through the routine several times a day. I regretted having waited so long to get it replaced.

In six months, I was back for my checkup. I walked in with no assistance. My surgeon was as happy as I was. “How long will my new hip last?” I asked.

“It should last a lifetime.”

“Do I have any restrictions?”

“I’d advise you not to cross your legs or play competitive sports.”

I had to laugh at that one. I couldn’t play sports if I had too.

When he stood to leave, I thanked him and gave him a big hug. “See you back in three years.”

Nine months later, I was at the emergency room entrance in excruciating pain. It was the last place I had expected to be that hot July morning. Three attendants unfolded me from the passenger seat and brought me inside, doing all they could to keep from adding more hurt to my damaged body.

A few hours earlier, my husband Eddie and I had decided to spend the day sightseeing in the country. We stopped to see a friend and look at a canoe he had for sale. Since he wasn’t home, we only stayed a few minutes, but long enough to for me to bend over to pick up a paper I had dropped in his driveway. That’s when my hip implant rolled out of joint, sending me crashing to the ground. Although I knew immediately what had happened, I was never so shocked. I had made the same movement hundreds of times since my doctor released me with no problem.

I screamed for my husband to help me, trying to tell him where I was hurt. I couldn’t use either hand. My left one was swelling like a softball and I couldn’t move my right arm from the shoulder down. He gently lifted me off the ground and worked me into the car inch by inch as my left leg hung precariously sideways. For what seemed like an eternity, I prayed and Eddie drove eighty miles per hour. We were in an area where there was no cell phone service and we were fifty miles from the nearest hospital.

Despite the long drive, my arrival time couldn’t have been better. My surgeon was just finishing in the operating room and would take me right in. But first I would have to go to X-ray to see what was going on. I begged the three people in radiology not to move me onto the hard table, but it was no use. “It has to be done,” they all said, but promised to get the pictures quickly. “Yell if you have to. We’ll understand.”

On the count of three, they lifted my 100-pound body off the stretcher amid my screams. I pleaded for someone to put a pillow under my leg. I couldn’t stand to stretch it out. It felt as if it was tearing loose from my body. Then, from somewhere in the dark room, I heard a soft, calm voice: “I’ll stay with her.” The other two radiologists went to stand behind the shield while a woman stayed and held my leg up off the table in its awkward position until the X-rays were over and I was wheeled into surgery. I never saw her again. My hand was set, my shoulder put back into place, and my dislocated hip put back together again. Three days later, I went home to begin my recovery.

As the days went by, I couldn’t get the lady in the X-ray department off my mind. Why had she done that for me? I was just another patient not unlike the ones she saw every day. Why would she risk her own health to help a stranger? But the magnitude of her compassion had impacted my life like nothing before. Every time I tried to tell the story, the words stuck in my throat. Somehow, I had to let her know. The least I could do was say thank you.

I contacted the hospital and tried to get a name with no luck. I couldn’t provide a good description, only that she was rather petite with shoulder-length hair, about thirty-five to forty, and was on duty at the time of my X-rays. No one on duty that day came close to my description. They didn’t have a clue who it could have been. And besides, no one was supposed to stay in the room while I was having the X-ray.

At that point, I tried to explain it away. Maybe her job would have been in jeopardy for ignoring hospital policy or, for whatever reason, she wanted to remain anonymous. All those things made perfect sense.

Nevertheless, five years later, I haven’t forgotten her. I realize there are some things that can’t be explained. All I know is that when I was in unbearable pain, a soft-spoken lady stayed with me, doing all she could to help despite the fact that she shouldn’t have been in the room with me and that no one else saw her. I will never know her name, but to me, she was an angel from heaven.

~Linda C. Defew

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