When, as we wander through life, do we stop looking into the eyes of others?
As a nursing supervisor, this question blind-sided me one night when a family brought their mother into the emergency room for breathing trouble. The stale smell of urine choked us when we entered the old woman’s room. She moaned when she inhaled and sighed when she exhaled, the simple, for-granted movement of chest bones like a rusty metal cage scraping the sides of tender lungs.
Helping her breathe became the ER staff’s focus. They tried to flatten her contorted back against the inflexible foam gurney. Pulling back the covers to position her revealed hips and knees kinked into a pretzled pile of pain.
As I wheeled her to the x-ray room, I wondered how we’d ever straighten her enough to sandwich her C-shaped torso between the ramrod plates of film.
Burning anxiety — the kind a nurse feels when she knows the pain about to come to a person — crept up my chest and into my throat. I clutched her hand, roped with blue veins, and got real close to her . . . close enough to see the flecks of green and grey in her blue eyes . . . blue eyes I imagined once loved well by a man or a toddler reaching up to her from his crib . . . blue eyes I imagined dancing with daffodils on a spring day when her legs were all flesh and freedom.
She looked back at me, brow furrowed with the question of pain and the exhaustion of living.
“We have to move you a little to get this x-ray,” I said. “But I’m gonna try as hard as I can not to hurt you.”
“No one . . . has ever . . .said that . . . to me before,” she said between gasps for breath.