Bank Your Comfort
This is an idea of I’ve always held onto. The concept that it would be amazing if you could bank times of comfort. Deep down comfort. Coziness. Being in a warm bed on a cold night, feeling content and at peace. If you could take those moments, and hold on to them, because life throws some uncomfortable nights at you. I type this now with some comfort, trying to hold on to the feeling of my bed and a soft blanket. Cherish and hold onto the comfortable nights, because the rough ones will come.
This week, I ended up at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Urgent Care. Arriving at 4:30pm Monday, I was discharged 6:30am on Tuesday. Through the entire sleepless night, I thought of comfortable times. A warm bath with a class of wine. A heated blanket on a winter night. The windows open during a thunderstorm. Curled up with my kids watching a favorite movie. I thought about comfort I tried to bank. And it I found my previous deposits to be wanting. It’s not enough to think of a comfortable time. It can help for a moment, but I find it difficult beyond those fleeing moments.
When we arrived, it was standing room only. The place was packed. Packed with cancer. Going to their urgent care comes with the benefit of all care catered to the cancer patient. There was every ‘look’ of cancer you could imagine. The withered-away, gaunt sunken cheeks, bald head. Moaning on a stretcher. Sitting up in a seat, looking healthy, the patient bracelet giving them away. Young. Old. Everyone there had come for an urgent medical need, related to cancer or not. But cancer was the uniting factor.
That’s the funny thing about this ER, the uniting nature of cancer. There was an immediate comradery among the patients. Comfortably asking each other “What kind of cancer do you have?”, sharing chemo and radiation war-stories, and finding comfort in new friends as they struggled through their own pain. The wait was unbearably long, and I saw people who had never met previously reaching out to each other with reassuring hands, giving pats of encouragement, and kind words. We talked at with others and learned their stories, shared our phone charger with those who were losing juice, and quickly found favorite (and least favorite) nurses to go to.
These were lighter times. In these times, my discomfort and pain was easy enough to push away, to pull back memories of comfortable times. In these moments, you begin to feel as if you truly were able to find your bank of comfort.
But the comfort is hard to find when times are dark in an emergency room. While we sat, the man in the bed in front of us coded. Not from his cancer, but as a reaction to medication. A medication he had never had an allergy to before. He began to seize, and his wife called for help. Everyone went into action, but not like you see on television. There wasn’t shouting. There wasn’t running. There was choreographed and planned precision. Those who had a job to do immediately began what they needed to do – bringing paddles, starting compressions, administering epinephrine and adrenaline. Those who did not have an immediate duty found a place to wait in the wings, ready to move should an order be shouted to them.
The sounds were the same. The beeps, the alarms. But the voices were different. The lead doctor was not barking orders, she was calmly talking to her staff, who all trusted her commands. She led her team with efficiency, no moves wasted. And the team was ready to do exactly what needed to be done. A pregnant nurse went to pick up the paddles, and another quickly stepped in to take over, giving the other a quick and quiet scold for lifting something she shouldn’t have. Complicated medical instruments and devices were passed back and forth with assembly line precision. A predetermined order of doctors and nurses performed chest compressions, carefully timed out in two minute increments to prevent fatigue. The face of everyone showed determination and knowledge, creating a sense of reassurance in the panic.
The man’s wife shifted away from all the movement, and sat with my mom and myself. She was dumbstruck, completely at a loss at what happened. She was moments before talking to her husband, and now he was slipping away. She turned to my mom and said, “I don’t know what to do.” My mom put her hand on her, reassuring her in that moment, “Just breathe.”
I knew what my Aunt Karen would have said in that moment, and I shared with her in this moment, you talk to them, and tell them to come back. Hope they can hear you, implore them to fight, to hang on.
She looked at the doctors and staff surrounding her husband, and shared she was too afraid to get in the way.
They worked for about 45 minutes before they called it.
It’s hard to remember the comfort of the past in moments like that.