When things become intense in my life, I find myself looking in the nooks and crannys for “the story inside the story”. Funny how there is always one hiding, waiting to be lured out into the light. Often it has humor no matter how dark the surround. It’s message is always along the lines of “keep looking, we know more than we think we know.”
My day started after a long light. My mom was taken by ambulance to hospital with breathing problems. There was no available bed in any of the private hospitals and the ambulance drove around Cape Town’s dark streets for 3 hours trying to find a room with a bed at a hospital inn. We spent the hours driving around Cape Town looking for an ambulance looking for a bed. Suddenly in the dark and rain pelting down on our windshield, I saw an ambulance parked on the side of the road. Stop! I yelled to my husband, we pulled up beside it. I just had a sense about something. I rolled down my window, the driver rolled hers down as well and we both looked at each other through the rain. Do you have Mrs. Gilaad in the back? I asked. Yes she said. Follow me! I shouted. The joys of mobile phones I, her doctor and her heart specialist had managed to bypass the “no room” rules and had made a plan for her to be admitted to the hospital where her medical team worked and knew her history. I felt like Moses. She was admitted, the paramedics hugged me and we all headed home, exhaustedly relieved.
Breakfast the morning after on the balcony with my sister who had driven through from Caledon 2 hours away. Suddenly we saw the whales frolicking under our breakfast balcony. Huge and elegant as they eased their giant bodies in and out of the water. What a sign! In the midst of intensity there is always magic. “Nothing brings gifts like chaos” my friend Naama’s voice rings in my ears, evoking the perspective of her close relative, Mr. A. Einstein. The Mr. E. Those whales seemed to have a message for me of hope, of joyful release into the great expansive, holding space of the ocean, our original home. Life and death, waves and ocean. All one.
My mom’s machines beep and burp – she sounds like a casino. The patient next to her is in a coma. He is a young rugby player, injured in a game. Today is a big World Cup rugby day, the staff in the ICU are wearing Springbok shirts instead of their usual whites. The talk is animated, of players and fouls and shots and will we wont we win this one. The young man’s family have him hooked to headphones to hear the world cup, play by play. South Africa against Wales, him against death, my mother’s chest against breath; Wales scores but South Africa wins. Wails of joy frolicking in the Intensive care unit – another battle won.
Sister Devy is in a chatty mood. South Africa won even though they didn’t play good, she says in her Afrikaans accent. Us Coloured people we love rugby, she says. I want to tell her about our beautiful coloured boy child we have in our family. How much he has taught us about racial tolerance. And yes, he too, like the rest of the country is mad about rugby. I speak to her about comas and music and tell her how my son as a music therapist had experienced response in a comatose patient. The inexplicable line between consciousness and unconsciousness. His family have been singing to him. They are all part of their church choir, she says.
Then the toffee apples story comes out – the story inside the story. I always talk to my patients, she says. I know they can hear me, even if they are in a coma. She continues her story as she administers the nebulizer on my mother, who barely hears. One weekend I asked a comatose patient to help me with something – a toffee apple recipe. I had to make them for my church fair. I really need your help with this recipe, I said to her. After the weekend when I came back, I told her I was cross with her because her she hadn’t done anything for me and my toffee apples had flopped – the syrup, instead of coating the apples had run all over the place. You see? I said, I needed your help. Now, that patient, she came out of her coma months later, guess what she started talking about? Toffee apples! Her doctors thought she was delusional. Luckily she recognized my voice coming from the other end of the ward. That’s when I told her doctors the story.
Ja-nee, she says. Yes-no we know more than we think we know, she says landing me a no-nonsense- nurse- look. I agree I say, to the back of her.