Hands to hold

When I was 16 years old, I got up my courage and asked her to the prom. She said yes. We might have visions of staying out all night, but what really happened is that we left the dance and went to a breakfast at a friend’s house and were home by 2 am. I held he hand most of the evening, rather awkwardly, truth be told. We held hands as we walked and when we were sitting at the table, she put her hand on the table and I grasped it.

When we were both in graduate school in Chicago, we actually did say up all night a few times. We had a manual typewriter that had to be used for all of our papers. We went through reams of typewriter paper and bottles of correction fluid. She s a good typist, but a bit irregular in her rhythm. There was no way for me to sleep if she was typing in the room where our bed was located. Sometimes I would get up and type for her. Sometimes, I would hold her hand and remind her how smart she is and how good a student she is and what good work she was doing.

When I was almost 28 I held her had most of the night as she labored for hours to give birth to our son. I was so impressed with her that night. She is one of the hardest workers I have ever met. Her strength and endurance are truly impressive. And, just after noon the next day we had a baby boy and we were parents and there were lots of times of being awake in the night that followed. Then we adopted his sister. The night we picked her up I was so excited that I couldn’t sleep. I kept getting out of bed to check on her. I think I made it hard for others to sleep. That turned out to be really good practice for that tiny little girl didn’t often sleep through the night. She woke us up a lot.

I don’t know how it happened, but I’m 66 and still holding her had in the middle of the night. It is no longer awkward. It is as natural as breathing. Our hands fit together and we are both happy to have the connection. I don’t stay awake all of the night. I doze at times and drift off, but that, too is natural. I’ve been sleeping next to her for 46 years. I’ve been holding her hand for 50.

Yesterday was a good day. The respirator was removed in the morning and pain medicine decreased throughout the day, with no pain meds needed at the end of the day. She was awake and alert all day and enjoyed visiting with her sister and son while I got a nap and a shower. She remains in icu, but doctors are pleased and saying rest is the most important next step. No long term plans right now, just step by step.

As I sit with her, I have been reflecting about trauma and its effects. I think that from a psychological point of view, the day before yesterday may have been the most traumatic of my life. I have witnessed greater trauma, but I was immersed in my own fears as the team administered CPR and executed life-saving treatment. My initial reflections, just a day and a bit later, is that there is something about the experience that makes me less fearful than I think I was before. While it was happening, I kept thinking, “I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know if I can do this.” There is a deep sense of helplessness as events that are beyond my control take over my life and emotions. But now that it is over, there is a sense that maybe I can take anything. If I can have that experience and survive without being totally overwhelmed, maybe I can face whatever the future holds. I was tested and survived. That is, I think, a good thing.

Then again, so far our story has a happy ending. We’ve weathered a big storm, but it isn’t the final chapter in our adventure. I have been with many families whose trauma means that the next day they have to reinvent their lives and figure out which new direction to take the next step. We are among the lucky ones. We still have each other. We know that the next steps are together. We’ll still be a couple. We’ll still be the parents of the same wonderful children and their wonderful spouses. We’ll still be grandparents to four of the most amazing people we have ever met.

So maybe that is another side effect of a traumatic experience: a sense of gratitude. Looking back, i certainly wouldn’t want to go through that again, but I have a feeling that I can take whatever lies in my future. And for the moment, I am so deeply grateful for all of the blessings we enjoy.

My attitude towards hearing the code announcement in the hospital is forever changed. The night before last, I sat next to Susan as I heard them call two codes. A few hours ago there was a code called in the same room where Susan had been when she was when they called her code. These, however, were for other patients. They were being called for people whom we had ever met. All the same, I could feel my heart rate speed up and a shortness of breath and my chest tighten up as they called out “Attention, attention, code blue, room ___, attention, attention, code blue, room ___. I experienced a bit of the fear that I had experienced when it was happening to Susan.

From now on that sound will stir a fear response in me. But fear does not have to paralyze the fearful one. It can empower. So I will teach myself to respond to that sound with a prayer for the victim and for the family who are freshly experiencing the trauma.

And I’ll squeeze her hand a bit and be grateful that we have been blessed with hands to hold.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!