Marty and I watched and listened as the trio gently played their strings. The classical music filled the lobby and the three college students, fixated on their instruments, entertained the frail, broken audience in the sub acute care center. The crowd was largely old and mostly very ill or recovering from being very ill. I sat there in the faux living room and thought about how our somewhat inauspicious introduction to sub-acute care had not necessarily belied the physical and spiritual grace we would find there.
Our first day there had come after a tough stay at a very crowded hospital. When they came to move Marty from the hospital to the new facility we were not suspecting or even looking for grace, we were both simply afraid.
Marty and I were in her hospital room when Big John, a huge man with an irrepressible smile, came and quickly and effortlessly scooped Marty out of her bed and into her wheelchair. I had seen how difficult it was to move Marty at this stage and held my breath, trying to help, trying to stay out of Big John’s way. His smoothness and his grace for such a big man were perfect.
As we made the move from the hospital to sub acute care fear, concern, and emotional exhaustion just flooded both of us. I was afraid of what I did not know, I was afraid because Marty was afraid..
As it turns out Marty’s room wasn’t ready so we had to sit out in a small living room area. The television was on, the sun was coming through the windows but all I could focus on was the overriding, oppressive, sweaty fear. Marty was cold, it was January, so I wrapped her in a blanket and sat as close to her as humanly possible.
It was the start of a three month stay there and a six month ordeal to get her home.
Over the next days and week we found a rhythm and got to know the nursing assistants who were the caregivers, the people on the front line caring for Marty. Knowing the people, knowing the routine didn’t completely dispel the fear, but the routine and rhythm began to help. I spent almost all of my time there with Marty; she was so vulnerable, completely unable to advocate for herself, so I stayed with her or one of our children stayed with her. Marty did not spend one night alone there; someone from her family was always with her. It’s good to have remarkable children.
As I watched the caregivers come in and help care for Marty I caught on quickly to the fact that the more you engaged them, the more they began to see Marty as Marty and not just a patient. We developed a rapport as through their actions they started training me in how I would care for Marty.
Back to the music. What struck me that day as I listened to those artists play their instruments is how similar their artistry was to the caregivers who helped care for Marty. As they moved Marty, as they turned her to bathe her or dress her, as they secured her to help her stand and move to the wheelchair, the best among them were doing it with as much grace and artistry as the musicians playing their instruments.
What I saw in the days, weeks and months at the sub acute care wasn’t always perfect, the lack of perfection drives the need to be there to help advocate for the most vulnerable. What I saw were constant little acts of grace and heroism each day.
I saw the old man come each day to be with his wife who clearly had been hit with a devastating stroke. He was there in the morning before I got there and still there on the days I would leave. His stamina, his desire to be there for his wife was simply astounding.
I saw the really large nursing assistant who came each day when we were there to help clean and dress Marty. I watched as this woman who didn’t appear to be particularly tender talk to Marty in quiet tones as she rolled her back and forth to first put on her shirt and then her pants. To see this woman you would never think of the word grace, to watch her care for Marty it’s what I still think today.
Those men and women who come to your room every day, the men and women who see so many Martys in their career are the people you count on to care for you or your loved ones. Those men and women, when they are good, ply their trade like a practiced cellist, moving with grace, passion and tenderness as the music they make with their work stays running through our minds even today. It makes you want to be graceful.