Life is like a coin. You can spend it any way you wish, but you only spend it once. ~Lillian Dickson
Today, on the eve of my birthday, I received news that shook me to the core: a friend of mine had suffered a stroke and was in ICU; the prognosis was grim.
I had texted her early this morning but hadn’t heard back. I had just seen her two days ago and she was in good spirits, she had complained of a slight cold, but everything else was normal.
This morning, my phone rang, her name showing on the display. It was odd because she never calls as we see each other daily. Texting is our usual form of communication, but phone calls? No, we never phoned each other.
I was a bit cautious when I answered the phone.
“Hello? Karen?”. I didn’t recognize the voice on the other end.
“Yes, this is she.”
The woman on the phone identified herself as my friend’s sister; I could hear the anguish in her voice as she told me her sister had suffered a stroke.
My stomach dropped, tears filled my eyes as she shared the details with me, asking if I would come to the hospital and sit with her. Of course, I would.
As I gathered my things, I was in disbelief: she is ten years younger than me and tough as nails. I thought about her young son and her husband. I thought about the laughter we shared over big bowls of extra spicy garlic pork ramen at Ramen Dojo followed by a serious conversation about the upcoming anniversary of my pulmonary embolism and how a medical event changes one’s perspective. That was barely three weeks ago; today she was laying in a bed in ICU.
We had planned dinner when she knew her son would be staying at her sister’s house, enjoying quality time with his cousins. She was always game for a night out when her son was spending time with her sisters or her mother; she never wanted to go out when he was home.
“I only have him for so long and then he will be up and out of the house. I want all the time with him I can get” she’d say. I love how she puts her son first. I love how she always reminds me of how lucky I am to have two boys. “Karen, you have two kids, in my case emptiness once he goes to college.” Her love for her son is etched in the smile and glow of her face. She loves and appreciates time with family and with friends. This was the topic of many of our conversations.
As I drove to the hospital, I thought of her son and wondered how he was doing and how the family was coping. Alighting from the elevator on the 5th floor of the hospital, I sucked in my breath and walked into ICU. I stepped into the embrace of her older sister and her husband. They filled me in on her status and the prognosis: it would be a long road to recovery.
I was invited to enter the room. When I walked in and called her name, her eyes fluttered open, a slight smile emerging.
“She recognizes you,” her sister said.
I sat down, held her hand for a moment. I began to talk. I talked about garlicky ramen, about writing, and how she inspires me when I am exasperated with my children. I pulled out my phone and scrolled down to a recent text she had sent me: “We can choose to have faith and be optimistic…I will always choose optimism and faith.” As I read that out loud to her, I gently squeezed her hand. There was a slight squeeze back. I stayed a few minutes longer while she slept.
As I got up to leave, my gut told me that she will push through this. She is tough, she is stubborn, and she is a fighter. Most importantly: she already lives her life knowing she only has one coin, a coin that is so precious, that she holds so tightly that there’s no way she’s going to let it go. I am optimistic and have faith.