by the Ven. Mimsy Jones
One morning in late August, as I finished a delicious breakfast of soft scrambled eggs, crisp bacon, and a warm blueberry muffin served to me in my cramped but clean hospital room in Camden, Maine, I heard someone I assumed was a doctor (it was way too early for family to visit) ask in a strong, cheerful voice, “Are you still alive?”
My God, I thought. What a question to ask a hospital patient! “Are you still alive?!”
Is dark humor the new approach to patient care? Was this doctor a Woody Allen fan (in which case the answer could have been, no)? Or did the doctor know the patient well enough to know she or he had a sense of humor? I had no way of knowing.
I had no way of knowing much of anything since I had been rushed to the ER the day before, with what turned out to be pneumonia in both lungs. I was immediately admitted to PenBay, a 92-bed hospital in Camden, Maine, where I lay in bed that morning listening to the goings-on outside my room, when I heard the doctor’s astounding question, “Are you still alive?”
Since I had slept well and eaten a great breakfast to boot, I felt particularly glad to be alive myself that morning and hoped the patient across the hall felt the same way.
I was in PenBay for four days, receiving excellent care from the doctor assigned to me, and from nurses who were smart, professional, and generous with their time and care. The food continued to be good; after that wonderful breakfast I feared lunch and dinner would be disappointing, but not so. My first-floor room looked out on a lovely oak tree and garden. If you had to be in a hospital, it could be much much worse than this.
Even though I do not recommend double pneumonia to anyone under any conditions, my unexpected hospital stay made a deep and, I hope, lasting impression. Being dependent on the kindness, and strength, of others; being away from home, at the mercy of strangers who turned out to be more than merciful; they (especially a wise and witty nurse named Luda, a native of Ukraine who had just returned from a mission to Poland) became my family until my beloved children Margaret and Mark arrived to keep me company, make me comfortable, bring me wonderful local coffee and croissants, and make me laugh.
Margaret stayed until we could fly home together, and as I write this, I have been home exactly five weeks; not quite enough time to fully recover, but almost.
The sweep of these past 5-6 weeks washes over me like a big wave – powerful, humbling, and startling. I have enormous gratitude for everyone who took care of me, on every level. Though my lungs were weak, I was keenly aware that the Spirit was very much alive within me.
“Are you still alive?” the doctor asked. I’ve asked myself that almost every day these past weeks. It’s a good question.
Are you still alive?