“Just A Friend”

16 May

When her wheelchair stopped in front of my desk, she looked up, a fragile figure whose narrow face described, without words, the long journey of illness and suffering. If she had been able to stand her height would have been less than five feet. Slumped in the rolling chair, she wore a blue scarf around her head, open on the top so that her thinning hair showed through. A wrap around her shoulders draped down over her lap and almost touched her feet. Her voice matched her appearance, sharp and childlike. The woman was checking into the hospital where I give volunteer hours once each week. Unable to push the wheels of the chair herself, she was accompanied by a tall man, perhaps near 70, who seemed quite attentive to her and spoke on her behalf when her mumbled words were unintelligible.

“I’m just a friend”, he told me.

She wanted me to take a sheet of paper on which were typed words containing, she said, “important information”. When she extended her arm to hand it to me I saw the hospital wrist band that must have remained from a previous visit. I tried to explain to her that in my role as a volunteer I was not privileged to personal, medical information, but she did not understand and my hesitancy must have dredged up old memories of long waits, bureaucratic inconsistencies or the sheer anguish of having to tell her story one more time. She pulled herself back in the chair and then lurched forward in a rocking motion. Back and forth she moved, rocking her upper body more violently as the moments passed. With the jerking movement, she began to whimper, then moan in sounds that got louder and louder. It was then that her companion placed his hand first on her left shoulder, then very gently on the top of her head as it swayed back and forth. Without saying anything to her, he knelt on both knees beside her chair and put his face close so that only she could hear. People in the waiting area were now beginning to notice the moment. Some were watching with growing interest as the man on his knees began to sing softly. The tune was unknown to me; maybe more soothing sounds than familiar melody. He swayed in the same rhythm that she had made, all the time singing his quiet song. It wasn’t long before she began to relax. She took his hand and eventually let his calmness ease her frustration. When she had regained a measure of control of her own emotions and fears, she looked up at me and smiled, as if to say: “I’m here now.”

When all was done and her admission to the hospital was complete, I spoke briefly with her companion. She had suffered greatly for a long time; she was alone in the world with no family; she lived in a care facility where she was one of many who had lost both dignity and determination. Her only outings were to doctors and hospitals; she feared and hated both. I thanked him for his kindness to her and for helping to calm her anguish. He said, again: “I’m just a friend.”

I hope that the next time I am overwhelmed by my own fears or deeply angered by things I can’t control, a friend will sing to me. Just a friend.

One Response to ““Just A Friend””

  1. 14250sc June 15, 2013 at 11:55 pm #

    There’s a message there. Thank you.

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