Chapter Twenty Three: Gratitude
We are always constructing ways to direct our future. We build vision boards, pray, affirm our goals, sometimes pound our fist in frustration, kick, scream, demand, and then go back to asking nicely for the things we think we need the most to make our lives complete.
Steve and I learned a different way to create. We were shown that there is a bigger plan for us if we can sit still long enough to remember it. We had to be held captive in a hospital room, tied to the darkness of our fears, until, through shear exhaustion, we surrendered to our destined path. When we surrendered, miracles aligned, love grew bigger, and dreams were reborn. After the dust from the explosion of our new life settled, we felt only gratitude.
Three days before Christmas, after baking dozens of cookies, pounds of fudge, and three large pans of brownies, Steve, his mom, his sister, and I returned to the hospital. We wanted to thank the doctors and nurses who had been so dedicated to Steve’s recovery. Dr. Schrieber was the doctor we most wanted to see. He was the doctor who had found the rare blood disorder just in the nick of time. He had also been the one who agreed with my intuition and lowered Steve’s sedation so he could get off the ventilator.
Steve did not remember him, since he was sedated most of his ICU time, so he was looking forward to meeting him and then thanking him. There were a few special nurses we also wanted to thank and hug. Rebecca, our angel who had so gently and compassionately given to Steve was one of those nurses. Then, there was Audrey, the rehab nurse in Three West who had motivated Steve and shown him his power. We were hoping to see all of them that day, but it was a Sunday right before Christmas, so it was a gamble, but we packed our car with our baskets of sweets and excitedly made the drive to Flagstaff.
Our first stop was Taylor House. Steve had heard so much about our home away from home and he was curious to see where we had stayed. Two of the women we had most wanted to see were there and were very excited to see us. They were thrilled to be able to hug Steve and tell him how much they had visualized his recovery. We had grown so close to these women during our stay with them, so to see them again with Steve standing next to us was very emotional. After touring the large home to show Steve where we had been when we weren’t at the hospital with him, we gave these beautiful women our basket of sweets and asked them to share it with the families staying there, then made our way across the street to the hospital.
As we entered the hospital, the medical helicopter was landing on the roof above us as it brought in a new patient. This was exactly how our journey had begun months before. We had a full circle moment as the sound of the helicopter drowned out our words, reminding us of how far we had come.
Our first stop was the first floor ICU. We picked up the phone, like we had done each morning, and told them we were there to deliver some Christmas cookies. The doors opened and we were once again standing in the hallway where our hearts always skipped a beat as soon as the doors swung open. Steve had never walked this hall. I held his warm, healthy hand as we told the nurse we were looking for Dr. Schrieber and hoping he was on duty that day. She smiled and told us that he was there and lead us to him. Dr. Schrieber sat at the nurses station opposite the room Steve had stayed in the first night he was off the ventilator, the night his cousin Craig had told him stories and they had sang their crazy songs.
Dr. Schrieber looked at us and immediately recognized who we were, but did not immediately recognize Steve. It slowly began to dawn on him who was standing in front of him. A big smile began to spread across his face when he realized it was Steve. “I can not believe it is you!” He told Steve. “ You look so different. You look wonderful!” Steve took his hand, shook it and said, “Thank you for saving my life. I have wanted to thank you for months.” They hugged, and then the nurses began to recognize Steve. One by one they came up to the desk and took in what was happening and with who. There was laughter, hugging, and tears of joy. They all told Steve how happy they were to see him. They told us they rarely get to see someone survive, much less come back and thank them. We gave them our gift and a card Steve had made for them, took a few more pictures, and then left to find the elevator to the second floor. The nurses in ICU had told us that Rebecca was on the second floor that day in the cardiac ICU. We couldn’t believe our luck. We would get to see our Angel again.
Rebecca walked down the hall and into Steve’s waiting arms. They held each other for a long time and then she took her hands, placed them gently on his face, and quietly told him how special he was and how wonderful it was to see him. They both cried. Then she did the same with me, his mom, and sister. I told her how much she meant to us and hugged her one more time before we left.
Three West was next. We got the last basket of sweets out of the car and walked to the third level. It felt amazing walking the hospital hallways with Steve. We had walked those halls a thousand times, but Steve never had. My heart was healing with each step.
The double doors of Three West opened and we entered the hall Steve had wheel-chaired down often on his way to the outdoor courtyard where he had loved to sit in the sun; the same courtyard where we had celebrated Father’s Day with family and friends. We asked the head nurse if Audrey was there and she told us she was. She quickly went to go get her. Audrey rounded the corner, took one look at Steve and in her loud, energetic voice said, “Well, look who’s here! It’s Steve Akash! Alicia and I were just wondering about you the other day. We were wondering how you were doing!” There was more hugging, more laughter, and more tears as nurses and techs appeared and realized who was standing there.
We drank it all in. We had dreamed of this day, the day Steve could walk down the hospital halls with us, hug his nurses, and then go home. We took our time. There was none of the rushing that we had experienced when Steve had been transferred from floor to floor. It was time to relish the moment, feel the gratitude, and share our love with the people that had shown up for us, who had experienced our most intimate life moments with us, and whispered comfort in a darkened room in the middle of the night as fatigue and a very sick man wore us all down. These amazing people had been our guides as we navigated our way into a new way of living. They had given their all and it had paid off. We gave them our hugs, our respect, and a big box of holiday sweets that had been made with lots of love.
Our final stop was the cafeteria for one last hospital meal. We had eaten wonderful food here and we felt fortunate each day we ate here to have found a hospital with great food. Steve had heard us talk about it and had longed to eat there on those days when he wasn’t allowed food or ice water. We wanted him to finally eat the foods that had comforted us when we had needed the comfort. The four of us sat at the table we had made ours during our stay. It was getting late, so the dinner rush was over. The cafeteria was quiet as we sat and talked about how good it felt to have Steve there with us eating a huge plate of comforting food.
Time stood still. We had cried in this place. This was where we had come when we couldn’t handle the bad news of the day. We had eaten forbidden foods, foods we never allowed ourselves to eat at home, like biscuits smothered in gravy, enchiladas covered in gooey cheese, cherry Pepsi with french fries, and char-broiled, non-organic hamburgers. All the things that comforted our scared and weary souls. We had also celebrated in this place when the news was good. This was where family and friends had met us to celebrate the baby steps in Steve’s recovery.
Steve ate while we reflected on all that we had learned. We felt satisfied with our discoveries and proud of how courageous we had been. We had made it through the worst of times and we were now much wiser and softer. Love had stretched our stifled hearts and our lives had expanded accordingly. We all agreed that we were eager to see what our future would bring.
It was time to leave, time to take what we knew about life and the art of living it, and go home.
We walked down the hall to the front doors of the hospital with Steve following behind. As we passed through the doors, I turned around to watch Steve walk through the big double doors. Eight months before I had dreamed of this day. I took his hand as we walked to the car, got in, and with peaceful hearts, drove our milagro man home.