My pump was beeping-again. I’d reset the volume twice; I’d retaped the line; I’d silenced the alarm. Again. And I felt like a total hypocrite, pressing the call light. I hate hospitals.

I found a clipboard hanging just inside the door. I know the intent behind the stack of checklists and I was genuinely trying not to judge. But I isn’t it kinda cheating to take it down every four or five hours to scribble your name in the blocks?

I was antsy and restless, so I walked the unit. I counted twenty four rooms. Three were empty. I walked it twice more, counting staff. There were two nurses and a clerk. Maybe that’s why the checklist is pencil whipped.

I can say, though, today wasn’t a total waste of good pharmaceuticals. I managed to make a friend. She’s seventeen, with “end stage” liver disease. She is literally glowing. I’m calling her ‘Punkin’, which makes her laugh. At shift change, she challenged me to a race: IV poles to the elevator, press the button, and hustle back to base as soon as the doors opened. She won. Twice. Well, I let her win, since I’m old enough to be her mama, and that’s the Southern proper. Turns out this ain’t Punkin’s first rodeo. Now she’s calling me ‘Old Mother Hubbard’, which makes me laugh.

We made the trek to the solarium earlier. I’ve seen the view before, but never at night. I saw light pollution. Punkin saw stars. I was baffled, trying to figure out how she could possibly see stars tonight. She was baffled that I didn’t. The key, she said, is in the perspective. When she looked out over the city, she chose to see twinkling stars, rather than cars and buses. I was quite impressed by her optimism.

I really tried not to speak clinically, until Punkin told me she has spent much of her life here. She was born with a puny liver, and underwent her first liver transplant before her second birthday. Her third liver is now failing, and she’s developed many antibodies, making another transplant very unlikely. Her goal is to make it past her eighteenth birthday-but not for any particular milestone. At eighteen Punkin gains medical autonomy, and vows to refuse aggressive treatment.

I didn’t know quite what to make of her plan, and since I didn’t, I let her fill the awkward silence. I do love to learn people… Punkin never attended school. She was homeschooled, and completed high school credits two years ago. She is enrolled as a Business Management major at the university next door, in a virtual classroom. And she still has dreams for her future.

The “end stage” label ruffles her feathers. Our doctor knows that. When the residents and interns make rounds, she interjects. She says she’s not at “the end” of anything. She tells them they don’t get to dictate her life’s course. She agrees a physician WILL decide, but He sure ain’t walking around down here staring at a clipboard! Spirit! Spirit and faith. Sounds familiar.

We finally had to call it a night; she was exhausted. She told me she’d see me next time, even if next time finds her studying the heavens from above, made whole by the one true Physician. She will surely be there.

The nurse in me still wants to fix Punkin, or at least pity her. The patient in me can fully relate to her ire. It’s incredibly unsettling, looking out from behind the side rails. I’m usually the one looking in. Punkin is prepared. She’s ready, and she neither wants nor needs pity.

Be blessed, Y’all.

 ~Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering. ~
 ~Mark 5:34~

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