The Stroke

The morning chaos always got the best of Grace. Getting the kids up and ready, taking them to the sitter was exhausting… for everyone. She really didn’t know where she got the energy to do everything but she did. Her daughters Maria and Elizabeth were in grade school and only a walk away from the sitter to school. The girls kept themselves entertained with TV and Ipads which Grace did not mind. Charlie on the other hand, was difficult to understand. Before he turned two he was diagnosed with a rare chromosome deletion. Grace remembers the day, the geneticist tried her best to explain to them what it was and how it would affect him.  It would be a long time and a lot of work before he would speak.  He would have learning disabilities and they would have to wait and see how he progresses. At the time Grace felt as though she was living a really bad surreal moment.  There was 1% possibility of this happening and it did.  She remembers Bert, her husband just sitting there quietly, she remembers the look on his face as he slowly slipped away from her into a self induced coma. He was a handsome man with a beautiful smile, his thinning hair fit him perfectly. Being the funeral director he was, he had a certain way of controlling his emotions. Its been 2 months now and they haven’t spoken about it. They haven’t spoken about anything really.  He has filled up his time with work and avoids any interaction with Grace.  The awkward silence was now finding its place in their home.  Grace was always pretty good at covering things up and making everything seem normal.  Life continued and she would continue her regular duties of juggling work and home, she assumed every other wife and mother did the same. 
Grace enjoyed her drive to work and back. Sometimes it felt as though going to work gave her a break. Gave her time to just be Grace. She always liked to arrive to work 15 minutes early, she went to her locker, contemplate having a cigarette then remember she had not bought a pack in over two years and was to embarrassed to bum one.  She changed from her boots into her runners.  They were the same runners her ex-boyfriend had bought her over 13 years ago. she always cleaned them with disinfecting wipes and kept them there.  Work was bitter sweet for Grace, but it was a job and it needed to be done.

 Her thoughts about having an easy day quickly vanished when she exited the elevator and the smell of urine engulfed her senses. It was going to be a long shift. Those who didn’t know her assumed she was a nurse, because of her colourful scrubs and the way she carried herself, but she never got that far.  She became pregnant after her first year and cut her dream short. Working as a personal support worker in the local hospital was as close as she would get, at least until the kids got older. 

 

She entered the crammed staff room and put her lunch bag in the fridge. Took her last sip of her favourite dark roast and punched in. 

 “Good Morning” she said to the nurses in the nursing station. 

Some replied others didn’t even acknowledge her presence. She was use to it and didn’t take it personal. “Only another 25 years of these cranks” she thought to herself. 

 

She walked out to meet her colleague, who was half asleep at the computer. 

 “Long night?” Grace asked 

Her colleague’s dark skin always looked so perfect. She kissed her teeth and said  

“We got a new admission, stroke, right sided weakness, aphasia, everyone else is the same.” Before Grace could ask her anything, she had walked away, the smell of a lavender hand cream trailing behind her. 

 

“Okay here we go” she thought to herself as,she walked over to her cart. She made sure she had enough supplies to last the morning rush. ” I hope I can get at least 3 done before breakfast” she whispered under her breath. She had made a promise to herself to always greet her patients with a smile and a happy hello regardless of the problems they faced. She knew, she was going home at the end of her shift. 

 

She also knew that if she was going to make her goal of three before breakfast she better start in Mr. Beetham’s room. He was always a jolly fellow. He was up and ready to go. She took him to the bathroom, helped him get all washed up and changed, then she sat him in the chair by the television. She told him he looked handsome and that breakfast would be there shortly. Just as she was finishing her third patient, she heard Brenda the food cart lady. “Guess it’s breakfast in bed for some” she whispered to Mrs Jackson as she helped her get her sweater on. 

 

She went room by room setting up all her patients. She wanted to see if she could get them all set up without having a single call bell go off. These little challenges she gave herself kept her going, she was always very competitive, even in her home life. 

Just as she was about to enter her last room, the bell went off and the light was blinking right outside her new patient’s room. Before entering she quickly reviewed the new patient’s care plan. This was a very important lesson she learned in school during her practicum, after she almost killed a lady with peanut butter cookie. Make sure you know your patients, read their care plan. Know how they transfer, dietary needs, and all that other good stuff you usually do not have think think twice about. Mistakes are great for learning.  

 

This man will need assistance feeding. This will take time, she knew it. She entered the room “Good morning! My name is Grace and I will be helping you today.”  no response. Really though she was not expecting a response, her patient was aphasic. She looked at Mr Chaplin and thought to herself what a helpless feeling it must be to not be able to speak. Mr Chaplin looked sad and discouraged. Grace walked over to his bedside and looked at him, for whatever reason she felt compelled to tell him he would be okay and everything would work out. There was something about him that struck Grace so strongly that she had to sit down. It was as though Mr.Chaplin could see right through her and into her soul. He could see her sufferings, her hurts, her troubles. Everything that Grace would hide and hold back came out in that moment. It was an instant connection.  One of a different magnitude.  It did not matter that there was not a spoken word heard or exchanged.  Grace felt him, he understood her silence.  The silence was what united them.  Each in their own silent sufferings.  The image of Charlie replaced Mr. Chaplin.  Grace became overwhelmed and Mr. Chaplin shed a tear. 

They shared something in common. They shared a stroke. Charlie’s diagnoses had affected Grace so deeply. She saw her son trapped, unable to speak, to voice his opinion, his likes or dislikes, his frustrations.  His body limiting his ability to break free, to be a normal boy.  Why was this happening? Grace thought to herself.  She knew she was strong, but this was out of her hands. This sudden mental breakdown got the best of her. Grace got up excused herself and ran to the washroom before anyone could see her.  She washed her face.  She recognized this washroom, the mirror, the sink.  It was the same one that she would run too when she would have her morning sickness with Charlie. “ Stop, Stop it Grace” she said to herself. “You are a fool.” She washed her face again, cleaning up the black  $27 mascara from Sephora running down.  Once she returned to the floor, she peeked inside Mr. Chaplin’s room and saw that the nurse had set him up and was feeding him.  Relieved she moved along.  She was saving Mr. Chaplin for her last wash of the day. When the moment came and she entered Mr. Chaplin’s room she avoided eye contact. She organized her linen and told him that he would be having a bed bath today because physio has to access him before she can transfer him out of the bed.  Silence. Grace brought over the basin with warm water, dampened the cloth and asked Mr.Chaplin if the water was okay. No response.  She began washing his face, then his neck and arms.  She covered his upper torso with a towel and continued to wash his lower body.  She put moisturizer on him and dressed him.  She sat him up in the bed and combed his hair back. He closed his tired eyes and seemed comforted by the care he was receiving.  Grace looked at Mr.Chaplin and took in his beautiful hazel eyes. What was it about this old man that struck Grace so much. Grace collected the dirty linen, took it out and checked the time.  She would have just enough time to get herself another coffee.  She thought about phoning her husband and telling him about her morning but she decided not to.  He would be busy.  The day dragged on. Lunch hour had come and gone. The sun was beaming down the hallway window.  Grace was sitting at the computer doing her charting, when she saw a patient coming down the hall in a wheelchair.  She could not make out who it was because the sun was too bright from behind them.  It was Mr. Chaplin being pushed by a volunteer. When Mr. Chaplin was close enough he stretched out his working hand to Grace.  Grace placed her hand in Mr.Chaplins.  His skin was soft now that she felt it without gloves.  He must have been an office man, no calluses or signs of hard labour.  He brought her hand to his lips and placed a gently kiss on it.  She was moved by the gesture. The last thing Grace wanted to do was think. Thinking made her sad.  Her thoughts made her ponder to long on hopeless matters.  Mr. Chaplin was making her do just that.  Something about his vulnerability made his silent words have that much more impact on her.  Staring at him, Grace finally saw it.  Mr. Chaplin was not her patient, Mr. Chaplin was the reflection of her husband. It was the man that she made little time for, the man she had loved so much but pushed away so far. She fell into the coma, not him. She hid him behind work, home, behind her Charlie and the girls. Grace thought that she had her life under control, but she was losing it all.  She was trying so hard on a daily basis to be that wife and that mother she was suppose to be, but she was forgetting to love her husband and her children.  Grace had forgotten all the joys and happiness she had shared with Bert. The way he held her, his jokes, the way he would look at her when she was pregnant. She had forgotten how she couldn’t wait for him to get home. The smell of Chanel Allure on skin. She missed him. She realized that she was being so selfish in the most unselfish way.  

Grace looked at Mr. Chaplin stood up and hugged him.  “You have done more for me in these few hours then you will ever know, thank you.”  She walked down the hall, checked the time grabbed her badge and punched out. She went to her locker, changed quickly and ran to her car. She connected the blue tooth and called the sitter.  “Hi Steph,  I’m going to be a little later tonight, maybe an hour or so” She drove up straight up HWY 50, Bert had shown her the way once. 

 “Just so you know my route, in case of anything” He had told her that, what felt like such a long time ago. This was a case of something for sure, she thought to herself.  She saw a Second Cup, pulled in and bought their favourite, Chai Latte with a butter tart warmed up. 

She saw the funeral home. From where she was, it looked like it sat on a hill. She pulled in. There was no service going on. Her heart was beating so fast. “Why am I nervous, I have been married to him for 8 years” She said to herself. She began to question her decision, but the image of Mr.Chaplin came to her mind. She could hear his silence. She parked. Took a deep breath and opened the door. Butter tart and latte in hand she began marching to the front door.  

 “You look like you are on a mission there..” said a voice from behind her. 

 She turned to face the familiar voice.  Bert stood there with the two dogs the funeral home owner would make him walk them daily. He told her that a while ago too.  

 “Did someone die?” He asked 

Grace knew that the question was valid considering he was a funeral director and she was at the funeral home and nothing other than death would bring her here. 

“Almost” Grace replied 

“Almost?” he smiled like he was waiting for this a long time 

 

“ I almost… lost you.” Grace said shyly as she walked closer to him 

 

“Really?” He smirked 

 

They were now face to face.  

 

“Something happened to me that was so strange” she began 

 

“I saw Charlie, I saw you, and I saw myself in one of my patients. It was as though he was some sort of angel, he did not say a word but taught me something so important, to love regardless of what happens” tears began to roll down her face. 

 

“I miss you and I need you. I need you to hold me and love me, I need your smile, your smell and your touch. I need to hear you everyday”  She said behind her tears. 

 

Bert pulled her into one of his big bear hugs and whispered “I’ve missed you.  

 

Everything will be okay.  I knew you’d come back.” 

 

“A stroke of love brought me back” she said and sealed his lips to hers. 

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