Published in the Spring 2014 Intima, “Caretaking” by Emily Lackey, is a beautiful description of a young hospice worker caring for a patient (Marie), who is in distress but unable to communicate why. After many attempts to comfort Marie by doing things like changing the television channel and repositioning her, the 17-year-old soothes the patient simply by holding her hand. Ms. Lackey writes how:
Marie stilled when I touched her, turning away from me and burying her face in her headrest. We sat for the rest of the night like that, a woman and a young girl from opposite shores, reaching toward each other…
The healing nature of personal connection is evident in “Caretaking.” In my short story “Numb,” published in the Fall 2014 Intima, I also see the salutary effects of the simplest kinds of human contact. In “Numb,” it is only by listening to the frustrations of another person with a spinal cord injury that the protagonist is able to attain an acceptance of her own losses.
Another fundamental way we connect is by laughing together. I think my first real laugh post-spinal cord injury resulted from the Urinal Prank.
I was in the SCI rehab ward, and the patient urinals, transparent containers that looked like iced tea pitchers, hung from our bed rails and thus were within view most of the time. It was a little embarrassing to have this indicator of loss of bodily function on permanent display.
But one day, this patient (with the help of a nurse) engineered the Urinal Prank:
The patient was in bed with his plastic urinal in his lap. The urinal was filled halfway, as if the patient had just catheterized himself. But the urinal had a straw in it. He waited until a young nurse walked in.
The patient put the straw in his mouth and started sucking. The nurse froze, maybe unsure of what to do.
“They told me,” said the patient. “To run it through again if looked cloudy.” He shrugged and went back to sucking.
As I lay in bed several rooms away, I heard the nurse yelling.
It turned out the (sterilized) urinal was full of apple juice.
We laughed about it for days, nurses and patients. I remember how good it felt to laugh, to really laugh, and know that I might be paralyzed, but I could still laugh.
Touching someone, listening to someone, laughing with someone – it is a little corny and obvious to say these things can heal. But maybe it’s worthwhile, given the resulting benefits, to emphasize the importance of personal connection.
Julie Rea is a graduate of the City College M.F.A. Creative Writing Program and the N.Y.U. School of Law. Her work has been published by Atonal Apples, The Promethean, and Thoughtsmith and has been read by Abington Theatre. She lives in the Philadelphia area with a couple of cats and writes about life in a wheelchair and many other intriguing things. Her piece, "Numb" appeared in the Fall 2014 Intima.
© 2015 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine