I smiled because a favorite patient of mine, J, and I had shared a passion for collecting these. I bet her mom knew what to do with them. Then I saw the envelope.
It was from Whittier. With a love stamp. Was it from J?
It was a copy of J's Life Celebration Service. The date was June 30, 2000, exactly twelve years to the day. Inside was a thank you card Jessica had designed. There was a drawing of her, as an angel, up in the clouds with her arms outstretched with love. Underneath was the phrase Everyone Has...A Guardian Angel. I opened it and read:
Dear (Reiki Doc):
Thank you for your love, support and prayers. J adored you!!! We are so blessed to have you in our lives. Thank you for always being there--she was very proud to have her personal anesthesiologist! And it always made us feel so good to know you were there as her angel. Thank you for the many care packages which cheered her up so much! Thank you for the lovely flowers. They were so beautiful. thank you for your friendship.
With love and gratitude,
S and J
I picked up the phone and called her mom, right away.
It couldn't have been an accident.
And I never let on why I called. We just caught up. An hour of your time is the best gift of all.
Why am I sharing about J? She is the first one to really demonstrate how spirit and healing are one.
I was not assigned to her case. I was going to do a thoracic case, and place my first double-lumen endotrracheal tube. Tony, the chief resident, who was two years ahead of me, needed one more thoracic case towards his graduation requirements. So we switched. I was on call. A long crani...
I met J in pre-op holding. Her parents were next to her, in the little chairs, worried.
J's concern was that at another Children's Hospital in the area, she had to walk back to the O.R., and remembered EVERYTHING before they put her out. She did not want to remember anything besides pre-op holding today. She kept saying, 'they did not give me enough'. She also wanted to get up and pee, but the nurse wanted her to use the bedpan. J thought that was disgusting, the bedpan.
She might not be able to walk after the surgery, let her walk to the bathroom now, I thought. And after that, I did my old trick, keep pushing versed until the patient slurs their words. J took eight milligrams. (Her seizure medication had supercharged the liver. Most adults take two. J was eleven.)
It was a long, brutal surgery. I won't go into detail, but plastics had to be called in the middle of the night to assist with the closure. Her looks were dramatically altered. When she woke up, the first thing she said in the recovery room was, "Do my parents KNOW that I am here?" We brought them to be with her right away. We were thrilled she was herself, and everything still worked.
That was when it started. My making rounds to check on J. And they never stopped. At first, it was to the pediatric intensive care unit, to make sure she had adequate pain relief (her tolerance was real), and that she did not see herself without her bandages until Child Life and Chaplain had prepared her first.
The family was so happy with my care, that they requested me. For two more years, I did anesthesia for scans, for kidney surgery, for lung surgery...anything she went to the operating room for, I did. Even for a portacath. If J needed surgery, the scheduler knew to assign me the case.
It was the last one that I knew she was not doing well. Her liver had pooped out. It took much less drugs to achieve the effect. It must have been full of mets. I kept that to myself, and did not say anything to her parents.
Every day I would check to see if she was admitted to peds. And if she was, I would stop by. D, the charge nurse, would bring in his guitar and play for her, because she enjoyed it. And we talked about Beanie Babies, and what she wanted to be when she grows up. She was a cheerleader, and even when she had to sit in a wheelchair, she still screamed her head off for the team. She had two pets, a rabbit and a dog, and loved them very much. She was an only child.
In one of the care packages, I gave her a magnet. With an angel, that said, Everyone has...A Guardian Angel. That is what inspired her to make the drawing, that was selected to make the Christmas Cards designed by patients in the gift shop that year. It was the same design for the thank you card. (my matching magnet is scanned and in the photo on top).
I was there when J passed. I was in the O.R. helping a c-section. It was about ten at night. I felt it. I wanted to go to be there in pediatrics, and I couldn't go. But when the baby was born, a little girl, I felt it--J had a new chance at life, and took it. She went in. I never told anyone about that either.
I don't know how to explain it, but when people come back to live a new life, they also have the ability to visit those they love that are intuitive. J came back to me. She asked me to look after her mother. She judged herself harshly for this short life, and her choices. I can do better! I let her know I did not judge her, and that I believe she lived a good life. And further that she could do what she wanted to do in this next one. I believed in her good head on her shoulders and ability to make the right choices.
From time to time, J has come back and given me messages of a personal nature. To help me guide my life. And I have kept in touch with her parents. We all have become dear friends. Her mom took the pain, and went back to divinity school. She is a chaplain at a big hospital for kids. She gets the ICU, cardiac surgery unit, and the bone marrow transplant ward. She has only told two families about her loss. She says when the children have a dream about Jesus, and He says everything is going to be okay, it's all over. Even the ones that look well and seem to be doing all right. She says, the kids know they are dying. The parents don't. And she helps everyone adjust as best she can.
J blessed me with her angelic presence. I am comforted to know the angels that are her parents are just a phone call away. And through them I learned about the angel I have in me: my heart. I have J's photo on the wall, in her cheerleader suit and Tigger hat. I smile at it every day.