The smell of hospitals in winter
And the feeling that it's all a lot of oysters, but no pearls
All at once you look across a crowded room
To see the way that light attaches to a girl.
–Counting Crows, A Long December
A few days ago I went to the hospital for a CT scan of my abdomen and pelvis. When the technician shut the door so I could undress, I was alone with my nerves, heart rate monitors, and a pair of oversized scrubs. I nervously looked around the room.
I was looking for warm blankets.
There weren’t any, but I had faith there would be some. I vowed to keep my eyes open as I peeled off my clothes with shaky hands. About an hour later, I found what I was looking for … and maybe it is what you are looking for today. This is my story, may it bring hope where it is needed today …
When I had two kidney surgeries five months ago, they were at two different hospitals, two weeks apart. At the first hospital, my teeth chattered a lot. Before the surgery and after the surgery, my teeth constantly rattled. My kind nurse said, “Oh honey. We need to get you a warm blanket.”
She walked off briskly and came back with a clean white blanket that had been warmed to a perfect temperature. I could not believe it. It was such an unexpected kindness … an absolute luxury … a going-the-extra-mile action that I didn’t think people did anymore. My teeth stopped chattering almost instantly.
“Thank you. Thank you,” I said for this perfect gift I could hold both figuratively and literally in my time of fear.
I ended up asking for warm blankets more than pain meds during my stay. I was pretty sure they had healing powers.
As I packed my bag for my second surgery, I was even more nervous than the first time. I knew the sterile chill of the operating room, the count of the anesthesiologist, and the feeling of obtrusive tubes where they didn’t belong. “But don’t forget the warm blankets,” a little voice of hope piped up inside me.
The next day, I found myself donning the surgical gown and head covering once again. As if on cue, my teeth began to chatter.
“Are you cold?” my nurse asked. I didn’t know if it was nerves or temperature, but I nodded. She pulled out this inflatable, space age looking covering and showed me how to turn it on for hot air.
“Is that better?” she asked covering my legs with giant bubble wrap.
“Yes,” I lied, forcing myself to smile.
I turned to my husband in the chair next to me and whispered that it wasn’t the same as a warm blanket. He reminded me this was a much bigger hospital than the first, and they probably couldn’t laundry all the blankets. “This is more earth friendly anyway,” he said.
My eyes welled with tears. I excused myself to the bathroom. Honestly, I didn’t want anyone to see me reacting this way about a silly blanket. But I knew it wasn’t silly—the blanket had been the one bright spot in a difficult time, and I’d been counting on it.
I made it through the surgery without any warm blankets and actually forgot about it until my doorbell rang the next day. Unfortunately, my husband was running a quick errand and my children were at camp. I pulled myself up tenderly and shuffled slowly to the door. My neighbor stood there with a grocery bag of hot chicken, a few sides, some bread, and brownies.
“It’s nothing fancy, but I thought you could use a meal,” she said.
Before I even knew what was happening, tears began running down my face. I hadn’t lived in this neighborhood long and didn’t tell many people what I was going through. But yet, here was this kind woman bearing food and a look of concern. When she wrapped her arms around me, I thought: Here it is! Here is my warm blanket!
My blanket of comfort in this dismal situation had not been forgotten; it was just in a different form than I’d been looking for.
After my neighbor left, I scribbled “warm blanket” on a loose piece of paper in my writing folder. I held on to that paper for five months, not really sure why—until recently.
I was at my sixth doctor’s office visit in six weeks. I’d seen a nurse practitioner, two gynecologists, and three urologists about a persistent internal pain. “We don’t see anything,” was the consensus time after time, but at this particular visit there was an added concern. My blood pressure was sky high (and that was unusual for me). I was told to get a blood pressure monitor cuff to determine if this elevated pressure was just nerves or a new normal for me.
I stopped at the drugstore on my way home and went right to the kitchen table with the box. I called out to my 12-year-old daughter who has an avid interest in the medical field.
“I know how to do that, Mama,” she said taking the cuff from my hands with capable hands and guiding my arm through the sleeve. “We learned this at emergency medicine camp last summer.”
As she leaned over me in concern, my mind raced with worrisome thoughts about my current situation. “Only Love Today,” I repeated in my mind until the negative thoughts subsided.
I breathed in the scent of my daughter’s hair and focused on the gentleness of her hands.
“Just think. A year ago you were completely fine,” she said. “And now look at you. Your kidney. Your heart. But don't worry. I’ll take good care of you. You’ll be fine, Mama.”
And there it was: my warm blanket.
The blood pressure cuff tightened on my arm and the numbers began to flash. I looked around the room and things became very clear:
Those messy piles on the kitchen counter don’t matter.
Those snug fitting pants on the floor of my closet don’t either.
That opportunity I missed 15 years ago and still think about today will need to go now.
That traffic I’ll face taking my daughter to swim team practice in an hour won’t phase me.
That person who always gives me the cold shoulder won’t bother me today.
Even Day 9 of non-stop rain sounds quite soothing as it beats down on the roof of my home.
I once swore that warm hospital blanket had healing powers … now I could see it had perspective-changing powers too.
Seeing the warm blanket in a dismal situation
Changes the view
Changes the air I breathe
Changes the complaints that come out of my mouth
Changes the way I speak and respond to others
Changes what’s wrong to what’s right.
But there is more. And had my trial not continued, I might have missed it.
I’d taken off my clothes, put on the oversized scrubs, and was waiting to be called into my CT scan. I decided to check Kerry Foreman’s Grounded page where she posts enlightening videos about setting daily intentions that have a way of calming and centering me. Her video that morning was on authenticity, and she challenged her community to post a picture of something they wanted to be real about. I looked tired, and there was fear in my eyes, but I took my picture anyway and posted it with these words:
“Being authentic about my health worries and fears has opened up so many hearts I never would have gotten to see. I am getting a CT scan this morning and here I am a little scared, but my heart is open. Thank you for walking beside me and encouraging us all.”
Besides Kerry, my best friend from childhood, I didn’t think about anyone else who might see it.
But less than an hour later, I learned my words and photo had found someone struggling to get out of bed—someone who needed to get pre-op x-rays taken that day. She said my post had helped her “be real” and reach out to someone for support. She hoped my scan went well and added, “I know the fear and anxiety of waiting for results. I also know the support that comes from letting others know your struggle. Thank you for entering mine today. You made a difference.”
The warm blanket. There it was again. But this time it was even more comforting, more healing than it was before.
What I didn’t know in that hospital bed five months ago was there was something even better than seeing the warm blanket in a dismal situation—and that was letting someone crawl under it with you.
Although I wanted my trial to end months ago and have been yearning to get on with my life, there is goodness right here—right here in this place I don’t want to be. And not only can I find the glimmer of hope in a troubling situation, but I can help others find it too.
Each morning since that day, I wake up and recite a Hands Free Life daily declaration. It goes like this:
Today I will start my day with love. I will choose love as many times as I can—love for myself, love for my family members, love for each person with whom I come in contact. When I find myself in a situation that is hard to choose love—perhaps when I feel fearful, frustrated, worried, angry, distracted, sad, or hopeless—I will look for the warm blanket. It might look like an understanding face, a hand squeeze, a bird on my windowsill, a song I love, a little extra time, or an “I love you,” from my child. Once I find my warm blanket, I will carry it with me. I shall look for the chance to lift my warm blanket and invite someone in so we are not alone in our struggle.
My friends, seeing the warm blanket in a dismal situation is a moment changer … a day changer … a life changer.
It changes the oxygen you breathe.
It changes the choices you make.
It changes annoying habits to lovable quirks.
It changes inconveniences to invitations.
It changes heartache to hallelujah I am alive.
There is goodness right where you are. And if you can’t see it yet, come here. Crawl under my blanket. There is room for all of us here.
There is much pain, despair, and hopelessness in the world right now. Some of it is so close to home we don’t know what to do. Some of it is so far from home we don’t know what to do. In both cases, I encourage you to keep looking for the warm blankets in dismal situations. I encourage you to keep lifting the warm blanket to invite others in. On a personal note, the encouragement you’ve provided on my recent health-related posts on The Hands Free Revolution page helped me through two very difficult weeks of medical testing and appointments. Your encouragement is being multiplied through the words you inspire me to write and the comments you post. Here are two resources that have inspired great peace and hope in my life recently. Perhaps they will do the same for you:
- Jay & Kristi of Juicebox Designs are responsible for the beautiful covers you see on my two books, Hands Free Mama and Hands Free Life. Through our work together over the years, I have come to know and adore these two incredibly talented and wonderful people. Jay & Kristi recently sent me their latest project, Colorful Comfort: 49 Soul-Soothing Scriptures, Devotionals, Prayers & Hymns to Color. It felt truly providential that as I was searching to do something that lowered my blood pressure, this gift would arrive. Avery and I color in it daily and find so much comfort & wisdom in the beautiful passages. As we color, Avery will often ask, “Is this making you feel calm, Mama?” That is my warm blanket for the day. Friends, if you are looking for a meaningful holiday gift, I cannot say enough about what this beautiful book has done for me in one short week. Click here to read what inspired this project or here for the purchase link for Colorful Comfort.
- When Beth Nowak realized there were very little resources for families who wanted to teach children how to give back and live generously, she created one! Giving Families provides a beautifully packaged monthly newsletter that gently exposes children to the problems of the world in way that will not depress them, but make them feel grateful for what they have and inspire them to come up with solutions. Arriving via “snail mail,” Giving Families monthly Good Mail Challenges are fun and easy activities designed to help children (ages 3+) change the future of the world through acts of kindness, compassion, and generosity. Beth has taken the guesswork out of giving back for busy families—all of the activities are explained in 3 easy steps and can be completed anytime using materials found in the home. If you are looking for a way to BE the warm blanket and teach your children how to live generous lives, please click here to check out Beth’s beautiful resource. It would make a unique and meaningful holiday gift for any family.
Thank you for continuing to support my work by purchasing my latest book, Hands Free Life, online or at your local Target store. For other meaningful gift ideas, please see the visual/wearable reminders in the Hands Free Shop suitable for anyone striving to live more & love more in the time they are given. I am so grateful for you.