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.
Thank you for reminding me to find the good in each day my warm blanket. I sometimes forget to hold onto my warm blanket and let the bad take it away. I’m going to make sure now I keep holding onto to it and not let it go.
Your posts awaken the person I want to be. And remind me of who I am meant to be. Thank you
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you for taking the time to comment, Desiree. Your honest revelation is so beautiful and uplifting. I appreciate the encouragement you have offered me as well. I shall use it as writing fuel today.
Leslie Swathwood says
Once again your beautiful writing is spot on and resonates with me more than you know!
Thank you for all that you do….much love and big hugs to you—
Leslie xoxo 😀
Thank you so much for this beautiful post. I am a nurse and I am lying in my bed after a very long very draining night shift. Thank you for being the warm blanket that I needed today. We have a blanket warmer at my hospital and there is much comfort found in the warm cotton for the patient as well as the nurse. Sometimes we face the person we can’t fix, I know that I will reach for the comfort of the warm blanket because of your story. I took care of my mom until she passed away from breast cancer and reading your story makes me wish I had my mom here to color with. Please cherish each moment. May god bless you and your daughter. I pray for your health and many years of a life well lived with your family.
So needed these beautiful words. Thank you.
your post touched… my essence/soul
November 7th… two years ago… so long ago… for the mind… so recently… for the heart…
I was fighting… for my life
I know… oh too well… about those beautifully heated white blankets
the warmth goes… to your essence/soul… while it lingers, you feel so, so comforted
I hope… all goes well… for you
a bit of advice…
I’ve learned… to enjoy this ever so slow pace of recover
I consider it… a gift from… The Positive Higher Vibrations… time to learn… to smell… the roses… of life
Best Wishes… Roberta
There was a woman in her 90s at our old church. Her ministry was to make small lap blankets for people with challenges like you. It wasn’t really a quilt, but she would put a pattern of old fashioned yarn ties throughout it, left untied. At least once a month, we would find a small blanket in the foyer of the sanctuary with untied yarn ties, and someone’s name in the corner. As people walked in or out of the sanctuary, they would see the blanket, stop, and say a prayer, and tie a knot. My husband was the lucky recipient of an Agnes prayer blanket. Our youngest daughter was a month old, and is now 16, which means that he has been in remission for over 15 years. Agnes’s blanket has an honored place on our rocking chair, and I regularly find him draped with that blanket when he having a tough day. What an incredible blessing a blanket can be!!!!
Carey H says
Oh my goodness, what a beautiful idea! I love the community tying the knots. That’s a warm blanket, indeed!
When we’re in a tight place we don’t want to be, we pretty much get through it kicking and screaming. It’s only much later – months, even years later – that we realize that it was fierce grace, that it grew us in ways we couldn’t have conceived of then. As C.S. Lewis said, “God allows us to experience the low points of life in order to teach us lessons that we could learn in no other way.” Kudos to you for already finding the courage to embrace the good in your situation even as you are going through it.
Want to share a story with you that you might find comforting. It’s a birth story, but the inner work this woman does before her second birth that allows her to be mindful and open just gives me the holy chills every time: http://thegiftofgivinglife.blogspot.in/2010/02/rebecca-oversons-story.html
You are loved, Rachel, you are held, and everything’s going to be alright.
Carey H says
This post has been my warm blanket today. I am so discouraged by all the ugliness and hate on the internet right now. It is so comforting to read these words of love. Thank you!
I am a nurse who works with blood cancer patients going through bone marrow transplant and warm blankets are a game-changer in my patients days. There are days when I can’t give them the answers they seek or take away their pain but I can offer a smile and a warm blanket. I love how you stretch the literal meaning of a warm blanket and will think of this often not only at work but with my family and community. Best to you on your health journey!
Thank you Kelsey,
I am a multiple myeloma survivor and have been through a SCT. Warm blankets and the incredible care I recieved was truly amazing. Next week, I go for an IV infusion and am always asked do I want a warm blanket.
Thank you for what you do!!!
What a wonderful reminder to step back and remember the goodness of God’s grace surrounding us! I loved each of our reminders of what a warm blanket can do. Turning annoyances into lovable quirks is awesome and I so need to remember to let it change the complaints that come out of my mouth to praises for the awesome grace and love that abound in my life! I pray you are doing well and this season of challenges does, indeed, pass soon while leaving beautiful God moments in its wake for you to hang onto for years to come.
Thanks! I need the “warm blanket” of this post today. I myself have been having some health issues over the last year which have included several tests and procedures and I really need to call the Doctor again about something but it all is just so frightening , frustrating and overwhelming. Praying for you & also so grateful for all that you have brought to my life through your generous writing. Happy Thanksgiving!!
You are our warm blanket. And I am sending you wishes for healing and wellness Rachel. Much love.
I have asthma. It’s usually mild, but once in a while breathing is a little tricky. A few weeks ago I was huffing and puffing through my day. My seven-year old son goes, “Mama? My lungs work just fine. Why don’t we put a tube from your mouth to my lungs. You can use mine for a while.” I am a doctor myself and lucky to spend a career taking care of people, but to hear that no-holds-barred generosity in my child to want to take care of me was incredibly moving and special. He, his brother, and their dad are my warm blankets.
Rachel Stafford says
This is so beautiful … brings happy tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing — feels like a warm blanket just to read it!
Deb K says
Thank you for sharing and writing. The warm blanket is a great word picture for us all! <3
I forgot to say very best of luck for relief in your own medical situation!
My husband and I both know the healing powers of warm blankets. When the new hospital was built in our town, we gladly donated to their Warm Hug Club, which funded the blanket heater units in the hospital. It’s a message that resonates with so many, just like your post will today.
You are like a warm blanket! You have such a way with words, and can relate such a seemingly simple sentiment or story and have it reach people on so many levels. Every single time I read your posts, my eyes well up, and sometimes more! Thank you for sharing and reminding others to always look for the good. It sounds like you are going through a lot of emotional experiences, but that you are surrounded by love, and that you are able to share that love with the universe speaks volumes about you.
Rachel, I receive your blog posts via Facebook, share them often and read them often. But I admit I am a prowler – I have only observed the conversation, and have remained on the outside choosing not to join it. I understand why you do this – we learn best through teaching others, and some souls NEED to find that the good things that can come out of bad circumstances, and helping others to see that good, that love, is always possible and is the reason why we choose to overcome.
I NEEDED this post today. If you were to ask my family’s story, your jaw might drop at how everything went wrong and we could possibly still be chugging along today. Everything but death in the family or life-threatening illness. Monday afternoon was the third car accident I have been involved in in a period of less than 5 months, the second of which my 9-year-old son was in the back. It was a wet and windy Portland day, raining non-stop. Monday night and into Tuesday morning, I needed and gratefully received a warm blanket while being positioned for a CT scan in the ER. It was then that I felt I was OK. I had broken down several times that night for various reasons: the initial pain and shock of being hit from behind and sent into the car in front that started with my mouth hitting the steering wheel, then finding out that the car that hit me had fled the scene when medical arrived, the moment I felt completely alone because I would BE alone in dealing with the backlash, the disappointment in myself that my son, sitting scared in the back, was even more scared because his mother was crying from pain and fear. But the glittering moments came from my son, who assured me with pats of the hand and a hug and kiss that he was OK being picked up and taken away so that he didn’t have to accompany me to the ER. When I returned home later at 2 in the morning, he heard the front door open and came down to hug me and say how glad he was that I was OK with a big smile on his face, and we kept each other company sleeping together for the rest of the night in my big bed.
Maybe the bad things are overcome by the moments of love and reassurance that wouldn’t have otherwise appeared if we hadn’t again fallen into dire straights? I remember the warm blanket that night, I remember needing it so bad against the events of the evening, against the constant cold rain and wind that I hadn’t dressed for. Without the peekaboo moments of love and caring from my son along with a few expressions of support from other family members, I wouldn’t feel OK. I would feel completely overwhelmed by the trauma.
Thank you for sharing your story, you really don’t know how many others are experiencing the same – but talking about it makes the good all the more real and healing. We need to keep finding the good and keep talking about it.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you for sharing your heart … your pain … your comforts … and the profound love of your child. As I read your words, an indescribable peace settled upon me. I am so grateful you are okay and that today you spoke up and let me know you are here. I can feel your hand in mine. I will remember this line for sure: “Maybe the bad things are overcome by the moments of love and reassurance that wouldn’t have otherwise appeared if we hadn’t again fallen into dire straights?”
Hi Rachel – what a great write-up of the process you went through, the way you noticed what comforted and nurtured you in so many different forms. All were “warm blankets.” As long as we have a warm blanket, we can face the hardships in our lives. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences and insights.
As I read your words today, I physically felt the tension relax from my shoulders, my heart rate slow down, and the anxiety dissipate from within me. Suddenly a certain exhaustion was lifted from me. I haven’t been able to reach this state for several weeks now. I so needed this…perfect timing, and a beautiful gift. Thank you!
This makes me think there are warm blankets all around and we have to learn to see them as such and appreciate them for what they are.
May we all have warm blankets!
Somewhere Linus is proud.
I hope your procedures have gone well and you are on the mend.
Your insights mean the world to me. I am a mother of two young children and going to school to be a social worker. Your posts guide me through my journey towards compassion and love and helps me guide others…thank you.
May the love and inspiration you live, breathe and are fill your body with balance and healing, Rachel. Your words are always a warm blanket for my soul.
I’ve lived with Type One Diabetes for 28 years now and honestly, I most often just feel DONE. It does get dismal to be sure. I want to just LIVE. Minus the tubing and the pricking and the maddening expense topped off with worry and more worry. The message of this post will help me carry through to be sure. There are so many warm blankets to be thankful for amidst it all! I love everything you ever do and say and wish you answers and renewed health with all my heart. 🙂
I hear you on the warm blankets. I had an ectopic pregnancy a couple of years ago and I was given a warm blanket and it was such a comfort to me. The lovely nurse said I could have as many warm blankets as I needed, then after changeover, the first time I asked the new nurse for a warm blanket she said “we can’t just give them to you willy-nilly, you know” Thanks for this post, it was lovely. I’m about to start reading your book. 🙂
Thank you for the sharing of yourself so that others might know that that “warm blanket” is there for the reaching…I pray that God will continue to wrap you in that blanket whenever you are in need of that “hug” and embrace that only it can provide. May God continue to bless your precious children who minister in ways they know not…
Finally thank you for remind me that when I want to pull the blankets over my head that I need to find the blanket to wrap around me not hide me.
Cadence Pearson Lane says
Your posts always move me to tears as every time I open one it seems to speak precisely to whatever is going on in my mind/heart/life at that moment. I thank you from the depth of my heart for your honesty and beauty. I hope that your health returns soon in full force and send you love and light across the waters. Xxx Cadence
Thankyou so much, I read your blog/website often and have very tatty, well read copies of both your books by my bedside. It has been a very slow process for me, but i am finally beginning to feel hands free. I think your words have been my warm blanket, a blanket i have resisted for too long. Thankyou xxxx
This post is exactly what i needed today. I have severe depression and anxiety. I just found out im expecting a baby in July and ive been frantically trying to find warm blankets so to speak. I am scared. In so many ways. I had to stop taking all of my medication. Its not safe for my baby. I cried reading your story. I want you to know i think your daughter is the sweetest thing. Im a little lost and very very scared. I already have a 5 yr old and a 2 yr old. How can i take care of 3 children? How will i make it through this pregnancy? Im trying to find a warm blanket lately but coming up empty handed. Thank you for sharing your important story with us. Good luck.
Know that you are not alone. My hope for you today, is that your heart finds peace. I often come to this site to wrap my heart in the “warm blanket” of Rachels kind and honest words. I also view the stories that the readers share to be patches of a quilt….some new and inspiring and beautiful, others old and worn down and struggling to keep together….but when sewn together with such LOVE and compassion…they bind together to create a quilt of HOPE. I hope we as a community can wrap our quilt around you….and that you will feel less scared, less anxious and less alone. Know that I am thinking of you today…
Caroline McGraw says
Sweet Rachel, I’m so sorry that you’re going through health struggles, but even so, I can feel the love shining through your words even more than ever. What a powerful message. Thank you for being real. xoxo
Linda S. says
I too well know the CT scanner room and the adjoining Emergency Department. Those blankets do seem to hold magical and healing properties. It doesn’t matter if you are healing the body or the soul – how in fact can you separate them ?
The serendipitous timing of me coming across this post now, as I am recovering from major spinal surgery here in Central Mexico, couldn’t be better.
You have put into words the absolute emotional side to what I wrote about in my piece, ¨I Had Spinal Surgery in Mexico” on http://www.losogradysinmexico.com.
Without a doubt, this incredibly trying and physically painful time in my and my family’s life has refined, softened, wised and improved who I am as a human being, mother, wife and friend to both self and others.
The gift of walking and of health is not to be taken for granted. I am truly appreciative for the air I breath, the hummingbird that visits me outside my window daily, the ebb and flow of each and every day.
Not that I did before, but I truly feel a heightened sense of not taking anything for granted…. anything.
Thank you for candidly sharing your experience. So much of it resonates with me.
Thank you for your honesty about your situation and your encouragement for us all. This gives me courage to face the day, so thank you.
I am also facing an upcoming surgery & recently had an mri. As I was heading to the appointment I thought of the warm blankets I have had with other hospital visits, & just the thought made me almost look forward to the test.
I love the connections you made to little acts of kindness, & making someone’s day.
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