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nurses : I deal in hope

I deal in hope : Carolyn R Scheidies

Blog Bio A Friend, A Comb and Hope

When an unexplained fall, resulting in a concussion, fractured skull and brain bleed, uncovered something much more serious, the state of my hair was the last thing on anyone’s mind–especially mine. 

February 2014, my husband returned late from work one night to find me on the floor calling his name. He lifted me onto the bed and tried to get a straight answer out of me. “What happened?” 

Obviously I’d fallen and hit my head, but I wasn’t responding well. In fact, I don’t recall much of what happened next. He drove me to the hospital emergency where a neurologist was on call. While I have a great many physical limitations that stem back to the Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis I contracted at thirteen, falling was not a natural occurrence, and this was the second unexplained fall I’d sustained in less than a six month period. 

“Going,” as the neurosurgeon told us later, “with my gut instinct, I knew there was more here to find.” The doctor ordered an MRI. It showed much more than the CT scan showed. It showed my fall stemmed from the almost complete closure of my upper spine. 

The situation was critical and required surgery. The family was called and the surgery was performed. The surgery was successful, but because of my limitations, the surgery and intubation damaged my throat. I woke up unable to breathe well, swallow or eat. I remember only flashes of those first three weeks in the hospital as my head healed. However, my ability to swallow did not return, and I struggled to keep up my oxygen levels. Despite more risk, doctors inserted a feeding tube and performed a tracheotomy to help me breathe.

I remained in the neurotrauma unit for some time before being transferred to the less critical care unit. In all, I was hospitalized for two and ½ months, getting to know the nursing staff, finding them caring and kind. But they focused on keeping me alive and healing. Who thought about my hair? Certainly not me. With a trach collar, washing hair was not a simple task. In fact, for most of my hospital stay, no one even mentioned it. 

As I became more aware and as I began walking, a glance at the mirror made me cringe. My hair. There was more gray than before and was a tangled mess. At home I combed my hair with a comb attached to a rod. I didn’t have that special comb in the hospital. 

Thankfully, I always kept my hair short. I noted something else. My hair had began to fall out. Are you kidding me! Didn’t I have enough to worry about? 

One night my friend Val visited. She had a daughter-in-law about ready to have her baby–at the same hospital. Yet she took time to visit me. I’m not sure what prompted it, whether it was some comment I made or something she sensed, but she picked up a comb and began to comb my hair. 

She eased out the tangles and kept combing out all the fallout. It had been so long, and her fingers on the comb so gentle, I closed my eyes to better enjoy the sensation on my hair and scalp. We conversed quietly as she continued to comb, and comb and comb.  I felt near tears at her attention. 

At a time when much of my life was out of control and was only beginning to look up, her kindness brought a sense of gratitude for my friend who took time out of her busy schedule to do nothing more than comb my hair. My scalp tingled as she finished a long time later. The state of hair may not seem important, and it certainly doesn’t compare to life itself. Yet, what my friend did for me that night in the hospital made me realize, sometimes it is the small things that often mean the most. 

Though the doctors told my family I might always need the feeding tube and trach, a month after returning home, both were removed. I could take care of my hair. Yet, I look back at that night in the hospital, forever grateful for an observant, caring friend who quietly provided what I need most at the time–my hair combed. 

© 2015, 2020 Carolyn R Scheidies

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