by Natasha Horsely~The first day Tola came to our house, I knew everything was going to be okay. It was in June 2011, and by that time we had already gone through hell and back. I didn’t know yet how much more there was to go through, but I knew that if Tola was our nurse we could get through it. We’d had other nurses. Some of them had looked unhealthier than my husband, most of them had been friendly, but kind of cold.
I knew immediately that Tola had a warm, loving soul. She smiled and the whole room lit up. Tola was from Nigeria, and though I hate to say something stereotypical about any culture that isn’t my own, she seemed stereotypically African to me. When we went to Africa a few years ago, I noticed that everyone said, “It’s a pleasure”, instead of “You’re welcome”. For the first few days there, I narcissistically thought that it had been a pleasure to help me, because I’m so awesome! I still really liked it even when I realized that they said it to everyone. Tola was like that. It felt like it was really her pleasure to help us.
And oh my what she had to do. How that could have been a pleasure to anyone I will never know. First, she came upstairs to our messy room littered with medical supplies, and then she helped me tend to my husband who had a hole in his stomach that looked like what I imagine a bullet wound would look like, once you cleaned out the infection. You couldn’t put your fist in it exactly but three fingers down to the knuckle. Once I had to have injections in my stomach, and I was told no injection would ever be more painful. I can only imagine the pain my husband was in. It was Tola’s job to teach me how to clean out this wound and redress it every day for weeks until it healed enough he could have major surgery for Crohn’s disease that would leave him without most of his large colon, and eventually healthier than he’s ever been.
All this while my father was dying from pancreatic cancer. I knew I couldn’t take much more so I looked at Tola and begged her. “Please, please don’t make me do this on my own. I am not a nurse. I can hold his hand while you do this. Heck I don’t even mind if he breaks my hand, but I can’t inflict this pain on him, no matter how much I know it is the right thing to do.” She looked at me with loving charity that verged on amusement, and said she’d be back the next day. She had to travel hours away from her own family everyday for weeks, but she did it, even on Sundays, until he healed enough for the next surgery. Sometimes there just aren’t enough thanks in the world.
I learned throughout this terribly difficult year that health crises bring out the best and worst in people, but of-course it is their best that gets you through. Tola was not my only teacher during this time. Really as soon as he was healed enough for surgery, the crises were just beginning.
I will also be grateful to his surgeon for going above and beyond and effectively saving his life, still, after his surgery he had one major catastrophe after the next. Immediately after discharge, he had to be hospitalized four times in two weeks. Each time his body nearly collapsed from dehydration, until they figured out he needed IV fluids at home to help him readjust to not having most of his large colon anymore.
Through this time both expected and unexpected people helped us: An emergency room Doctor; some neighbors who carried him to the car; and, of-course, the many neighbors and friends who fed us. My sister and brother came to help, which was truly amazing, since so many of our family resources were tied up helping my father live and die from cancer. I also couldn’t have gotten through this time without my husband’s parents and some of my dearest friends, who have also taught me, alongside Tola, that giving is the best medicine.
Throughout my husband’s health crisis I also had to live through my father’s. One time, in the summer, all my supports rallied so I could visit my father at M.D. Anderson (a major cancer care facility in Texas) for a weekend.
That Fall, as my husband was recuperating I was able to visit my father three separate times, once with my children, once with my husband, and finally by myself. It was like it was orchestrated by a conductor that wasn’t me. Sometimes, it seems, the unexpected help comes from above. Each visit went so logistically smoothly, almost as though it were planned for there to be no distractions from the terrible, yet also, life and love affirming, emotional work we all had to face.
I am so glad the last few years have been less traumatic, but I look back in a certain amount of awe at that year, knowing now that the best in people far out weighs the worst in them, and thankful that I really didn’t have to go through those crises alone.
This article is essentially about how the expected and unexpected gifts we get from others is what helps us get through our worst experiences in life. But for future reference, I will also remember not to be afraid to ask for help, to receive help graciously, to advocate hard for what is needed, and, at the same time, try not to hold a grudge at people for what they are unable to do. I noticed that there is always a link between standing up for myself and those I love, and being able to let go of the resentment you feel when people invariably let you down. When I haven’t stood up for myself, I can hold a grudge for years! It’s like a science experiment. Try it. A similar link exists, of-course, between happiness and giving liberally. Tola taught me that true pleasure is not hedonistic, in fact it is the opposite, it actually comes from giving. Weird, huh? And I think, with this in mind, whether it’s helping someone through a crisis or getting through our own, our spirits will find a way to soar over and above the problem long enough to get us through it.