I visited my friend at the Children’s Hospital in the city. Her daughter Amy was in a ward, struggling to breath deeply. Her respiratory function had been compromised by a motor-neuron disease that was gradually stealing function from her. At 13 years old, she was a gorgeous girl with sparkling eyes and a quick wit, but no use of her legs and nearly none of her hands.
On the Sunday evening I received a text saying, “Not Good. Please call when you can.”
I chucked a few things in a bag and went.
The nature of Amy’s condition, and then the further weakening of her body, meant that my friend Rachael sat in the bed with Amy propped up between her legs, supported by her mom’s arms and body. The mask and hose obscured her pretty face, but she could still get out a few words between breaths and wanted to know everything that was going on. She managed her own care to the end, three and a half days later.
The machines did not breath for Amy, but pushed more air in when she took a breath, expanding her lungs more than she could manage on her own. Amy managed a word with each breath, but patience made communication possible.
The position that made Amy most comfortable also meant that her mom couldn’t easily get up and get what she needed, for herself or Amy. I decided immediately that I’d just stay the night.
I stood along the cabinets at the side of the room, sat in one of the chairs or wandered about doing what I hoped would be helpful. At times my friend called me over for something. One time I leaned in to ask what she wanted, quietly so as not to disturb Amy’s light sleep. My friend said, “Come nearer.” She just wanted me to be with her for a few minutes, not doing things for her.
I was asked what I did during those long nights at the hospital. The most useful thing I did was offer my courage to my friend. That is not easy for a decisive choleric who likes to fix things for those I love.
That is friendship in crisis; the withness that creates a strength stronger than either one of you. That's what we can offer to each other, even when miles separate.