“How’d you find that out?”
“I asked one of the cleaning girls if she knew anything about her.”
“She’s probably got pneumonia from sitting out here on the ground,” Paul added without any recognition of compassion in his voice.
Again, Mark just stared at his friend and tried to fathom why Paul was so cold and uncaring. Not being one to pry, however, he let the moment pass and they proceeded to the restaurant.
At the end of the day, Paul informed Mark that he was going to stay a little later to work on a layout for a new account they had acquired. Before long, the cleaning ladies came in and Paul asked one of them if she knew the hospital where the young girl had been taken. She didn’t know but returned a few minutes later with the information.
Without knowing the girl’s name and not being a relative, it took a bit of doing before he was able to find out what room she was in. She was in the Intensive Care Unit and when he inquired about her, he was told her name was Sandra and that she was in critical condition. He also learned that she had no family, her father having left her and her mother when she was a baby and her mother having passed away when Sandra was ten years old.
The nurse brought Paul into the room and he sat in the chair next to the bed. A couple minutes later, the nurse returned and checked the tubes connected to Sandra’s arms. When the nurse went to adjust the bedding, Paul noticed that Sandras’s legs were misshapen.
He closed his eyes as his words about knowing life’s hardships came back to haunt him. Having lost his own daughter Tina at two years old, he had turned bitter and resentful. His marriage split up and he could never involve himself with anyone on an intimate basis. He had wallowed in his loneliness in spite of having had all the means to overcome it. Now, as he sat in the hospital room, with the monitors beeping, he realized that he knew absolutely nothing about real loneliness. Sandra, on the other hand, did. Yet, in spite of all she had lost and been through, she still smiled and offered a blessing.
He now understood that her panhandling was to stay alive. The cruel words he had spat at her on so many days invaded his mind and tore at his heart. What kind of a monster had he become?
“I’m sorry,” the nurse’s voice interrupted his thoughts. “Your fifteen minutes are over.”
Paul glanced at Sandra and then at the nurse and nodded. He stood up feeling like all the energy in his body had completely drained out of him. He was a shell moving robotically toward the door. In the elevator, he vowed to return and to speak to the doctors to find out what could be done to help Sandra.
That night, tortured by the memories of Tina and the visions of Sandra lying in the bed hooked up to machines, Paul was unable to fall asleep until he practically passed out from emotional exhaustion. His concentration in the office the next morning was anything but focused. At lunch time, he explained to Mark about Tina and his visit to see Sandra the night before. Mark sat quietly while Paul informed him of Tina’s death and Sandra’s deformed legs and being hooked up to the monitors.
Mark was then able to understand Paul’s cold attitude in the previous weeks and sympathized with all that his friend had gone through. Having children of his own, Mark also shivered at the thought of losing one of them. Such pain was beyond his comprehension and wondered how Paul would have endured for so long without having shut his emotions off.
After lunch, Mark headed back to the office while Paul hailed a taxi to go to the hospital. He was determined to find a way to help Sandra. In amongst his angst to help her, thoughts of possibly adopting her weaved in and out of his mind. He kept thinking that their meeting was more by design than happenstance.
At the hospital, Paul forced himself to remain calm and patient as the elevator seemed to take forever to open. He made his way to the nurse’s station and inquired if the doctor had been in and how Sandra was doing. The nurse informed him the doctor would be with him briefly and told Paul he could go in to see Sandra.
Paul reached out and took Sandra’s little hand in his and was shocked at how cold it felt. He covered his other hand over hers and whispered, “It’s going to be okay. I’ll keep you warm. I’m so sorry for all the things I said to you and one day I will explain why I had such a cold attitude toward you.”
One of the monitors in the room started beeping loudly and two nurses came running into the room. One of the nurses came to the side of the bed where Paul was standing. “There’s a small room down the corridor and once we see what’s going on, we’ll let you come back in.”
Paul reluctantly walked to the small waiting room for family. He sat down and closed his eyes.
A short time later, the door opened and a man came in. “Hello, I’m Dr. Sinchow,” he introduced himself.
Paul stood up. “Can you tell me what’s wrong with Sandra and what can be done to get her back to good health?”
Dr. Sinchow cleared his throat. “I’m afraid there is nothing we can do for Sandra,” he offered somberly.
The words startled Paul. “Her condition’s that bad?”
Dr. Sinchow lowered his eyes then looked at Paul. “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but Sandra has little time left.”
Paul felt his knees weaken and sat down. Tears flowed down his cheeks. A number of things raced into his mind but none of them coalesced into a coherent thought.
Just then, Dr. Sinchow’s pager beeped. He glanced down at Paul and said, “You can go in to see her if you are up to it. I will tell the nurses.” He then left the room. Moments later, a nurse appeared and asked Paul if he was okay and whether he wanted some water. He shook his head and whispered, “No. Thank you. Can I go in now?”
The nurse nodded. “Yes, come with me.”
Paul stood by the bed hating the fact that there was nothing he could do once again. His heart was breaking. He reached down and took Sandra’s hand in his. “I don’t know if you can hear me Sandra, but I am the man who treated you meanly when I came out of the office at Weller & Wheir everyday. Please forgive me for my stupidity.”
He stretched his leg out and hooked his shoe behind the rung of the chair, pulled it closer and sat down. He bowed his head and closed his eyes wishing with all his might that she would be all right, yet knowing that his wishes wouldn’t come true.
Paul wasn’t sure how long he had been there but he heard Sandra give a deep sigh and then the monitor went flat screen and he knew she had died. When the nurses came in, he was still holding Sandra’s hand. His cheeks were stained with tears.
Paul left the hospital a short while later and decided to walk back to the office with Sandra’s words burning in his mind: “You shouldn’t be so angry all the time.”
He took a deep breath and knew in his heart that his life would be changed forever: a change for the better because that’s how Tina and Sandra would want it to be.
January 10, 2015