Monday, October 31, 2011

18 years ago

It was a friend who pointed it out.

"The photo you used in your blog header looks an awful lot like Natalie".

And, upon closer consideration, she's absolutely right.
There is a general 'je ne se quoi' about the image that brings her all back.

Natalie was one of our dialysis patients when I was doing my 20+ year stint as the Renal Social Worker.

She was a failed renal transplant from another Pediatric hospital - with multiple complications along the way that left her not only unable to be considered for another one, but intellectually challenged as well.

She was 6 - and therefore 'sentenced ' to hemodialysis - until some additional catastrophic event set her free.

Her family was rural - with all that implies: 'salt of the earth', 'down to earth', simple, hardworking, unsophisticated, good people.
We all adored them.

Natalie had darling red glasses and a quirky, high pitched voice which, during her dialysis sessions, would frequently ring out in "Donna, read me a story."

We were buddies and, while I loved spending time with her, she was also an 'attention sponge' who could suck everything you had to give right out of your bones.

But my time with her gave her mom and the nurses a break from her demands and I love to read... so hours were spent sitting next to her chair, entertaining her with voices and variations on a books theme until she'd say impatiently "Donna, do it right; read it as it's written; you can't change everything!"

Frankly, as much as I enjoyed her, she was one of the patients I was eager to escape when a friend talked me into going with her on my first European vacation: 10 days in Italy followed by 2 weeks in Switzerland - what's not to like about THAT, right?!

I wasn't quite as skilled then at leaving everything work related behind me as I am now, so I was surprised, and pleased, when, other than my kids, few people or situations I left behind entered my consciousness the whole time I was gone.

Until one of our nights in Zermatt, in the shadow of the Matterhorn, about 4 days before coming back to the States.

Natalie came to me in a dream and I barely recognized her.
She looked SO good - and happy and healthy.

The color of her glasses was set off by the all white outfit she wore: a white angora sweater with cables down the front, soft and fluffy looking, with those little angora hairs floating around her in an aura, and white wool pants; set off with red shoes, perfectly matching her glasses.
She was too damn cute!

I remember thinking how impractical her outfit was since, on their farm, with all their animals, white wasn't going to last even a New York minute!

She said she hated to interrupt and she hoped I'd had a good vacation but I needed to get back. She was fine, "better than fine actually", but her mom wasn't going to be doing so well.
She asked since I didn't have to read her stories anymore, could I do her a favor and call her mom as soon as I got back to work.

I woke up - bemoaning to my friend that my brain was already back in work mode; I relayed the details of the dream.

Neither of us got the implication.
Like I said: back then, I wasn't where I am now.
I wouldn't have missed it today.

I felt compelled to call her mom the minute I got back to work; that's when I heard the news.

Natalie had died the night she came to me in Zermatt.
Her mother was grief stricken to the point of being suicidal.
She had been briefly hospitalized, medicated and released home.

I drove out to their farm later that week - and told them about Natalie's 'visit' in Switzerland.
I think it helped - all of us.
Through our tears, we laughed at her wisdom that 'you can't change everything'.
You can only read it - and live it - as it's written.

And hope that, at the end, you have a great outfit like hers!

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