Letter to a volunteer

My letter to the volunteer receptionist at Sacred Heart:

I am sorry that I do not remember your name. I tried to get it from Sacred Heart, but they have a policy against giving out even first names.

I came to Short Stay for knee surgery on February 6, at 11:30, and you checked me in. I noted that you were a volunteer, and that you were polite, efficient, immaculately dressed and groomed, and that you had what I took to be Parkinson’s. I was struck by how much work it must have taken you to get ready and come to the hospital, and I said, “May God bless you for the work you do.”

I learned during my surgery that I have advanced arthritis, and I was advised to permanently limit my activity. I had not expected this, and took it hard because I am a hiker and a lover of hard physical labor. I became increasingly depressed after surgery because my failing knee and enforced idleness caused me to look at the fact that, at nearly fifty-seven, I can only expect my body to deteriorate over the coming decades. I wondered how people cope with this, and I wrote of my problems to an elderly penpal who is battling bone cancer. He too had been a laborer and an outdoorsman, and he had much to say over the course of several letters. I will include some of it. Perhaps, it will cheer you too someday.

“Just keep looking on the bright side no matter how dark the other side looks. Enjoy out of life all you can and the other part won’t go away but will be easier to accept.”

“At the age I am now at, I’m just thankful that I can get out of bed in the mornings and do a few of the things I would like to do and not worry about the things I can’t do. A man can get to the point of worrying so much about what he can’t do that he can’t even do the things he is capable of doing.”

“I know what it means to have to give up things you enjoy doing, but keep a good outlook and other things can replace the ones you can no longer do and enjoy. I used to love stream fishing. I mean wading up a stream and casting bait ahead into the deep holes. That I can no longer do, but that doesn’t keep me from fishing the lakes and rivers with a boat, nor does it keep me from playing my guitar or driving my car on sight seeing trips to places I’ve never seen or to places I want to see again. A person just has to adjust their priorities. Sometimes a person has to change their whole way of thinking.”

Yet, he admitted that, at times, his illness really gets him down.

“I’ll tell you Lowell if it hadn’t been for my wife, music, and dog last summer I would have cashed it in. I was so sick, in pain, and tired of life I just wanted it to end. I’m 74 years old now and am enjoying what time I may have left.”

“I don’t do much work any more as I get tired very quickly, and my joints and muscles just won’t take it any more. I’m lucky if I can go out and clean up the yard of dog droppings every few days.”

Something else that helped was my thoughts of you. It was not just my observation that you were battling Parkinson’s, but that you were battling it with grace and heroism. I was humbled by your strength and goodness, and, when I was low, I would picture you sitting there at your desk, and a tear would come to my eye.

I would like for you to remember me if ever there is anything I can do for you. I would be honored to be called upon.