Stronger… One More Time
By Connie Meyer
The staccato, quick tap of high-heeled shoes on the linoleum floor bounced off the walls of the hall. With no other noises to compete in the darkness, the sharp sound of footsteps could be heard throughout the whole hospital wing. The person walking quickly broke the hushed quiet in Freddie Aron’s hospital room.
The special private-duty nurse, Miss Sheila, had begun her shift at midnight, and her patient, Mr. Aron, had given her his usual rundown of the day. His wife and younger daughter had been with him most of the day, as well as many friends who could finally take turns for short visits now that he had moved to a step-down unit from the ICU. And he’d spoken to his older daughter who lived 3,000 miles away. The last phone call with Connie was around 9:00PM Eastern Standard Time.
Mr. Aron had been Miss Sheila’s patient every night this week and Freddie Aron was the talk of Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. The staff had given him a special nickname, “the comeback kid”. Freddie was fighting a long battle against bladder cancer, complicated by diabetes and a heart prone to transition into arrythmia at the worst moments. Freddie’s physical and spiritual strength and his deep connection to others had literally allowed him to fight and “come back” from situations that would have easily taken the life from less strong men in this hospital.
The private-duty nurse was worried that this particular situation with Mr. Aron may not end as well as the others. His kidneys were beginning to shut down and usually, even with dialysis, it did not bode well for patients weakened by a cancer fight as long and damaging as Freddie Aron’s had been.
Freddie was reluctant to share his dismal prognosis with many. He had bravely fought some terrific battles with his weakening body, and his sheer will, determination and his close relationships with many had seen him through. He had never complained about what was certainly overwhelming pain. Negativity was never a part of his being. Family and friends were top priority in his life and he was determined to get back to his customers (who are like family) at Rogers Clothes, his menswear store.
The sound of those steps in the distance woke Freddie from his sleep. “Miss Sheila”, said Freddie, “In almost a minute you are going to see a little blonde head come around the corner. This tiny, young woman is likely wearing a cream-colored suit and her big smile is about to fill up this room”.
“Mr. Aron, said Sheila,” you were likely dreaming, she is not here. You spoke to Connie earlier this evening. She lives clear across the country”.
“You’ll soon see Miss Sheila”, said Freddie. “That little peanut with the positive personality will burst into this room in just a moment.”
You should have seen the look on the nurse’s face when a girl in a cream-colored suit walked into that room.
My dad and I were incredibly close. I learned valuable lessons from him about business and life by working at his side for decades in the store. Freddie’s “emotional quotient”, as we would call it today, was extraordinary. His ability to empathize with others, his selfless love of all people, the time he took to really listen, made all the difference in his many great relationships.
Only recently have premier hospitals like Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York City and Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, verified and published clinical studies that prove a positive mental attitude and strong connections with others can mean life or death in the recovery of their patients, no matter how ill.
Back to that night in the hospital- I had heard in our earlier 9:00 PM conversation on the phone a little something in his voice that I didn’t like at all. It wasn’t in the words he spoke to me. But that close father-daughter bond told me to immediately leave my office, pack a bag, and get on the next flight to Norfolk. The three-hour time difference worked in my favor, and sure enough, it brought my loud, high-heeled feet to Freddie’s hospital room in the middle of the night.
What most people didn’t realize was that Freddie, who had bravely endured grueling surgeries, chemo, infections and pneumonia, had only one fear- dialysis. The idea of a machine exchanging life fluids and having to be a slave to that dialysis machine was the only thing Freddie thought he could not do.
Because my dad and I have that important connection, we had a frank, respectful conversation one never wants to have with a loved one. I told him that I loved him and that I was as close to feeling his pain as someone who loves him can be, but that ultimately, the decision to go forward with the dreaded, but life-saving, dialysis was up to him. And that I would support any decision he made. If he were tired and wanted to stop here, I understood.
At that moment I noticed that there were wheels on Freddie’s hospital bed. Fighting disease and being in a hospital makes patients feel powerless. I knew knowledge was power for my intelligent father. As dawn became early morning, Freddie finally fell asleep. I went directly to the sixth floor and entered the door marked “Dialysis”. There I spoke to the head nurse and an amazing 60-year-old woman sitting in the easy chair beside a large humming machine.
I ran back to dad’s room and he said okay to my plan. By myself, I released the brakes on the bed’s wheels, grabbed the rolling IV stand, and maneuvered Freddie down the hall, into the elevator, to the sixth floor. You see, kidney dialysis takes about four hours to complete, and this wonderful woman had agreed to talk to dad about it and show him the machine in action.
Remember- knowledge is power to Freddie, so after he saw how it worked, he made the decision to go forward with the life-saving procedures. That quick trip we made between a couple of floors in Norfolk General, allowed Freddie to share two years more life with his family and friends. The “comeback kid” then did something amazing. He used dialysis for only a short time. Freddie was the rare patient whose body, ridded of the lethal toxins, actually miraculously worked his way off of dialysis.
Who would ever have thought that the unexpected tap of my shoes and a surprise visit from a loved one, could help empower a strong man to be stronger… just in time… just one more time.