This piece was written a while ago, but is one of the incidents which prompted me to study theology after nursing school. I couldn’t move beyond the fact that salvation seemed to come in various forms.
Jenny put her call light on and motioned me to her bedside. I questioned to see if she was having any pain. She indicated that she just wanted company; the hospital after visiting hours can be awfully lonely, especially on the oncology unit. Knowing she was single and had no family close to share her burden, I sat down and asked her about the middle-aged woman she had been laughing so heartily with earlier that day. She relayed the following story to me regarding her double mastectomy two years before:
“I couldn’t stand to look at myself,” she commented. “The hollowness to my profile…reduced to the appearance of a schoolboy. The scars that move in all directions from my armpits to my sternum—the keloid ridges and lack of sensation. There is nothing feminine about this. There is nothing sexy about this. I didn’t want to be touched. I didn’t even want to leave the house.
“I don’t know why she insisted upon seeing it. But after refusing to meet for weeks—mostly because I didn’t want to be seen in public—Linda called and announced she was coming despite my protests. She surveyed the messy house with a hint of surprise in her eyes but didn’t comment or pass judgment.
“She merely took me by the hand and led me back to my bedroom. ‘Let’s see it!’ she demanded. My protests fell on deaf ears. I stood there feeling humiliated and angry. Why was my best friend placing me on display like some freak circus act? Tears of frustration and misunderstanding slid down my cheeks. She was unrelenting.
“Finally I acquiesced. She stared me straight in the eye, holding my gaze as I unbuttoned my blouse and slid my camisole strap off my shoulder. I saw her eyes descend from my face and I stared stoically over her shoulder. A hand reached out and traced the edges of my scars…but I couldn’t feel it. She bent forward and I glanced down uneasily. Very tenderly she kissed the mangled tissue.
“Our eyes met and she stood upright and held me close. Together we cried—grieving the loss and the indignity—but mostly grieving the space that had developed between the two of us. Her restorative touch and sensual acceptance reinstated my personhood. She is my best friend. She saved me.”