Nina Gilkenson is an incredible storyteller. One of the things I marvel at, no matter where we are, is how she’s able to captivate friends and strangers alike by talking about anything, up to and including paint dry. I was reminded of this even as she told stories about a week I wouldn’t wish on anyone. The waiting room of an Intensive Care Unit is not normally a very festive place, but it felt that way last Friday. I brought dinner from my favorite place to eat in the city. No one was in the mood to make a decision about food when I called earlier, so I used that as an excuse to get everything on the menu that looked good to me. We were all pretty hungry anyway by the time I got to the hospital.
The Asian family that was already there politely cleared their own finished meal from the only table in the waiting area to allow me to set up dinner. Nina's boyfriend, Michael, went to get her from the the room where her mother was recuperating from surgery. Laurie was doing better relative to the week before, but the staff was only letting in members of the immediate family to see her, and only one at a time. When Nina came out I thought that hug would never end.
About the time we started to eat, a huge family stepped out of the elevator. They were in a pretty good mood because their family member had undergone a successful surgery. They lifted the spirits of the whole floor. The cute blond three year old girl they brought with them had a lot to do with it. She ran around joyfully oblivious to the purpose of of the ward.
Nina mentioned that the staff tries to remind anyone in the waiting area to not have too much of a good time. This is in consideration for the other people there straddling the line between hope and mourning.
Despite my attempts to steer conversation in other directions, she told many stories about that week. The most telling of them concerned an earlier conversation about her father that she had with another woman waiting in the ICU .
He's always been an enigmatic figure to me. For awhile I thought she just didn’t have a father even after seeing him in the distance a couple of times. I thought he was just some homeless guy they hired to drive the car every once in awhile. Unlike his incredibly social wife, I don’t think he’s ever been to a dance event. It’s not that he’s unsupportive of his daughter; rather, I think he’s not that much of a people person. I mean he's really not a people person.
Nina noted that he keeps a lot to himself and is not terribly demonstrative of anything. Very much the opposite of Laurie who's more in the mold of that crazysupercoolhippie aunt that should have gotten her own 70’s sit com complete with jazz funk inspired theme song.
The thing that they all have in common is a phrase Nina often uses when she talks about the way she was raised: They just make it work.
I finally met the man in person, shook his hand, and even talked to him this weekend. He did a lot of things last week that surprised even Nina, including spending 120 hours straight by his wife’s bedside after they brought her to the hospital.
This didn’t surprise the woman Nina was talking to earlier. That woman had already lost her husband during a previous experience at the ICU. She simply explained that half of your heart is lying in that bed. How could he leave her?
Laurie Gilkenson had a brain aneurysm and several strokes last week. The family has no health insurance, so if you can, please consider donating to help them out through Nina's paypal account at botsandbeans at gmail dot com. Also keep an eye out for a benefit event that we'll be having in the near future. Thank you.