Once a month I am surrounded by angels. They come and go gently, quietly, speaking in hushed tones so not to disturb anyone who is resting. They touch my shoulder and ask if I want water, a snack, or a clean, warm blanket. They check my arm bracelet, ask how I feel, and smile affectionately as they do their routine tasks. I watch with curiosity as it distracts me from why I am there.
The woman to my left is distressed. Her vein collapsed and one angel tries to insert the medicine into it but cannot find a spot. The woman looks frightened, and her face betrays the fear she feels. Without warning, another angel joins the first, speaking calmly, reassuring the elderly patient all is well while taking the woman’s hand into hers. Then a third angel appears, working feverishly, while the other two support and reassure the unsettled woman. Finally, the second angel finds the vein and all four breathe a sigh of relief in the form of a cheer. The angels quickly wrap her in a warm blanket to ease her stress and return periodically to ask her how she feels.
The woman to my right is quiet, taking it all in. She is new and just lost her hair. She has her head wrapped in a pink scarf, her feet placed strategically in ice to avoid the neuropathy caused by the medicine that saves lives but breaks down bodies. She talks to the lady across from us, the one whose hair just returned in short brown waves. The woman with hair is proud of its texture, smoothing it lovingly with her hand as she shares her journey.
The last woman, a young working mother, sleeps soundly in a corner, swaddled in the customary warm blanket, somehow ignoring the beeping monitors around her. I admire her beauty, her youth, as mine has passed. She has a hint of dark hair on her head and no wrinkles around her eyes. I wonder how she can sleep through the alarms of beeping monitors but wonder if she enjoys a break from her children and work deadlines to rest her weary body. I remember my panic at the start of my journey, sobbing the first time the angels injected me with medicine because I realized the threat I faced had I not gotten my latest mammogram. I pleaded for God to let me live to see my children marry and find passion in work. I can only imagine what it must feel like for the young mother. Did she beg God to let her see her children begin kindergarten, have a first date, graduate from high school?
My thoughts are interrupted by the woman I dread seeing. She is oldest of us and needs assistance as she settles into her chair. The angels bring her blankets and help her recline to a point that is comfortable for an aching body. She moans and they rush to soothe and quiet her like a mother rushes to her crying child in hopes of not waking her sleeping children. Two, sometimes, three, angels surround her to proctor the medicine and watch the monitor. I feel her journey may be shorter than the rest of us, and I begin to pray. I pray for her and then each one of us individually. I ask God to give us strength and comfort to heal our bodies and let us live another day. Then I pray for each angel I see. I can only imagine the weight they carry home each evening as they greet their own loved ones. I tell one of them, the angel assigned to me, that she is truly an angel, but she shrugs it off, saying she is nothing special. I know better. They are angels who choose to take on the burden of healing, comforting, and caregiving frightened souls.
An announcement interrupts my thoughts. One lady I have never seen is going to ring the bell, marking the end of her year-long infusions. Angels circle around her. Sick patients awaken and sit upright in reclined chairs. The lady rings her bell loudly, proud of the pain she conquered, relieved that this part of her long journey ended. “You saved me,” she announces as the angels clap excitedly. I cry for the stranger I will never meet, feeling her joy as if it is my own.
A few moments later the lady leaves with her family, and the angels return to their duties: checking beeping monitors, reading charts, inserting medicine, and soothing the weary, broken souls they keep watch over day after day.
* Dedicated to my mother, Myrna Harrison, the first of these angels to take care of me.