Kind or Cruel?

Decades ago I was  in the hospital for foot surgery. Late one evening a nurse came to my room without a thermometer, hypodermic needle or any other medical paraphernalia. She seemed depressed and coiled-up in herself.  She took a seat adjacent to my bed, avoiding my glance. She was silent for a moment. I became uneasy. Was she bringing bad new?

The following words are not verbatim, but carry the mood and message of the incident. It was one of those poignant moments when I glimpsed an infinite God, briefly entering the lives of two finite women in an ordinary place with a profound and eternal message.

She forced a smile. “You have many  friends come in to see you. No wonder. You always seem cheerful,” She glanced about the room at some of my sketches. “You’re an artist, I see.”

“Just a commercial artist, not a Rembrandt.” I said. “When I was a kid I wanted to be a painter, writer, torch singer and a lot of other stuff. Even in college I had a major and three minors. I still don’t know exactly what I want to do when I grow-up.” – I was about 35 at the time. – “But then I’m not the sort who ever really grows up.” I grinned.

“What a life.” she said.

“Yes.” I shrugged. “Happy, sad, mad, wonderful, terrible, wonderful again, like any other life. I got the use of the hall. That’s the great thing, isn’t it? Many didn’t.”

“No,” she said, “many didn’t. I glanced at your chart and noticed that the source of your foot problem is Spina Bifida, L-4.”

“Yes,” I said. “I’ve had some difficulties with it. A limp, occasional bladder incontinence and infections, the usual dilemmas. But all-in-all, it’s been a good life. I think of all those others born in 1943 with the same defect. Some probably died the same year. It makes you realize how precious life – ”

She suddenly looked me in the eye for the first time. “I’ve counselled women who were known to be pregnant with disabled children to have abortions. – I – well I did it for the good of the child. I mean so it doesn’t suffer. – You do see that, don’t you?”

“Yes. It’s how a lot of people feel. – Only you never know, do you?”

“No. – Now I look at your life – I – I guess I made a mistake.”

“I’m not judging you,” I said. “But – ”

She left the room and I never recall seeing her again.