Sitting in ICU at Children’s Health, our connection to the outside world consisted of a corded phone in the waiting room and voicemail...and actual people. A friend from church provided a voicemail service and updated the greeting daily, allowing friends and family to learn Trenton’s status prior to, and shortly after, his heart transplant, without bothering us. We were often in no position to have visitors, but we could hear their voices when retrieving the messages.
While many people left encouraging messages, others hung up without saying a word, although a simple click sound told us someone had called. This too was encouraging, knowing that someone just wanted to know about Trent. Some, however, who thought they were leaving no message, were unaware that, in actuality, I could hear just the slightest moment of crying as they hung up the phone. These “almost” messages were comforting to me, knowing someone out there was feeling our pain.
Nowadays, it’s easy to reach more people quickly with a few keyboard clicks on social media; and our support group can respond quickly too, with a sad face emoji or a broken heart emoji and a few clicks with words of support. It’s not the same. It’s not seeing the other person’s face and hearing the voice, especially when that voice trembles and cracks as your friend attempts to control the pain and sadness he or she is feeling for you, the eyes reddening and the moisture increasing as they fight back tears. You don’t get that online.
We are connected to more “friends” today than ever before, thanks to social media. Our quantity of relationships has benefited, but at the cost of quality. The face-to-face interaction is not what it used to be.
What’s the solution? It depends on the person and the situation. I’ve been more open to visitors at the hospital than Valerie, but there have been times when we were struggling and anyone other than ourselves was too much. This is when one or two close friends are valuable, someone who can lovingly step in without invading our space. The first day we were at Children’s, a close friend from Sunday school called to tell us she was coming to the hospital to get big brother Austin. She and other families would take care of him. She didn’t ask if it was OK and she certainly didn’t wait for us to contact her. She knew we must be totally lost in the situation, unaware of what we needed or who and how to ask. She didn’t hang around longer than to let Valerie cry on her and check on us for further opportunities to help. She became the point of contact for much of our support group who watched over our real world outside the hospital.
Parents - have at least one point-person to manage your network of supporters, someone who will take control and whom you can contact for help.
Support group - Someone step up to be that point-person, and the rest do whatever is needed to make the point-person’s job easier.
After transplant #2, Trenton had become frustrated with his situation - stuck in a hospital bed, looking at the same hospital walls, eating plain hospital food - so he claimed in desperation, “I just want brisket quesadillas from Ole’s” (our little hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Coppell). Valerie reached out to our point-person who could have delivered them herself, but instead she contacted our support group, and a friend delivered the coveted quesadillas. In this case, it was more than just food; it was connecting two of Trent’s senses to home. He could not see or touch home, but his sight and taste were taken there, which was the best he could have, and it was all he needed to keep going.
Realize that of all the ways technology has improved our lives, it has been at the price of face-to-face interactions. The good news, however, is that technology needs not apologize; it is up to us and it is easily fixed by being mindful to take the extra step when there is an opportunity for building a relationship.
For personal relationships, the opportunities to build them through challenges, and for technology that supports it, I am Still Thankful.
P.S. Regarding the picture at the top, Trent was performing virtual surgery during a weekly visit to the hospital when we knew his heart was rejecting in 2014. I heard him say, "Best way to remove the intestines- go straight for the saw."
I feel like the Addams family.