© 2022 Robert Sickles
Don’t judge me. I watch detective TV shows now and then. Sometimes it’s really too much. The hero gets shot in the chest, spends a few hours in the hospital, and rips off his I.V. so he can get back to solving the crime. He runs up a flight of stairs and jumps off a roof to catch the end of a getaway van just before it pulls away! Y’all know how absurd that is, right?
I’ve been hospitalized with a life-threatening condition, and I know what it’s like to fight back to any semblance of stamina. At some point, it was a big victory when I could roll out of bed and lift my hands to my face and shave off two weeks of stubble. Linda can recall that day she came home from work and found that when I'd accidentally shaved off too much of one side of my goatee, I had no choice but to finish it off, revealing my small Sickles-family chin for the first time since she’d known me. “Grow it back, Honey, pleeeze!” This is a true story!
A blood clot formed in my leg and eventually made its way to my lung, a pulmonary embolism that could have slipped into my brain or heart... maybe my last trip around the sun. It felt like I had been stabbed in the lungs, a sharp constant pain that made it impossible to inhale completely. I received 12 days of treatment in a critical care unit, coughing and gasping for breath and feeling very afraid. Getting the clot stabilized with medicine was the first challenge, working through the pain and damage to my lungs would follow. Then it would take many weeks of gradual recovery at home. The components of my blood that promote essential clotting are off-balance, and I must take anti-coagulation medicine to prevent another of my nine lives being checked off.
During my hospitalization, the pulmonary specialists and nurses said again and again what a lucky man I was to have avoided death, at least so far! A terrifying thing to hear! I began to write notes to my family and myself, somewhat like getting my affairs in order, making apologies, saying the things I had been meaning to say, just in case.
One wakeful night, in a late hour of despair, I wept and called out softly for help, “I could use a miracle, please!” and I tried to get to sleep. Before the night was over, a nurse making the rounds came to record my stats, tidy up my tray table, check my I.V. and O2. She could see my tears and spent a good while with me, holding my hand, cooling my head with a washcloth, saying reassuring words and being very compassionate. “Your suffering will go away, you are going to get well, I know this.” It’s hard for me to describe—it wasn’t just her words or touch of her hand that helped, it was like her gentle spirit had changed the air in the room.
I noticed her name badge, “Lee.” I realized she spoke with a slight accent, so after mentioning that I hadn’t seen her before, I asked if Lee was short for something, knowing that foreigners often go by more American-sounding names to make it easier for us to pronounce.
She confirmed, “Yes, my name is Lyubitsa.” (I realize there could be other ways to spell her name)
I’d studied Russian in school. “You might be Slavic, like Russian or Czech? Lyubitsa sounds like the Russian word for love, любовь, “lyubov.”
“Yes,” she grinned, “I am here from Eastern Europe, and my name comes from our word for ‘love.’ Like maybe you’d say my name means ‘Beloved Little One.’” She waved aside the subject of her name and nationality. “Oh, and, you are right, I am not here every day. I only come in to help when there’s a need.”
“Like a temp worker?” I asked. She just smiled and fluffed my pillow.
“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Lyubitsa.” I felt upbeat for the first time in a long while. She smiled and wished me a good night as she left the room.
Sadly, I never saw her again and I was discharged a couple of days later. When I felt stronger, I thought of writing a thank you note to the hospital staff who helped save my life. I called the critical care desk and asked for some of their names because I wanted to address them personally. “One nurse especially,” I said, “Lyubitsa, she goes by Lee, I want to thank her for comforting me. I think she was a fill-in from your temp agency. Can you track her down for me?”
“Sir, we don’t have a nurse named Lee or anything like Lyubitsa here. This is a highly skilled unit—we don’t employ temps in the CCU. I’ve been here for a long time and I don’t know of anyone by that name who has ever worked the night shift, on staff or volunteer. Sorry.” I tried a couple other approaches to find her but all were dead ends.
Funny, at that time I didn’t consider the matter of her appearance and disappearance as strange, I was just so frustrated not being able to find anyone who knew her. The first time I mentioned the incident, my wife suggested that Lyubitsa was like an angel. “Wow,” I mused, “I was touched by an angel!”
After many retellings, as this story refreshes each time, the shiver of mystery about the nurse named “Beloved” gets stronger. Everyone who believes in such things assures me that Lyubitsa was a guardian, a spirit protector who responded to my call for help. Surely her name alone is an intriguing clue, not to mention her apparent non-existence on any list or registry!
By one measure, a miracle is simply a shift, an eye-opening experience, as when your belief about something changes from negative to neutral or positive. It’s what makes it possible to step out of the mental revolving door of suffering, like when you realize you don’t need to be fearful of dying, and you start feeling lighter. I think Lyubitsa was there to hold that door for me.