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A flashing red light startled me into wakefulness. I looked around and remembered I was staying overnight at Sloan-Kettering Hospital. I had been sleeping on a chair-bed in Peg's private room. She'd come to this Manhattan, New York, cancer treatment center yesterday to have modified breast surgery. I noted Peg wasn't in her bed, but her anti-embolism stocking pump was in the on position. I quickly got up and turned it off; the flashing light stopped. Suddenly, the bathroom door opened, its bright light blinding me.


"Sorry," Peg said, as she entered the semi-darkened room. I helped her into bed and glanced at her clock on the bedside table. It was 2 a.m. "I should have called you when I wanted to go to the bathroom," Peg said. "I didn't want to disturb you."


"I want to be disturbed. You're less than one day post-op. Besides, you might have slipped and fallen."


"Ah, a faithful friend is good medicine," she said with a smile, "even when your friend scolds you." She started to yawn.


"Lights out," I said.


"Not yet. Did I ever tell you the one about [horizontal ellipsis]?" Peg loves to tell jokes but can't get to the punch line without laughing. We began to reminisce about when we'd met at work. Peg and I have been RNs and good friends for more than thirty-five years.


"Remember Miss Evans?" Peg began to laugh. "She was one mean supervisor, and you were terrified of her."


"As I recall, you used the full power of your Irish charm to get on her good side," I said.


"Charming Miss Evans wasn't easy, and if I must say so myself, I was very good at it." She yawned again. "Okay, I know you'll nag me about lights out," she said, "but isn't this a fun sleepover?" Who but Peg would think of an overnight hospitalization as a fun experience? "Let's say a prayer together," she said. "That bedtime prayer we learned as kids keeps running through my mind." I sat down next to her bed and held her hand. "Now I lay me down to sleep," she began.


Our voices joined, "I pray the Lord my soul to keep."


Peg sighed. "If I should die," her voice cracked. "If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take." Peg broke into full sobs, and I finished the prayer.


"I'm so scared, Joanie," she said. "I don't want to die."


"I think Jesus is trying to tell you in that prayer that he's there for you." I stood up, stretched out my arms and Peg came into them to cry out her fear to the Lord. I prayed silently, Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear to my cry (Ps 39:12).


After exhausting herself, Peg fell asleep. I touched the turban she always wore because she was bald.


"Oh Lord, I feel so helpless," I whispered. "Please cure Peg of her cancer." I closed my eyes, and his words came to me. You are my friends. [horizontal ellipsis] I chose you. [horizontal ellipsis] The Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name (Jn 15:14-16).


"Thank you, Lord," I whispered, as I walked to my chair-bed. I tried to sleep, but sleep eluded me. Was it only yesterday morning that I met Peg in pre-op? I could see her sitting on that folding chair. Anxiety, mirrored in her clear blue eyes, was quickly hidden when she saw me walking toward her. She looked up and smiled. "Thanks for coming, Love."


As we chatted, Peg began to chew on her lower lip, a sure sign she was nervous. I watched as she took several deep, inaudible breaths. She's using relaxation techniques to reduce her stress. Just then, a small, middle-aged woman approached and touched Peg's shoulder. She wore a plain, gold cross on the lapel of her navy-blue jacket.


"I am a lay minister, Mrs. Lacey, she announced. "Would you like to pray with me?"

Figure. Peg (left), ... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Peg (left), the patient, with the author, August 2001

"Yes," Peg said. She uncrossed her ankles and stood up slowly. She took the woman's arm, and they walked down the hall toward a conference room.


"It was so nice of the minister to stop by and see me," she said when she returned. On this difficult day, Peg remembers to express appreciation for what others do for her, I noted.


After what seemed to be a long time, an OR nurse approached Peg.


"We're ready for you now, Mrs. Lacey," she said. "Sorry you've had such a long wait."


"It was long," Peg agreed. "You look tired. Busy day?"


The nurse sighed. "I'd say yes, it's been a tiring morning." Peg is talking about nurse fatigue on the way to the operating room!!


After a five-hour wait with Peg's husband, Jim, I saw her in the recovery room. "Get me a drink, and see if you can get rid of the IV," she said. I watched her large eyes scan the room. Barely conscious, Peg's brain is in gear, and she's giving me orders. Her recovery nurse walked toward the stretcher and spoke to her. As she turned to leave, the dark-haired nurse touched Peg's forearm.


"Can I see your ring?" Peg reached out and took the nurse's left hand. "That's a beautiful diamond," she said. "When are you getting married?" Who but Peg would talk about an engagement ring and wedding while in a cancer hospital's recovery room? I helped the recovery room staff to settle Peg into bed in her private room.


"What a pleasant room," she said. "Flowers." She turned and looked directly at me. "Jim said you'd bought flowers." She's just had breast surgery, is barely out of recovery and she's thanking me for flowers.


Peg spent private time with Jim while I toured the nursing unit. Dinner trays and visiting hours came and went.


"There's a library filled with paperbacks I think you'd like," I told her, just after Jim left. "How about a walk?" Peg is an avid reader, and her evening nurse suggested I encourage ambulation. We walked around the unit once before browsing in the library, where several patients were reading.


"How you doin'?" Peg said to no one in particular. She sat down, spoke to the others and then assumed a listening pose. As we were leaving, Peg gently patted one woman on the back. "Keep your chin up," she encouraged. "I'll say a prayer for you." She's had surgery today. She won't know the outcome until tomorrow, yet she takes time to listen and comfort others.


The sound of Peg's coughing brought me back to the present. "Now, wait a minute until I can help you," I scolded.


"I just wanted a sip of water, boss."


We were awake and talking again at 4:30 a.m. "I can still see you on your wedding day," I reminisced. "You had blond hair and the white veil. You were so beautiful."


"The blond hair's gone now," she mourned. "I cried bitter tears when my hair began to fall out in clumps. I've taken care of patients who were bald from chemo." She paused for a moment. "Now I know how they felt."


"You look beautiful to me," I replied, my voice cracking.


"I guess, as they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder," she answered softly.


The next time I awoke, a golden sun was peeking through the curtains. Peg was sitting up in bed chatting with her day nurse. The conversation centered on the wisdom of couples working opposite shifts.


"On days off, it must seem like a mini-honeymoon," Peg said, with a wistful note in her voice. She must be tense this morning, waiting to hear her surgical outcomes, but she seems so calm, chatting with her nurse.


I excused myself to take a shower and to give Peg time to get dressed and meet with her surgeon, who was expected within the hour. When I returned, the surgeon had come and gone. Peg was seated in a high-backed chair, wearing an electric blue and gold caftan with a matching turban. Her eyes were closed, and her lips were moving. When she looked up, I saw unshed tears.


"The breast tissue was clear of cancer," she said softly. "Thank you, Jesus." I knelt down by her chair and put my arms around her, and we both cried. The words of Romans 15:13 filled my heart: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing.


"Didn't we have fun?" Peg continued, wiping a tear from her face. "I'm so glad we had our sleepover."


I'd come to the hospital as Peg's advocate and companion, to give her and her husband emotional support. Instead, Peg created a therapeutic environment for herself and all with whom she interacted. As a good nurse, Peg spoke kindly and courteously, actively listened, prayed and touched to express her fears and encourage others to express theirs. She showed interest and appreciation to her care providers and used humor to divert her anxiety and put others at ease.


I observed Peg's childlike faith in action, even when fearful thoughts brought tears. This sleepover showed me a courageous woman, who is my friend, and taught me anew about the healing power of faith, prayer and