I massage her skin from ankles to thigh, kneading the sweet smelling mango butter into each and every freckled pore. The scars across her knees are badges of honor signifying the years spent downhill skiing, playing tennis, and cycling in the sun. As I press my fingers into her muscles they involuntarily cramp, the constant spasms of discomfort pulling her leg from my grasp as if it is trying to fly from the hospital bed on its own and flee down the sterile hallway.
I hold tighter, then loosen the pressure. Her leg releases and falls against the mound of pillows propping her up in a symphony of fluff and foam. One wedge here, one soft prop there, and just when you think you have achieved the ultimate comfort…there goes that spasm, triggering the hip wiggle to accommodate it, flicking the billowy wedge to the ground, and the process begins again.
The lotion temporarily calms the panic, the loneliness, the fear. The tropical smell of sweet fruit takes her back to the pristine sands of the tropics only one week ago. What a difference a few days makes …
As I untie the rough ropes of her gown and slide the sleeves off her shoulders, I hear her sigh as she leans forward. The skin on her back is dry, icy cold to my touch and she jumps a little when the lotion hits her skin. I massage her muscles, encouraging her left shoulder to slide into a relaxed position, despite watching it return to its new tense state once she lets go.
She leans back and sinks deep into the squish of the pillow, her eyes closed before her body stops moving into position. I slide the crisp, cool sheet up to the IV line and click the fluorescent tube light off. Raspy breath and sleep consume her as I return to my chair in the corner of the room and wait. It’s never long, she never gets much of a break, but I relish the silence and the relief she is enjoying … even if only for a few moments.