...was so long ago. No, it wasn't that kind of night. We were both in the hospital, me for diabetes, and her for leukemia. I'd spoken to her several times before, but...Well, the old adolescent ward at Long Island Jewish Hospital had two private rooms at the end of a long hall. They were known by the patients as "the Death Rooms," probably because it seemed that anyone seriously ill who required privacy tended to die.
It was my last night of a two week stay. I'd screwed up pretty good and I'd landed in the ICU. Once I was well enough, I was moved to the ward I was accustomed to, and went about my usual mayhem. I was actually in a four-person room, and I had two roommates who were a bad influence on me. They would roam the halls in wheelchairs they didn't need, popping wheelies, and often pulling pranks on the nurses.
I honestly don't remember how it came to be, but I wandered down the hall to visit Danielle, whom I'd known from other visits. It was rather late, and visiting hours had ended, and so she was alone, lying in bed, watching TV, when I came along to ask if she wanted some company. We ended up chatting for two hours.
There is no word-for-word dialogue to be given. I simply don't recall everything we discussed. But Danielle shared a lot with me...She had some grand dreams for her future. One of them was to go mountain climbing, which I thought was a scary prospect. I'd climbed a mountain several years before...kinda. And I vaguely remember telling her about how I'd been at a camp for diabetics, and a trip had been planned to follow a mountain trail to the top...how I'd misplaced my sneakers, and ended up climbing the trail in loafers...how half-way up the trail, I, along with about 12 others, all experienced a blood sugar drop at the same time...how we saw eagles gliding around when we reached the top of this rather small mountain, and that these majestic birds left many of us in awe.
Danielle's plans were bigger than that. I think her mind was cast across the ocean, at much higher peaks in Europe. And that was another part of our talk. Her dreams had her traveling around the globe, visiting as many grand sights as she could take in.
In the very first month of this blog, I spoke of Denise, a young woman with cancer whom I'd asked out on a date. (See my 28 June 2008 post, "Open mouth...") Well, it was that night with Danielle where I was taught about the difference between being an illness and being a person with an illness. She was so strong! By that, I mean that she was able to convey this important message, which I have perpetually fought to get lodged in my head. I am not just a diabetic; I am a person with diabetes. And Danielle was a powerful presence in that she made it clear that she was a young woman with leukemia, and not simply the disease alone. What astounded us both was that doctor's had the bad habit of seeing us only as the diseases they'd read about during their lengthy education. It was up to patients like us to make it clear to the professionals that every single patient is different, and that we can't all be treated the same way.
Danielle was an amazing person. I don't know if anyone else has ever met "a beautiful soul," but she was just that. I am ultimately grateful that I knew her, if only briefly, for only the few times I ever saw her in the hospital. We were never close enough to be friends outside the adolescent ward, but I know that I was blessed to have had my short moments with her, especially that night.
Why was that one night so important? Well, as the years have passed, I think it was a time when a divine message was being given to me. I didn't actually "get the memo" until many, many years later, but I believe some other power - something beyond this mortal realm - was trying to get a lesson through my thick skull. The will of G-d doesn't necessarily come through an ancient text where He supposedly spoke to Prophets. Whatever divine power you believe in, it's not always about your religious practices. I firmly believe that whatever powers that exist to watch over our souls communicate with us via moments in our lives, and that night with Danielle was one of them for me. And it's so hard to communicate what those moments are like; they are surreal, almost like scenes from a movie that you suddenly find yourself living inside the film.
Like I said...VERY difficult to explain. One is blessed if they can look back and see those moments for what they truly are, and one is exceptionally blessed to be aware of those moments at the time they are happening. I, myself, will take the blessings as they come, even if they are in mere hindsight.
I was discharged early the next day, and called another patient I'd befriended while I was there. I asked about Danielle, and was told that she passed on around mid-afternoon. I was one of the last people to sit down and talk with her at length about anything.
Sad though it is, I am glad for my brief time with her, even if she was only a passing acquaintance. In retrospect, I think she knew the end was coming, and she was trying to impart something very important to me. Another thing I have come to believe is that the dying can see things "healthy" people can't. They see something beautiful coming their way, and they express it as best they can to those who spend time with them in their last moments. My friend Sandra clearly requested that she not be buried in the ground. My brother Michael, a mere five years old, made it clear to those around him that were trying to save his life that the fight was over. And Danielle...well, I think she saw adventure in the afterlife. Heaven for her would be an extension of life, traveling and climbing that mountain she dreamed of in her future. Though I have no definite idea of where our souls go, I pray Danielle found all her adventures, and happiness, on the other side.