He arrived before he went to work and sat with her. He didn’t look at his phone or read a book, he sat in the chair beside her bed and just watched her while she slept. He stayed just to be with her. She was his mum/ aunt/ an elderly woman in his life, and he treated her affectionately, with care, not wanting to wake her up when the staff went to do so to offer her tea.
Worry was etched onto his brow in the form of the slight frown that lived there. Hospitals are an alarming environment to those who aren’t used to them, and he looked mildly horrified. When she woke up he leaned over her carefully and spoke softly but clearly in a language I didn’t understand, his sentences peppered with English words that stuck out like light houses thanks to the British accent in which they were spoken.
After a brief conversation and the delicate removal of a strand of hair that had fallen into her face, he sat back in the chair he had been in for hours, and took hold of the sheets instead of her hand. Every now and then he would say something to her. He didn’t get much response, but he was there just to be there, just to know she wasn’t alone. He listened as she voiced her concerns to the nurse and waited to see the doctors with her so he could understand what was going on.
He walked around the ward, quietly pacing while she slept, finally emailing his work/boss, briefly putting his head in his hands. He was away from her for minutes. And then he sat right beside her, as close as he could get without laying by her side, and just watched her sleep again. He didn’t want to go to work, but he did, asking them to call him any time to please update him. And I watched the guilt consume him as he walked out of the doors, watched him react as if he were in physical pain.
And that, right there, was the look of love.
I moved to my usual ward, and from behind the curtains beside me I heard the low rumble of a man’s voice (in an all female bay). A while later, a weak older woman hobbled from behind the curtains, guided by a man who you could tell would walk across hot coals for her. He was focussed entirely on her, holding her up in a way that showed he cared about her more than anything else. He was half asleep, he had no shoes on his feet and wore only socks. He didn’t care. His entire focus was on the woman in his arms and he looked so proud of her just for living, so concerned, so protective.
He paced around outside the bathroom door, pulling up his trousers and re-fastening his belt. He ran around grabbing her things and quickly spoke to himself as he made the bed ready for her return. He collected her with a warm and relieved smile on his face, clearly he had been anxious to be apart from her. He wrapped his arms around her and let her lean into him, walking sideways and taking tiny steps so he could support her. She clung to him like her life depended on it.
It was 1am, way past the end of visiting hours, but he wouldn’t leave. I watched him curl himself up in a chair by her bedside and place his feet on another. In an awkward position and clearly uncomfortable, he fidgeted until he found a position in which he could close his eyes. He tossed and turned and groaned, and his eyes opened every couple of minutes just to look at her. Anxious, he’d lean forward and take her hand and whisper something, and tell her how much she meant to him, and when he was sure that she was ok he’d visibly relax. Then he’d grimace to himself as he leant back into the chair, satisfied that he had seen her and willing to suffer through the discomfort just to be sure she was still with him.
And that, right there, was an act of love.
In hospitals, you see emotions in their purest, rawest forms. Feelings are multiplied by a thousand and all the acts that we place over the top of our inner feelings fall away. Everything is amplified. Every emotion. This is where you see real love – not the romanticised, embellished version, but the thing that it’s all based on.
I wish I had that. I wish I was capable of feeling that.