Dancing With Elvis and Scaring Ivy

I failed to take photos of UCSF's robots, Waldo, Lisa Marie and Elvis, but they looked similar to this one from Boston's Children's Hospital (Photo credit: Justin Ide/Harvard University News Office)

I failed to take photos of UCSF’s robots, Waldo, Lisa Marie and Elvis, but they looked similar to this one from Boston’s Children’s Hospital (Photo credit: Justin Ide/Harvard University News Office)

I met Ivy the week Pedro’s hospital room started to heat up like an oven in the late summer sun. Finally, we couldn’t stand it any more, and I went to a mom and pop general store down the street and purchased some duct tape and purloined blankets from the linen closet. Pedro approved of my plan, and my blanket-taping antics served as a diversion. Hospital life can be boring. Unfortunately, Ivy caught me red-handed—balanced on the windowsill, struggling to get the tape to stick to both the wall and the blanket.

“Mrs. Ojeda,” she exclaimed, “be careful.” She glanced around the room, took a deep breath and fanned herself, then continued, “Here, let me help you.”

I tightrope walked on the window ledge and Ivy kept the blankets under control until I’d successfully taped them in place.

She nonchalantly turned to Pedro and said, “Here are your meds, Mr. Ojeda,” and proceeded to take his vital signs.I felt guilty about involving a nurse in defacing hospital property—I’d lived in dormitories and knew all about the rules for hanging things on walls and using duct tape on windows.
As she left, Ivy turned and said, “It feels better in here already!”

Yes, Ivy was a brick. She was one of the sweetest, most even-tempered nurses on Eleven Long—always conscientious, always polite, always wearing ivy-colored scrubs.

Earlier that month, when Laura and Sarah came to visit (one of those visits because-it-might-be-the-last-time-you-see-him-because-he’s-in-ICU), Ivy took the time to play with them. Ok, not your typical lets-play-with-little-kids type of play, after all, Laura and Sarah, at 10 and 8, were too old for that. No, Ivy saw them wandering forlornly down the hallway and invited them to dance with Elvis.

UCSF is a high-tech hospital, complete with elevator-riding robots from the pharmacy named Elvis, Lisa Marie and Waldo. When Ivy saw the girls gazing in wonder as Elvis glided down the hallway, she asked them, “Who wants to open Elvis?”

“Is Elvis that thing?” Sarah asked, having never seen a robot (nor having much knowledge Elvis).

“Sure is,” Ivy answered.

“What does it do?” Laura wondered.

“He brings medicine from the pharmacy to the patients.”

“Does he go in everyone’s room?” Sarah wanted to know.

“No.” Ivy laughed. “He stops at our pharmacy here on this floor, and we open him up and take the medicines out and then give the medicines to the patients.”

“How does he open?” Laura asked.

“I’ll show you!” And Ivy proceeded to let the girls open and close Elvis several times each. Then she told them, “If you wait right here for about five minutes while the nurses unload the medicines, I’ll let you dance with Elvis!”

“How can he dance,” Sarah wondered, “he doesn’t have real feet?”

“Just you wait and see,” Ivy promised.

The girls waited patiently while Ivy finished her work and sent Elvis back out in the hallway. “Let’s go,” Ivy said, as she hurried out in front of Elvis and motioned for the girls to join her.
Elvis started his slow glide down the hallway until he reached a spot about two feet in front of Ivy and the girls. “Ob-sta-cle. Ob-sta-cle.” He intoned as he shuffled backwards, then moved forward again and repeated.

“See!” Ivy exclaimed, “He’s dancing!”

Laura and Sarah giggled—suddenly unafraid of the terrors of tubes, IV poles and gut-wrenching illness. Ivy let them dance with Elvis for a few minutes, then distracted with another question. “Would you like to take your dad for a walk?”

“Ok,” they answered, unsure if their dad could actually walk on his first day out of ICU.

“He gets to walk every day—it helps him get well,” Ivy explained.

Bless her, I thought, she has work to do and she’s taking time to make Laura and Sarah a part of Pedro’s healing process. Within ten minutes, Ivy had Pedro ready for his walk with Laura supporting him on one side and Sarah pushing the IV pole on the other. He didn’t walk far, just one lap that first afternoon, but what a monumental feat for someone who had left ICU two days earlier than the doctors expected.

Fast forward to another dark time in Pedro’s illness: the kind of week where when you press the call button the nurse is in the room before the buzzer has quit buzzing. I had to make a flying trip to Bozeman for parent school (both at my school and the girls’), and it was one of the rare times when no one spent the night with Pedro (Pedro’s brother Noel or I were usually camped out in the room).

Ivy was Pedro’s nurse that night, and for some odd reason, Pedro was awake when she entered the room in the middle of the night to take his vitals. When she leaned over the bed for her usual routine of whispering politely, “Mr. Ojeda, I’m going to take your vitals now,” Pedro was ready.

Before she could utter a word, while she was slightly off balance and leaning down with her stethoscope poised, he popped his eyes wide open and said, “Hello!”

Ivy screeched and her stethoscope flew up in the air. Pedro started to chuckle—which must have been quite a sight in the dim light, coming from a man with a paralyzed face. His chuckle sounded more like choking, and only his eyes could laugh. It took Ivy a minute to catch on that Pedro was indeed laughing, and he’d be smiling if he could. When she realized that he wasn’t dying, she started laughing, too. A shared moment of mirth in the midst of monotony.