Pollen season bothers me most when a tiny grain of some substance enters my eye. One rub, then two or three more, fails to remove the irritant. More rubbing continues to fail, and my eyes begin stinging, causing tears to form in an effort to expel the invader. When that fails, I continue rubbing, irritating my eyes in an ever-increasing intensity.
A water rinsing fails. Eye drops fail. The nuisance has adhered itself and refuses to leave. I remain still with a warm cloth over my eyes to avoid rubbing even more, making a stab at not making matters worse. Sometimes it helps, and sometimes I finally go to sleep, hoping desperately for early morning relief.
I don’t get anything out of this experience. Not so, the oyster. When an intruder enters an oyster, the oyster begins sending nacre – or mother of pearl – to cover the intruder in layers until a pearl is formed. Irritants often produce unexpected blessings (unlike my pollen particle), like the pearl found in an oyster shell.
When life introduced an irritant in our lives in the form of Multiple System Atrophy, it also produced a pearl, more precisely, a Pearlie.
As Thurston’s illness progressed, we reached a point where I could not leave him alone. A dear friend provided a list of sitters who might be able to provide care for Thurston while allowing me to run errands, enjoy lunch with a friend or spend some time reading and relaxing.
One name stood out to me. Pearlie.
Pearlie had worked at The Methodist Home for 33 years. My mother had been both the supervisor of nursing and the supervisor of what was then known as the infirmary when she worked at The Methodist Home. I wondered if Pearlie had worked with my mother.
She was the first sitter I called, and during the phone conversation, I asked her if she had known my mother. She had worked with my mother, and I felt an instant connection with her. She offered to come by our home the next day to meet Thurston and me. She and I met at the back door and had a brief conversation before joining Thurston in the den.
I was intending to introduce her, but upon seeing Thurston, Pearlie spoke up. “I know you!” she said to Thurston. “I took care of your father at The Methodist Home. Mr. Fred.” Thurston recognized her, and they began a trip down memory lane. I felt an even stronger connection to this pearl that had entered the shell of our world.
I don’t know what I would have done without Pearlie. I know what would have happened to me. I would have worn myself out trying to do everything. Pearlie was a beautiful gift in the midst of an exhausting and discouraging journey through the valley of the shadow of death.
One day when I arrived back home, Pearlie advised me to move Thurston from his recliner to mine. His recliner was closer to the fireplace and the raised brick hearth. Pearlie had entered the den that day, seeing instantly that Thurston had gotten up and was teetering toward the fireplace. She rushed to grab him, then got him settled back down in my recliner.
“You’re strong!” he told her, shocked by her quick reaction, agility and fortitude. I was just thankful, so full of gratitude that she had been in the right place at the right time.
In more ways than that one incident, Pearlie was our pearl, a beautiful gift born of an intrusive and disheartening disease. She was our oyster’s treasure.