Dolores Brown’s family and friends have done the best they can to brighten her room at Eastern Maine Medical Center, where the 69-year-old Presque Isle resident has been for more than a week while she recovers from a stroke she suffered recently.
A pile of wrapped Christmas presents, trimmed with ribbons and other adornments, were lined up on a cot near the window Thursday. Flowers, a gift from the Church of Jesus in Presque Isle, were on a bedside table. Family photographs were posted on a wall.
It made for a festive atmosphere, but a hospital is still a hospital, and it wasn’t where Brown wanted to be Christmas morning.
“You go Christmas shopping one day, you wake up the next morning and you can’t move,” Brown said. “It’s like somebody turned you completely upside down, and it’s hard to find answers for that. I’m here. I’m not happy to be here [in the hospital], but I’m here.”
There were a few sweet surprises, however, in what turned out to be an emotional and life-changing holiday, that helped brighten Brown’s mood and helped her realize, she said Thursday morning, what Christmas is all about.
Just before Brown was served her Christmas lunch Thursday, her family came for a visit. The group — which included her husband, Charlie Brown, daughter Tammy Masters, son-in-law Isaac Masters and grandson Daniel Masters — drove down Thursday morning from Aroostook County.
The Masters family, from Westfield, also brought Kaylee, Dolores Brown’s 5-year-old dachshund, as a surprise. Although several therapy dogs had been in for visits in previous days, there was nothing like Brown’s own baby. The dog seemed to be better medicine for Brown than any presents or flowers.
It had been nine days since Brown had seen Kaylee.
“You missed Mommy, didn’t you, darling?” a teary Brown said as a family member placed the pooch in Brown’s arms while she sat in a wheelchair in her room. “Oh, this is such a beautiful Christmas present.”
Kaylee was wearing a red and white capelike garment, which Brown pulled up to show off the dog’s stunning dappled markings resembling giant hearts.
“She’s unique, like her momma,” Tammy Masters said.
As the family chatted with visitors about their drive to Bangor and the weather in Aroostook County, Brown cuddled the dog. Kaylee, whose clear, calm eyes scanned the people in the room, seemed to love the attention.
The family said Kaylee hasn’t been herself since Dolores has been out of the house. It seemed, Tammy said, that the dog looked up at every noise, expecting Brown to come around a corner.
“I kept saying, we’ll have to keep our eye on [Kaylee] because she’ll be heading south,” Isaac Masters said, eliciting laughter from the family at the thought of a dog hitching a ride on the highway.
Dolores Brown had more than enough strength to hold the dog, despite her weakened condition.
Her left side was affected by the stroke. She has had three hours of therapy a day, a program for which she was approved because of how strong she was before the stroke, Tammy Masters said. After just a few days of therapy, Brown can lift her arm.
“I’ve been practicing and practicing and practicing,” Brown said. “I want to get back on my feet.”
Kaylee’s visit was one of a few treasured moments Brown will take away from this Christmas. Another happened Christmas morning, when an EMMC nurse allowed Brown to call a friend who lives in a Veterans Affairs facility in Caribou. Brown had planned to visit her friend on Christmas Day, but the visit never came to be because of Brown’s stay in Bangor.
“They took me down to the nurses’ station and let me call her, and tell her ‘Merry Christmas,’” Brown said. “It was so nice of them.”
Brown said she also appreciated the pile of presents, which Tammy Masters slipped into her mother’s room Christmas Eve while Brown was in a rehab session, and she enjoyed a colorful blanket one of the nurses lent her for her bed.
It all made for a festive holiday in the hospital, but nothing meant more to Brown than the phone call she received Christmas Eve from one of her sons.
It was the first time in six years they had talked, because of a family disagreement. Brown said he wished her a Merry Christmas.
“He said, ‘Mom, will you forgive me for breaking your heart?’ I said, ‘I wouldn’t be much of a mother if I didn’t forgive you, because I love you.’
“The true meaning of Christmas is sharing and giving of yourself,” Brown said, tears welling up again as her family bustled around her. “It’s not all the gifts. It’s being willing to give of your own self. And I have found that in this Christmas.”