Following an injury in an automobile accident in 1989, most of my intestines were removed, and I am no longer able to absorb nutrients and fluids.  Since that time, I’ve been dependent on total parenteral nutrition, or TPN, which means I receive all required fluids and nutrients intravenously.  


In 1993 I received a scholarship to attend Pendle Hill, a Quaker retreat and study center in Philadelphia.  I lived in Arizona at the time and I was quite nervous about being so far from my doctors and the rest of my medical team.  I was afraid that if I had a problem I would have no one to help me.  I had found that most of the medical professionals I had come in contact with since the accident knew little or nothing about TPN and that had kept me from travelling very far from home.  But I badly wanted to go to Pendle Hill and decided to take the risk.


As I boarded the plane and settled into my seat I continued to worry about being far from any support.  I was also quite anxious because I was going to have to take a taxi from the airport to Pendle Hill.  I had always been terrified of strangers and was afraid to get into a taxi with a driver I didn’t know.


As the trip progressed, I began to talk to my seatmate, who was traveling with her two young children.  As we exchanged details about our lives, I discovered that she was a nutritionist at a hospital in Philadelphia who was very familiar with TPN, wrote orders for it, and followed patients who were on it.


As we prepared to land, she shared her concern that her husband would not be picking her up for some time and there would be no one to wait with her children while she collected their dog, who had travelled with them, and their luggage.  I offered to sit with the children, telling her that I was in no hurry and wasn’t even sure how I would get to Pendle Hill.  She was very relieved to accept my offer and offered to give me a ride to Pendle Hill.


The next morning I went to the pottery studio at Pendle Hill.  There was a man working on the potting wheel.  He explained where things were and how everything worked and got me set up with a chunk of clay to work with.  We started chatting, and I learned that he was a gastroenterologist who also knew all about TPN and had patients on it. 


I soon settled into the routine at Pendle Hill and made many acquaintances.  One of those acquaintances offered to drive me to the airport for the return journey.  I had many fears about the trip, some well-founded and some perhaps not so much.  But my fears were allayed and I found that the help I needed was always very much at hand.

—Mica Coffin