Not in a million years did I think that I would be serving my tea blends in the ward of the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU) at Providence Hospital in Portland, Oregon, where only critically ill patients are cared for 24 hours a day by a dedicated staff of nurses and doctors.

When my older brother, Noah, suffered an aortic dissection on November 30 and was admitted to this ward, it took me a short while to absorb the fact that my perfectly healthy brother (a doctor himself), happily married and the father of two small children, suddenly went from an energetic, healthy man to a “critically ill patient in the CICU”.

Tea with BuddhaI packed my suitcase, kissed my husband goodbye (we live in New York City), and left for Oregon as soon as possible.  I was not, nor could I ever have been, prepared for what I encountered next.  I walked in to find my brother lying on a bed, with a million tubes, catheters, and wires attached to him.  He had just undergone yet another surgery (he has had ten to date) and was intubated, a giant plastic tube in his mouth, connected to a heart-lung machine that was breathing for him.  His face was jaundiced and swollen.  Where was my healthy, always smiling brother?  I felt my heart swell with an indescribable pain.

Nonetheless, I kept a stoic face in front of my sister-in-law, Kim, and just quietly looked at him and held his hand in mine.  Noah seemed inert, barely breathing with eyes closed.  I send a voiceless prayer to God asking for strength and patience.  I had come here to serve him with what I call my own brand of “Spirit Entertainment”.  It would be in this room that I would practice my daily regimen of aromatherapy and hands-on Reiki and serve him and others a vast array of my own tea blends as well as amuse him with silly stories and jokes of our childhood supplemented by music and slide shows on my laptop.

I took a quick look around the room.  There was no window and my brother (a sun worshipper) needed light.  I knew immediately that I had to request a room with a view.  The very next day, this wish was granted and we were moved to Room 7, the only large room in the CICU with a huge window that faces south.

altar with teaNext on the to-do list was creating a “Healing Altar” on the windowsill.  I moved his bed around to face the window and the altar and away from the buzz of activity and noise near the front door.  On the altar, I placed pictures of Noah with the entire family and some objects that were symbolic of him and his world, a crystal Buddha, toys made by his kids, two purple hyacinths (his favorite flower), a copy of his recent book, Wellness At Warp Speed, and three of my teas: Better Than Sex , Persian Rose, and Noah’s Arc (a new tea that I had blended in honor of my greatest tea fan).

Each morning, I made a fresh pot of tea and served it to all the nurses and doctors that walked into his room. Soon everyone on the ward was drinking tea, loving the taste, and referring to Room 7 as “the spa room”!  The favorite was my Better Than Sex blend, which is a no-caffeine Rooibos tea with bits of Belgian dark chocolate and peppermint.  I asked my manager, Cathy, to send Tay teas for all of the CICU staff.

Not only were the teas a hit, they created an instant connection between the staff and us, the family, that were in the room caring for my brother.  I learned a big lesson here.  I had always thought of tea served and shared in a peaceful and beautiful environment.  Being an interior decorator and stylist, aesthetics has always been my top priority in creating environments, be it in my own home, in clients’ homes, or in my tea shop and especially when serving my teas.  I have always insisted on using my favorite glass teapot and warmer and the delicate Persian tea glasses that I serve my teas in.

What I found out in the trenches of the CICU for over a month and a half was that this was nice, but not necessary.  The hospital’s wobbly, white styrofoam cups did the job just fine.  The comfort that tea provides is heartfelt when served with the right intent, even if it is in a sterile hospital room.

I am so grateful that I have had this opportunity to experience yet another facet of tea and to be part of the healing journey of my beloved brother.