It’s always those end of the day visits..
You know the ones where they are unplanned but you have this overwhelming pull to go
The ones where it has been a long day already… you could easily just head home to chart, but, at the intersection that would decide the fate, the choice is made make the visit.
That was my afternoon. I made a quick pit stop at Dunkin Donuts – medium cold brew, one cream, two sugars, which never really dissolve so that the first few sips are pure sugar filled delight. But, I really needed all of the extra energy I could get from anything… it had been a long Monday already.
As I made my way into my patient’s room, passing by the staff, making small talk with the residents and smiling at all of the festive holiday wreaths hung on each door, I couldn’t help but feel that even though I was dragging and tired, this visit had been one of my better ideas of the day. My patient’s door was closed and I could hear the familiar noise of Fox News blaring from his tiny corner TV. He was in bed, as per his usual, with his nasal canula oxygenating his chin rather than up his nose. “Hey sunshine!”, I yelled out, my voice competing with an advertisement for My Pillow, “women pay a lot of money for face creams with oxygen in them to make their skin look younger and you are cheating the system using your oxygen!” His eyes snapped open “You are here!! It’s not your typical day! But it sure is my lucky day!”
But, there was something off. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Was it his coloring? Was it his eyes? Something just wasn’t right. My patient was typically loud and boisterous despite being weak. He had lost his ambulatory ability but that never stopped him from metaphorically walking circles around every body. If he liked you, you knew. And, if he didn’t like you, you knew it even more. He could be quite the flirt, with his eyes the color of a spring sky. Quick with the compliment and just as snappy with a comeback he always was Johnny on the spot with just the right thing to say. Today was not that way. His quiet was speaking to me more than his words ever could.
“So, how are you feeling?” I asked as I reached for my stethoscope and leaned over to listen to his chest. His rumbly cough gave away his secret of years of smoking. He said he was ok. “Can I talk to you?”, he asked. “Mmmhmm”, I answered, trying to listen to his lungs. “So, you know, I know, my days on Earth are numbered, and that number is coming to an end…”. I froze. It was literally like someone poured ice water down my back. I couldn’t move for a second and tried to catch my breath. Not showing any of this to him, I looked up and said “It’s going to be one of those kind of talks, eh? That calls for me to pull up a seat.” Boy, am I sure glad I did.
“Helen,” he started “I know my time is soon up and I couldn’t leave this place without telling you a few things. In a place like this, people like me, we get lost, we get forgotten… we become numbers. Our children live away. It’s easy to just get lost in the shuffle. But, I need you to know that you made me feel special. You showed me that someone could just care about me for me. When I didn’t know what holiday it was, you would make sure I celebrated it. You have decorated my room for Christmas (I did it right after Thanksgiving just because) because you knew I wouldn’t make Christmas. But, you have made an old man happy because I have celebrated it in my heart, now.” I just help his hand as the tears from both of our eyes fell down our cheeks and he continued. ” I have done a lot of not great things in my life and never deserved someone to come into my life and care for me, but yet you did. You cared for an old man, mind, body and soul. I never thought someone could care for me without me giving them anything, but I gave you nothing. That’s love. You taught me love. I will miss you, because I know I am going soon, but, you should know I will be checking in on you. You took care of me and I will take care of you. I know all the things you have done for me, even if you don’t tell me, I know them, I see them. No one ever did those things for me. I don’t know why I deserve you or if you will ever know how special you are, but, I couldn’t leave this world without telling you.”
As we sat there, and I handed him a tissue and he scoffed that he cried because men don’t cry, I couldn’t help but tell him how special he is and will always be to me.
This visit was preordained by forces stronger than me for reasons beyond me. I could not be more grateful.
When I was saying goodbye, I couldn’t help but echo his own words back to him, but, this time, they came from my heart… “I don’t know why I deserve you or if you will ever know how special you are….”