her husband had a feeding tube the last ten years of his life
cancer of the larynx took away from him the ability to speak or eat
and tube feeding kept him going
the patient said she looked back on the years before cancer came
and remembered how
she was always busy being a wife and a mother
a farmer husband and five children kept her busy in the kitchen
and they always enjoyed their fellowship around the table
the day came when she set a full dinner table as she always had done
an abundance of riches
fried chicken and mashed potatoes
butterbeans and squash
sliced tomatoes and spring onions
cornbread and sweet tea
chocolate cake and pecan pie
her husband walked into the kitchen and saw the spread
he knew he could not enjoy
and mouthed these words:
I could eat every bite of this
the patient said
her heart broke
that was the last time she laid out food as a spread
How to say this without sounding tactless? This patient appeared to be just an ordinary elderly woman…small-boned, grizzled short hair, no makeup, plain of dress, quiet of demeanor. You’d see her sort pushing the buggy in the grocery store and then getting into a serviceable, old four-door car.
So what was special about this woman? Well, you’d just have to get to know her, but it didn’t take long being around her to become enamored with her spirit.
She was not particularly “depressed” at being in the hospital…she just accepted it as a part of life that the human body will fail us at times.
She had a dry wit about her that peeked out, once you got to know her. She didn’t let being in her early nineties take away her love of seeing a little humor in everyday life situations.
She had a love for her family, and they for her. Her children and in-laws were faithful “spend-the-nighters” in the hospital room and stayed during the long days also.
She had lived a plain, hard-working life as a farmer’s wife and mother of five children. What others might see as drudgery, she saw as blessings. Read Proverbs 31:10-31.
She had a delicacy of spirit and concern for others that we would all do well to emulate. Imagine all the joy she had for all those years preparing those delicious meals with vegetables from her own garden, laying it all out in all its abundance for her family to enjoy, and then realizing the sadness it caused her husband…that he could not eat it. And just like that, she quit doing what had been such a part of family life for so many years…the pleasure of seeing a beautiful home-cooked meal all laid out in all its glory.
It’s been over five years since the patient left the hospital, and I’ve wondered about her often.
My wonders were answered several months ago. Her obituary expressed the characteristics mentioned above and also stated something I didn’t know…that she had spent the last two years of her life in a nursing home where, the obituary declared, “she made many friends”. What an example of a pleasant attitude and good life until the very end at almost 100 years of age!!
This “ordinary elderly woman” was, in fact, extraordinary. She blessed us, and we loved her.
“Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
some of the greatest blessings in life
are the unexpected blessings…
they are a gift in the midst of everyday life
and, as we look at our life, especially when we are
with the advancing of years and aging
…aging just gives us more opportunities for experiences…
we can see blessed experiences have piled up and are there
if we but recognize them and cherish them as they unfold
a quote we often hear is
“there are no accidents”
and here is a story about a no-accident that is a true blessing
the patient…an older black man
the therapy worker…a younger white woman
the patient seemed to know who the therapist was…
but the therapist had never heard of the patient
the patient started to question the therapist and said…
I know who you are…
your doctor granddaddy set my arm way back in the 1930s
when I was a little boy
and fell off climbing over that fence
and broke my arm
he was a fine man, a good man
and my sisters and I remember your great-aunts
and their cats and dogs and chickens
and their horse and buggy
and their pistol
and their palm-reading
and how we all lived out there on your farm…
all of us, my granddaddy and my uncle too
and we walked that dirt road
and fished in that pond
and played in those woods
and gathered eggs underneath your aunts’ house
the patient said…
I can sit in this room in the hospital
and look out the window at the woods
and remember the old days
of running through those woods
playing and running and being so happy and alive
as the therapist did not have the privilege of knowing
her grandfather and great-aunts
…they died before she was born…
for the opportunity to hear these stories
and meet the man who was her connection to her past
and the man was thankful to meet the woman
who had the family “blood” in her
and had her grandfather’s voice
and her grandfather’s walk
with tears in his eyes, the patient told me…
it’s just so good to talk to somebody about the old days
he remembers his childhood as a blessed happy time
what wonderful memories he has
and how wonderful that he came into my life
***“there are no accidents”***
thank you, Mr. Johnny
I live outside the city limits of a small town of less than 6,000. One would think that somewhere along the way the patient, Mr. Johnny, and I would have met up, more than likely in the grocery store…which is usually the best place in town for having a friendly chat. Truth is, I had never laid eyes on him, so his searching looks at me and questions to me of “do you know who I am? I bet you don’t know me” discomfited me slightly, yet he seemed harmless enough.
Once the floodgates opened and Mr. Johnny started pouring out memories, however, I saw the past come alive. I had heard endless stories of my wild, loving grandfather and eccentric great-aunts from my mother, but there was something about hearing a stranger’s remembrances of living on the farm and the love he had for my grandfather that gave me a whole different perspective on how a non-family member viewed my family and this safe time in his life.
Mr. Johnny might take umbrage at being termed “a non-family member”, and you know what? He would be right. I felt as close to him and as comfortable talking with him as I would my blood kin.
And you know what else? Saying Mr. Johnny “had tears in his eyes” is not quite right either.
Mr. Johnny actually was speechless with dry sobs and emotions almost every time we talked. Such is the aching, stirring beauty of shared memories of “the old days”.
my friend, if you’re reading this, it’s
writing about our fun times together
when you were a patent in the hospital
do you remember how we talked and laughed?
do you remember telling me about your boys and their personalities
and how sweet their wives and your grandchildren are?
do you remember talking about men and women
“honey chile, that’s just how men are”?
do you remember telling me about the cake that your mother said was
“a sufficient cake”?
I remember all those times, even if you don’t…
because that bad Alzheimer’s had to go and upset your brain’s wiring
Cornelia will always be the friend you thought she was…
a little thing like being called by a different name didn’t really matter
as long as we were having a good time together
The patient, Mrs. X, was the quintessential old-fashioned Southern lady. She was soft-voiced, humble, comfortable and gracious around presidents and their subordinates and captains of industry—and yes, she truly was around them—as well as those without a penny to their name. Though I could tell by our conversations she was an excellent cook, Mrs X would just laugh that sweet laugh and say “oh, it’s just plain old cooking like I grew up with”, but such is the self-deprecation of one who knows that there is no need to “put on airs”. She had the elusive talent of being both self-assured and modest, a personality combination we would do well to emulate.
To the patient, I was “Cornelia”. At the beginning of her hospital stay, Mrs. X called me by my Christian name; I might have had to remind the patient of my name every morning, but that was no problem. One day, however, I walked in and was dubbed “Cornelia” by the patient, and from that moment on, Mrs. X and “Cornelia” shared many confidences. One of the most poignant moments I experienced with Mrs. X was when Mrs. X was unsure about whether it was a good idea to have the CNA give her her bath before therapy. I saw the hesitation and confusion on the patient’s face, the CNA was standing there with soaps and towels and basins, and then Mrs. X’s voice dropped a little and she whispered “Cornelia, what do you think? Do you think this is a good time for my bath?” So “Cornelia” said “well, yes, I think it would be a fine time.”
What went through my mind during this interchange? How unsure, yet trusting, Mrs. X was? How hard it is to witness a human’s decline, whether it be mental or physical? How easily those without strong minds and strong bodies could be taken advantage of in all sorts of ways by those with evil intentions? Of course—all these thoughts and more.
I know that we can’t solve all the world’s problems, but allowing this patient to exist in these in-the-moment safe bubbles of idly talking and laughing and reminiscing with the one she thought was her childhood friend “Cornelia” seemed to be the answer to the problem of “how to give an Alzheimer’s patient a little respect and joy on just an ordinary day”.
this patient was strong in her faith
comfortable in her skin
and loved to read…
a perfect combination
she grew up rural
with a mama, a daddy
five girl children and four boy children
this upbringing made her the person she is today
picking cotton and shaking peanuts
gathering eggs and milking the cow
toting water and sweeping the dirt yard
had a way of strengthening a person
in both body and soul
nowadays we talk about having
or how to get it if we don’t
but back when this patient was young
you didn’t have to fret over your self-esteem…
you were too busy getting through the day
helping your mama and daddy
self-esteem grabbed a hold of you naturally
when it would be coming up on Christmas
this patient and her siblings would walk home from school
couldn’t hardly wait to get a look at what
had cooked and put in the pie safe…
chocolate cakes, caramel cakes, coconut cakes
it was so pretty
now what did this little girl wear to school?
well, according to her
her mama bought a 25 pound bag of flour every two weeks
lots of biscuit-making and flapjack-making going on
and when the flour sacks were especially pretty
with flowers blooming on them
her mama would cut them up and make dresses and underwear out of them
I’d be so happy when I got a new dress
her daddy took care of the shoes for the little girl
when she had walked so much a hole wore through the bottom of the shoe
Daddy had a little machine and would cut a little piece of leather
and use the machine to patch it onto the shoe…
we couldn’t afford new shoes
if you had all this and more in your background in your growing-up years
don’t you think you’d be strong in your faith and comfortable in your skin?
as the patient said…
I thank God I know where I came from
and what about the word
in the title of this story?
the patient said…
you can be depressed if you want to
but not me…I grew up hard
I have faith in the Lord and trust HIM
My opinion on this?
I think that growing up poor with loving parents on a farm taught her how to have faith and joy and peace and working hard can generally improve even the worst depression.
I think that there are valid reasons for taking prescription anti-depressants.
I think that a combination of anti-depressants and physical activity can work wonders on a depressive state.
I think that a loving family and friends are integral to bolstering the depressive personality.
I think that faith, if you’re a believer, is paramount.
I know that my mama said whenever she felt down, she’d go out in the yard and pull weeds or get a mop and mop the kitchen.
Lord, help those who are depressed, and help them find peace through some combination of the above.
if she were still alive, would she like being called
I’m guessing she would…
young-at-heart doesn’t even begin to describe her
she was another one of those repeat patients
maybe even a three-peat
frail in body, wild in spirit
that accent so rich and so exotic
to those of us with the country drawl
some moments with patients are almost
crystallized in time
her crystal moment was the time we both realized
that we knew some of the same people from her hometown
up the road
her wild spirit sensed it might be an interesting conversation
she drew those bony knees up to her bony chest and said
“oh goody, let’s talk!!”
we were both sitting on her bed facing each other
and as I looked into those pale little snapping blue eyes
and watched that mouth with its limited number of teeth
curl excitedly into a grin at the prospect of what she termed
I told her
“it’s just like a slumber party when you’re a teenager!!”
we forgot the thirty-year age difference
we forgot the hospital room…
we remembered how it was to pass the time
without a care in the world
This patient was WILD, and I say that in the most complimentary of ways. Slightly “dramatic” with her aches and pains (the daughter would sit in a chair and just smile and shake her head), but that was okay, because it was just part and parcel of her fun, intense, I’m-riding-this-galloping-horse-of-a-life-all-the-way-to-the-decrepit-end essence.
Drama also came when she talked about her family. I’d hear the this and the that, the good and the bad parts of her life, the patient would tear up and look all wistful and forlorn, but then…I’d see that snaggly grin and those inquisitive sparkly eyes and I’d wonder…is she enjoying my wonderment at her exploits?? Short answer…YES.
And a little gossip?? Lord yes!! “Girl talk” would be a euphemism for some good-old chatty small-town gossip. Nothing too spiteful or hateful on her part…and hey, I’m just sitting there letting her run on…but I’m thinking it took away the dreariness of being 84 and practically bedridden, so “judge not” on her propensity to swing the sword of alcoholism, affairs, cheating at Bridge, and all other things that make life so convoluted.
Bless you, my dead friend. You might enjoy knowing you’re in the spotlight today. xoxoxo
if you’re reading this page, maybe you’re a Believer, maybe you’re not
as we say in the South…
that’s between you and the Lord
there was a patient one time, however, who was a Believer
but was “worried about some things”, as she put it
this woman was only 52 years old, but she knew her health condition was such
that she was probably on borrowed time
we got to talking and I saw the sadness and distress on her face
and the uneasiness in her demeanor
so I volunteered to call in a preacher to settle her spiritual mind
and she accepted the offer so, so gratefully
grasping at the straw
clinging ’til the morrow
when this fine, calm, and caring man of God would come
the preacher came the next day and spent some time alone with the patient
the patient’s face was wet with happy tears
and her countenance was glowing
when I came back in
I walked into the patient’s room the next morning and this is what I see
a changed woman, at peace
and this is what I hear
“I could hardly sleep last night, I was so excited about
who I was going to see today
and what the day would bring
I feel like I have a new life
thank you for bringing the preacher to me”
the patient was discharged a few weeks later
two weeks after that, I read her obituary in the paper
thank you to all of those who come to visit our patients in their time of need
sometimes a visit is life-changing
in memory and honor of a black-haired patient and Reverend Milton Gardner
How shamed I was of any ill attitudes and unpleasant behavior I might have exhibited at ANY time in my life, after hearing this ill and dying woman tell me that she couldn’t sleep the night after the preacher came because she was so excited to think about what the new day would bring and who she was going to see.
What purity! What grace! What joy! What a testimony! Bless you, my patient-that-became-my-friend, in your heavenly home lo these past seven years.
I told the preacher how much I appreciated his eagerness and desire to come visit this stranger in the hospital and how her spiritual life was renewed by his visit and prayers. I also told him this…”if I never have another patient whose life is changed for the better through a salvation experience or a renewal of their faith, having helped JUST THIS ONE will be worth all my efforts.”
Thankfully, there ended up being more than “just one” patient who had a spiritual experience. This patient was the first, however, and she made a huge impression on me. After my experiences with her, working in therapy took on a whole new meaning for me…the idea that you could help, support, and encourage patients in other areas of their lives besides just improving their physical health.
We had a good therapy team and were always thankful that we helped our patients however we could, whatever their needs were. What a great five years spent caring for patients!!
a night janitor with a fifth-grade education, late sixties, living alone
but a devoted sister nearby
when he was young and strong, he never imagined that one day it would take him
to crawl across the floor to reach the phone to call the ambulance
the patient arrived at the hospital for swingbed therapy very weak after that piteous crawl and the grueling illness that followed
with tired tears oozing from closed eyes he repeated for the third time in two days his crawling story
he remembered the horrors of being alone and crawling and sick with fears of
A SOLITARY DEATH
on that floor
his listener was touched and leaned over his bed and patted and kissed him, saying
“you don’t need to worry any more…you’re here and safe and warm
people are all around you and we’ll take care of you”
the patient cried a little more
I just wanted somebody to listen
I was scared I was going to die alone
the patient and his sister came back to visit after his discharge
he was so, so happy
strong and walking
smiling from ear to ear
in the presence of those who had comforted him and encouraged him
listened to him
a brother and sister who started out young together
grew old together
This experience with this patient crystallized for me the importance and value of patient and empathetic listening in the healthcare setting (and also, of course, in our lives away from our work environment). Because the patient appreciated the time taken with and care shown to him, he did indeed feel safe and trusted me, and his therapy progressed in its own time as a result of the agape love we shared.
Mrs. Hate might expound in her “diatribes” how hard it is for healthcare workers to attain the extra time many patients, especially the elderly or lonely ones (and aren’t elderly people often the most lonely?), need and deserve. She, however, was most fortunate and blessed in that her particular job allowed her many opportunities to spend extra time with those she cared for. For that, Mrs. Hate is eternally grateful.