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As some of you know, Mr. She isn’t very well, and he suffers from numerous comorbidities (one of the terms of 2020, along with “social distancing” and “an abundance of caution” that I’ll be glad to see the back of, hopefully soon) that make him especially vulnerable to infection and which have made it difficult to get him and our healthcare providers in the same room at the same time for the past few months. Nevertheless, I’m confident that our doctor, who I’ve known for 30 years as my doctor, as my co-worker in his role as the IT champion for his Family Medicine department, and as my friend, is on top of things.
As things have slowly started to ease up in PA, Mr. She’s declining health, in both the mental and physical senses, recently led our PCP to engage the services of the local visiting nurse agency, and for the next few weeks, we’re enjoying an onslaught (in the best possible sense) of nurses, PT and OT therapists, and personal care aides. It’s wonderful in that it takes some of the pressure off me to be the sole provider of such care, and it’s reassuring to have other “eyes on” the patient besides my own. I’m also viewing it as an instructional tool, as I’m learning some caring techniques myself. (Please consider such forms of help, if you’re caring for a loved one yourself. I wish I’d followed the good advice that some of you gave me in this regard, but I’m glad I’m finally coming to terms with the idea now.)
This morning, the young lady who helps to give Mr. She a bath a couple of times a week showed up right on schedule (they’re very efficient and reliable). She’s a country girl, raised on a farm (chickens and cows), so she fits right in. And he likes her (unlike the PT lady, who’s also very nice, but who asks him to do things he doesn’t want to do).
At some point, as he was toweling himself off, Mr. She confided to the young woman that he “never thought he’d live to be 289 years old.”
And she totally rolled with it. Expressed astonishment. Told him that he was her oldest patient. That he was lucky to have lived that long and must have seen some amazing things over the course of his long life. And he said that he had. And told her about some of them. Almost all of which were totally fictional. But he was happy. And I know he felt useful, and more importantly, respected and wanted.
Yes, it was bittersweet. And it did make me cry. But, mostly, it was a lovely moment.
And it reminded me of the day that Auntie Betty turned 100, and the nursing home where she was living staged a party for her.
Betty’s nose was severely out of joint because her imaginary boyfriend, John the King of China, didn’t respond to her invitation, and didn’t bother to show up for her big day.
Instead of responding to her by saying, “Betty, you’re a loon. There is no ‘John the King of China,’ and even if there were, he’s not your boyfriend. Get over yourself, why dont’cha,” the staff at the nursing home said, “Betty, he’s a rat. If he can’t even respond to your kind invitation and then doesn’t bother to show up on the day, don’t waste your time on him, he’s not worth it.”
I’ve always believed that the key to retaining one’s youth and beauty (in the case of women), and one’s honor (in the case of men) is to treat others who mean you no harm (and perhaps even a few who do) with kindness and dignity. I don’t have many “go to the wall” principles, but that might be one of them, and it’s one which is becoming ever more important to me as I, and those I love, face the inevitable consequences of growing older. And I find myself increasingly grateful for those who display such kindness, and treat us with dignity, and (I am afraid) I also find myself increasingly contemptuous of those who don’t.