I visit with my patients on a regular basis. What I see and hear often can be emotional and moving.
Harold (not his real name) sits in the memory unit of a local facility every Fri morning holding the hand of his wife. They sit together in the common area – her in her wheel chair and he on the couch. She can’t speak nor does she seem to recognize Harold. They’ve been married 43 years. She became a resident this past Jun after suffering a massive stroke which mostly immobilized her and left her unable to communicate or remember much of anything.
His touch is tender, he talks to her as if she understands everything he is saying, and he smiles at her all of the time.
I went to a movie a few days ago. I had peeked ahead to see what it was about. I knew it would be hard to watch but I felt I needed to see it for a number of reasons.
Vincent goes to the assisted living home every week. Before entering a room down the hall, he puts on a white doctor’s lab coat. Upon entering, he greets the woman in the room with a strong “Good morning, Martha. You look beautiful as always today.”
Martha responds, “Hello doctor. I feel good today. Aren’t the tulips wonderfully colorful outside?”
“Yes, so amazingly colorful.”
After what appears to be a very cursory check-up, Vincent declares, “You check out excellently again today. As incredible as ever.”
“Thank you, doctor,” Martha says.
Each time that Vincent leaves the care facility, he takes Martha’s linens and clothes with him in a laundry basket. The aide at the front counter says, “You know we can take care of her wash, Vincent.”
Vincent says, “No, it’s okay. I want to do it.”
A few weeks later, Vincent (as the doctor) and Martha are outside sitting on a bench next to a pond looking at the ducks. As usual, the two are talking about the pretty settings and splashing ducks.
Martha says, “Vin, do you see those ducks diving?” Vincent’s voice catches and his eyes well up with tears.
He responds, “Yes, Martha, aren’t they something?”
Martha casually responds, “Yes, doctor. They are truly amazing.”
The moment passes quickly and without notice by anyone except Vincent.
Vincent and Harold are in the same situation. Their spouses are aware – but not of them. In story or in real life, it is heartbreaking to observe.
Two things. What is worse? Having a loved one who is present but not aware, or simply not being able to sit in the presence of a loved one?