This is another story from patient representative days, first published in my December 1988 department report to physicians and hospital staff, then later in the Memphis Healthcare News. It is a smile maker and I hope you will enjoy it.
There are particular patient memories I hold fast because of a patient’s special courage, kindness, even wit. Mr. Simpson is one of those. In his 60’s, he had an extreme fear of contracting AIDS. When he was admitted to our hospital, his wife came armed with her own can of Lysol and as soon as he was in a room, she went about cleaning the bathroom and telephone again—just to be sure.
Mr. and Mrs. Simpson enjoyed one of those marriages that was sheer delight to observe. As we got to know each other, she told me of how they had both had previous marriages that came apart in the early 1940’s. She said her first husband left to get a haircut one day and just never came back. So the second husband, Mr. Simpson, made her go with him every time he went for a haircut for six years! Then she laughed that happy, throaty laugh of hers and you could picture how that happened over and over.
One day he decided he would leave a little test for the housekeepers by putting a tiny piece of paper in each corner of the bathroom. He chuckled telling me about it and said he was happy to say the housekeeper passed his test. His daughter added that the housekeeper should have left the scraps of paper with one word written on each: (1) I’ve (2) cleaned (3) this (4) bathroom.
After discharge, the patient would return for blood transfusions. One day, as the patient, his wife and I crossed paths in the lobby, we stopped for quick hugs and updates. Mr. Simpson said they had to hurry along because “I’ve just been given the blood of an 18-year-old and I want to get my wife right home.”
Those were some of the fun memories, but there is another memory that tugs at my heart and it happened shortly after his diagnosis of lung cancer. This beautiful human being, full of love and wit, called in all of his grandchildren to talk to them. Their ages ranged from twelve to mid-twenties. Mr. Simpson told them he wanted to be serious with them just for a minute. He explained his condition and that he knew his long years of smoking were to blame. He said, “Granddaddy should be up playing with you now and not lying in this bed. If I had taken care of my body, I would be doing that. So I want you to promise me, while each of you still has a healthy body, to respect it and take care of it. Don’t ever be foolish enough to put yourself where I am now.” With that, he dismissed the time for serious conversation and became, once again, the life of the party.
Certainly there were times when the Simpsons proved difficult for hospital staff as they struggled to hold on to the months of life he had left. But not a one of us would have put a single mark against such a courageous man and woman. This was a couple who helped us laugh when their hearts were breaking, who held close to each other and taught us lessons about love and commitment. If we had a hall with pictures of favorite patients, I’m pretty sure they would make the gallery by unanimous vote.