There’s so much bad news today, I thought a little sharing of personal heroes might be in order. During the years I worked for Methodist Healthcare (1983-1998), my primary responsibilities were to patient concerns, patient rights, and medical ethics. I got to know some terrific individuals and wrote about many of them. I believed the sharing of patient perspectives helped us react more like a small community rather than a large hospital. Everyone does better when they understand another’s perspective. The stories were first shared internally and then with the medical community at large through my column, “Patient Perspective,” in the Memphis Healthcare News. I’ve pulled a few stories, in no particular order, to share with you. This one is very dated, but our need to understand and respect one another never changes. This couple taught us a lot about that. It was written in December of 1988.
There are those particular patients whose stories we file away in our memory book. Then, from time to time, we draw on the lessons they taught through their demonstration of great courage, kindness, or even wit. There is one patient I remember who met all those qualifications.
I first became involved with him due to his extreme fear of contracting AIDS. He and his wife came to our hospital armed with their own can of disinfectant, and his wife cleaned the bathroom and telephone again – just to be sure.
The patient and his wife, both in their late 60’s, enjoyed one of those marriages that was a sheer delight to observe. As we got to know each other, his wife told me 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, for six years, the second husband made her go with him every time he got a haircut! Then she laughed that happy, throaty laugh of hers, and you could imagine the whole scene taking place.
There were a number of hospitalizations and other visits to our hospital. One day, the patient had been in to get blood and I met him and his wife as they were leaving the hospital. They stopped to speak and give me a quick hug, but then said they had to hurry along. “I’ve just been given the blood of an 18 year old, and I want to get my wife right home” said the patient.
During the time of one hospitalization, the patient decided he would leave a little test for the housekeepers: he put one tiny piece of paper in each of the four corners of his bathroom. The housekeeper passed the test, but one of the patient’s daughters said the housekeeper should have left them where they were with one word written on each paper scrap: (1) I’ve (2) cleaned (3) this (4) bathroom.
The most memorable happening of all, though, came in his first hospitalization. This beautiful human being, full of love and wit, called in all of his grandchildren to talk to them. (As I recall, their ages ranged from about 12 to mid-20’s.) He told them he wanted to be serious just for a minute and then 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, that’s what I would be doing. So I want you to promise me, while each one 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.
Yes, there were times when the patient and his wife might have been seen as ‘difficult’ for staff as they struggled to hold on to the months of life he had left. But surely, there’s not a one of us that felt we could ever put a mark against such a courageous couple.
This was a man and woman who helped us laugh when their hearts were breaking; who held close to each other and taught us lessons about love and left us with memories that bless our days of reflection. The patient was one of those individuals who lives on in each and every person he ever touched, and if there were a hall of fame for patients, we would place his picture there.