Tuesday, October 11, 2005

From One Extreme to the Other

An 87 year old lady passed away a couple of weeks ago and one of our patients (Mrs S) came into the surgery last week, asking me if I knew her. I told her I did, but not very well. Mrs S went onto say that she didn't much like going to funerals and made a point not to attend them these days. Due to her being a close friend of the family, the departed's daughters had convinced Mrs S to go. Well Mrs S, came away from that funeral feeling quite bouyant. The lady didn't want a morbid sad funeral service and had told her family she wanted it to be like a party.

They'd respected her wishes, and the guests had a wonderful time. They had balloons and streamers and upbeat music etc. It was a total celebration of her life. The tears shed were in memory of laughter and fun times they had shared with her. Mrs S is a character all of her own, she's 83 years old. She dyes her hair orange, wears bright colours and has a sassy attitude to match. I can't help but be drawn to her.

The first time she came in after I started, she came up to the counter and introduced herself, wanted to know who I was, what nationality I was, did I have any children etc. A few minutes later an eldery gent came through the door, an old beaten hat on his balding head, a flower fresh out of the garden pinned to his jacket. She said to me "See that? That's my husband. Isn't he gorgeous? You keep your hands off him. He's mine".

I've watched Mrs S physically deteriorate over the years...her body seeming to shrink within itself. Her voice is still strong as ever and there is no shortage of smart arse quips and laughter in the waiting room while she's there. I've even scolded her for scaring some of the other waiting patients, with her graphic stories of blood tests etc. This is one time I don't mind the doctor running behind. It means I get to have the company of this adorable eccentric woman for longer.

Another of my favourite elderly patients came into see her doctor yesterday. Her name is Mrs T and she's 95 years old. When I first started working at the surgery, Mrs T used to come in and see a different doctor...Dr J. One day Dr J wasn't available for her to see, so I talked her around to seeing Dr R instead. We all feel a little odd about seeing a different doctor if we have to, sharing such personal information with someone else can make us uncomfortable and nervous. This is especially so for the elderly. Most of them have had the same doctor for over 40 years if it's possible.

Mrs T came to see Dr R that day. She went home afterwards and rang me. Said she felt there was a definite 'thing' between her and Dr R and would it matter if she changed permanently to seeing him instead of Dr J? She then booked into see Dr R for next month, but made sure that I made the appointment during a time that Dr J wasn't working because she didn't want him to see her going to a different doctor. Dr R is about 6'2" tall, blonde, around 38 years old...a good looking man. Why wouldn't this, then 91 year old, want to be seeing him more often?? I occasionally tease him about being the pinup hero for the Blue Rinse Brigade.

Mrs T is as deaf as a post. Anytime, anyone of us in the surgery is heard yelling down the phone line to someone, we all know they're talking to Mrs T. Yesterday before she went into see the doctor, she sat in the waiting room for a good amount of time 'talking' with a 3 year old girl. I don't know if either of them could actually understand what the other was saying, but there was a fair amount of sign language, pointing and gesturing, head nodding etc going on. It was enough for both of them to enjoy their time together. I watched them, thought about the extreme difference in their ages and marvelled at how wonderful the instant connection they had with each other was.

After Mrs T had been to see the doctor, she came out rummaging around in her purse to pay. She started shaking and wobbling around trying to grip the reception counter. My co-worker and I froze for a few seconds watching her....then we both moved at the same time....Sue ran off to get the nurse and I ran around to the other side of the desk calling the doctor's name. I didn't yell for him, but the tone of my voice was enough to get him out of his office and to reception just as Mrs T collapsed against me. The doctor drew his patient towards him and held her as the nurse moved the wheelchair, placing her in it.

Mrs T is ok, she came round fairly quickly, the doctor re-examined her...the nurse gave her a cup of tea and she rested for a while until she felt ready to stand on her feet. I don't know how the doctor's deal with their patient's dying, but I take my hat off to them for coping. I know Dr R was upset at what happened although he didn't show it....I told him later "Just think how excited Mrs T would've been had she been conscious enough to know her beloved Dr R had her in his arms".

I know that one day I'm going to have to deal with Mrs S and Mrs T passing on at some stage. I know that I'm not going to like it one bit, and I feel sure that when it happens...although I've come close in the past...it'll be the first time I've cried over the death of a patient.

People come and go in our lives, we pick and choose what we learn from them, and we/they move on. Then there are those extra special ones that come in and make such an impression on our hearts we want to hold them close and never have them leave.

It's with pleasure, that I share with you today, two such people in my life.
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