Three years ago I admitted a woman for long term care. She came right from home, she walked herself in. She'd been living alone, had taken a few falls, and came to the realization that she needed looking after. She'd been a patient in our facility before. Everyone knew her. She drove everyone crazy.
E liked to talk. A lot. Mostly about her bowels. If you dared ask how she was doing you were in for a detailed description of her morning "activity". E actually did have a significant medical history, with plenty of cardiac issues and even a stroke or two.
She moved from the Rehab Unit where I admitted her down to the long term floor. After my last maternity leave, I ended up on that same unit. I was once again E's nurse.
If it wasn't her bowels, it was some vague neurological symptom, or a speck on her leg that required obsessing over. E liked attention. E was probably a hypochondriac.
A lot of patience was helpful in dealing with E. Patience is something I'm not known for. I figured E out soon enough. If I pretended to like her, she wouldn't give me a hard time (and by hard time I mean faking a heart attack, she was GOOD). I'd tell her funny stories about the kids, Owen poop stories were her favorite. I'd listen to her physical complaints, offer her good nursey advice and be on my merry way.
After a couple months of pretending to like her, a funny thing happened. I started to like her. I started to enjoy our bedtime chats instead of just enduring them. I learned about her life and her family. She was a fascinating woman with a colorful family.
For the past year, her health was relatively stable. There were a couple hospital admissions after episodes of "chest pain", a cold here and there, but nothing ever serious. She didn't need a lot of help from the nurse's aides, she walked around and socialized with the other residents, she seemed content.
A few months ago she scored a private room. She felt like a Queen down there at the end of the hall. Her family brought in furniture, she hung dozens of pictures on the walls, her very own bathroom exploded with toiletries. E was one happy camper.
A month or so ago, she had one of her "episodes", and off she went to the ER. And then off she went to a larger hospital in Boston. Then she came back with a diagnosis that meant she would be dead soon, maybe days, maybe weeks.
Our bedtime chats changed. She hardly ever had a physical complaint. It was her turn to tell stories, of her children, grandchildren, of her long full life. She knew she'd had a good life. There were no regrets down there at the end of the hall.
Tonight, as my co-worker Pat and I sat in her bed with her and held her hands, she quietly slipped away.
She deserved tears, so we cried.
I feel so lucky to have been there when she passed. It's a big deal. And it's not a coincidence; that I'd admitted her, and followed her down to that floor, and grew to love and appreciate her.
And that there is one glass of wine left over from last night.
Raising my glass.
Good Night E.