I went to see my favorite patient this afternoon. I was in a hurry on my way there, stopping at Trader Joe's for a moment to pick up a last ingredient needed for a dinner I'm cooking for friends tonight. I grabbed a bouquet of bright, yellow tulips for my patient, got lost on my way to his house, even though I've been there a dozen times, and parked while checking email on my phone.
All of this quite thoughtless behavior snapped into focus when I walked in the door to find my favorite patient in a rapid state of decline. It had been over a week since I'd seen him last, and although I know that he's dying -- he is after all a hospice patient -- finding him in this state didn't stop tears from brimming in my eyes, the tulips in my hand slowly lowering to my side.
I've been visiting this patient every week since January and he's just lovely. A retired, 95 year old reverend, we all just call him the Reverend. He's wise and funny and has wonderful stories and each week when I visit I pull up a chair to his and we sit in the window watching the snow fall and sipping coffee.
Today he dozed in and out of consciousness, his lids falling shut only moments after asking, "How is my sweet Claire today?" His hired caregiver had stepped out while I was there and the Reverend and I sat alone together in the quiet afternoon sunlight. The classical station played on low in the corner and the Reverend's hand was warm in mine.
At one point he sputtered, opened his eyes, and said, "You're the girl with dead parents." I nodded, tears spilling over my cheeks. It's something I'm long used to -- not having parents -- and something I can usually talk about freely and with ease -- but the look on his face and the squeeze of his hand suddenly made me feel like a little girl. "I'm just so sorry that happened," he said. And I knew he was. But before I could clear the lump in my throat to speak he had fallen asleep again.
And so I sat, hunched over in my chair so that I could reach my hand out to hold his, and I watched him sleep. Tears dripped down onto my skirt and a swatch of sun fell across my lap.
I know we can't go about living every day like it's our last -- the world just wouldn't work that way -- but all the same I'm so grateful for moments like this when all that matters is my hand warm in someone else's.