Every Friday I see a patient for wound care, he is not actively dying but he is declining and being in his 90’s I think that would be expected in general but having tumors and strokes have sped things up for him. Despite his diagnosis and his age, he continues to fight and prove that he is strong, independent and capable of charging through whatever time is left for him.
I enjoy our visits; in fact, I look very forward to them. I love our conversations, I love the stories he shares, I love that he asks about me, my family, my life and especially about my work. And he does it in a way that many people close to me, don’t. He asks as though he really wants the answer, the real answer, not the generic sugar-coated one that satisfies most who ask. I think sometimes, people just want to hear me say, “I am fine”, because if I told them about my actual usual day, or about my own life and the things I struggle with internally, I think they would check out of the conversation rather quickly. He never does.
He always makes it a point to let me know that he knows what month it is, what day it is and what year, as if to say, “see, I am not dead yet”. I love that about him.
But my favorite thing that happens at every visit, is when he tells me how many rocks his walk was that day. When I first started seeing him it was eight rocks, which I am sure makes absolutely no sense to you… so let me explain. He goes outside with his walker and walks a lap around his yard, each week his laps have increased but he started to lose track and couldn’t remember how many laps he did. One day, he decided to pick up a rock on each lap and leave it on the table where he started. He lines them up in a row, and as he circles around after each lap, he pushes one rock over to the side. When he has pushed all eight rocks over, he knows he has done eight laps. Two weeks ago, eight rocks became ten.
Today when I arrived, we had our usual conversation about his memory continuing to be strong, then he shared a story or two about calls he received from friends from church, and then he asked me how I was holding up doing my job in the middle of a Pandemic and a fire storm. I told him it hasn't been easy. He patted the space next to him on his bed and invited me to sit. For some random reason, I started to cry. I honestly don’t know if it is because I am tired and stressed, because I struggle with the chaos our world is going through or because I ache inside knowing that people I know and love are losing their homes from fire and there is absolutely nothing I can do to make everyone okay. My problem is, I always want to make everyone okay and this is far above anything I am capable of doing and I have a tough time with that.
He took his hand and put it over mine, and said, “I know something that will make you feel better.” I replied, “oh yeah… tell me”. He got up and asked me to follow him outside. There on the table were his rocks all lined up in a row. He looked at me and said, “count them” (with a huge grin on his face). I did, and there were eleven rocks on the table. I looked at him and smiled, and he said, “I did an eleven rocks walk today, now doesn’t that make you feel better”?
He was right. That did make me feel better.