In honor of Veteran’s Day, reposting an old blog post that includes a vignette of one of my patients.
For all those who have served our country.. a sincerest thank you.
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April 9, 2010
He glanced out the window, then looked at me. “I’m 92. I’ve been through a lot.”
He began to story tell. “It was winter time, and I was stationed in Europe during World War II. At night, we wore all of our gear and slept in the trenches. They were these deep, buried holes in the Earth. I thought it was going to be cold, but that first night, it was rather warm. Then in the morning, I emerged from my trench, and it was freezing! I had been buried underneath 7 inches of snow!”
“Later on I worked as a medic in the Bulge, and well… I saw things that would make your hair stand on its end.”
He continued to talk about the tough times, like having a heart attack while he was driving down the road, and recently, having to be separated from his lady friend. “We traveled everywhere. I brought her to Disney World, to the White Mountains, to Washington D.C. We had a great time. But then her sister died, and her children took her to live in an assisted living facility, and now my children are going to put me in a rehab facility…” his voice started to break.
There in front of me, an old, wise man, his life filled with a library’s worth of stories. Despite all he had endured, now he faced even bigger issues. He couldn’t stay in the hospital any longer, and the doctors wouldn’t allow him to go home anymore. Where would he go next?
If you love someone, shouldn’t you be together? And when you’re 92, have you not earned the right to do what you want? I had never fully considered all the hardships the elderly face as they get older. Loss of their friends, loss of their loved ones, loss of their independence, and even loss of their freedom. Basically, they lose their own voice. People stop hearing them and their needs.
Tears began to brim on the inner corners of my eyes, but I locked them in. I refused to let them surface, I wanted to be strong and encourage him. Sure he was 92, but he still had a long way to go.
Don’t lose hope.
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“A Thousand Years of Prayers,” by Wayne Wang, is a film that portrays the cross cultural and cross generational boundaries between a Chinese father and his Chinese-American daughter. One of my favorite scenes:
The daughter calls her father on the phone, saying she will be going out after work, so don’t wait up for her. Then the father, worried, tells her to not stay out so late. She tries to get off the phone. But he doesn’t let her hang up.
“Yilin… do you know where your name comes from?”
“It’s a city in China,” she answered.
“Yes.. but do you know how we got that name? Your mother and I were on a train, and when we left the city of Yilin, there was a young girl crying at the train station. As I looked out the window, I saw her there, and knew that when we had a daughter I would name her Yilin. And whenever I visited another city, with another beautiful name, I would name my other future children with those names too, so I could remember all the places I had visited with your mother.”
As the father explained the origin of his daughter’s name. She began to cry, and quickly said goodbye.
Watching this, I thought about my own father and how we often misunderstand one another. He is Khmer, and I am Khmer-American. He is wise, I am naive. He is resilient, I am a wuss. Emotions resurfaced, and my weeping unleashed, as if I had collected unspoken memories in a reservoir for years.
Slow but steady streams glided down my cheeks heavily. Like they had weight in them.
My tears felt like oil.
~ ~ ~
Our eyes met. Her lips pursed together, her eyes frowned, and the sobbing erupted.
I wrapped my arm around her and she cried on my shoulder. Her husband had passed away. He was my patient a few weeks ago, and I was the first nurse to take care of him when they arrived. Over the course of his illness, his family realized that his condition wasn’t improving. So they had practically moved in, staying over night, accompanying him on his final journey. But now, it was over.
“Going home?” I asked.
She nodded, and wiped fresh grief onto her jacket sleeve.
“Hold on,” I quickly grabbed a box of tissues from the supply room. “Take care,” I handed it to her.
She pulled a kleenex to her face. “I will.”
And she left.
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Everyday by Carly Comando