Hidden Strength

Once in a while, you meet patients that you admire.  I met an elderly lady in the ER the other day:

Elderly Lady:  You know…I need to get better.  My grandchildren called the other day….they said, “Granmother, you have to get better so we can take you to watch the Winter Olympics”.  

She chuckles at the thought.

Elderly Lady:  I told them I’d have difficulty walking around…they said they don’t care and that they’ll push the wheelchair around for me.

Me:  Awww, that’s very sweet of them.

She had the biggest smile on her face that made me smile too.

Elderly Lady:  Oh dear…I have to go to the washroom.  Can you help me?

Me:  Sure…  (I closed the curtains to her bed)  Do you need help?

Elderly Lady:  I can get out of bed on my own.

Me:  Okay.

I watched her gingerly push herself up to a  sitting position.  She pauses as she catches her breath.  Then she lifts the blankets up gently.  She tries to move her tiny legs that are textured with snaking veins to the side of the bed.  

She’s having a tough time.  

She pauses again, her lips are purple, she’s gasping for air.  Then slowly she manages to get one leg off the side of the bed, after a couple more pauses she gets the other leg down.  Holding onto the bed rail she carefully slides onto the floor.  She motions to a chair by the bed.  It looks like a normal chair, but it’s actually a potty chair in disguise.  The blue cushion on the seat can be removed, hidden underneath it is a hole and basin.  She grabs my arm as I help her to the potty chair.  I can feel her shake.  I watch her as she goes and does her business.  Her hand tremors as she reaches for the toilet paper.  She’s unsteady on her legs as she stands up.  All the while, she was very short of breath.  Every movement was effortful.  Every movement caused her to breath a little harder.

It was painful to watch.

I helped her back onto the bed and tucked her in and made her comfortable.  She smiles.

Elderly Lady:  You know…I love the outdoors, I like doing a  lot of different things.  It’s just so tough to do it now.  I came here a couple of years back for a heart condition…(she pauses to catch her breath)…I also fractured both my hips.  Then I had an infection, so that’s why I’m partly deaf….(she pauses again), and now…I have problems breathing….and I’m sick.  I miss doing the things I was once able to do.

Me:  Yeah…that must be tough.

We go on chatting.  Never once did the smile wipe off of her face.  We laughed, shared funny stories.  I looked at her in admiration.  I can’t imagine myself in her shoes.  How can she still have such a sweet smile on her face?  She radiates charm, happiness, optimism.  Yet the effort of just sitting up causes her to gasp for air, for her lips to remain permanently purplish blue.  If I had heart surgery, then broken both my hips, gone partly deaf, and now sitting in a hospital bed once more where I can barely go to the washroom on my own, would I still be smiling and glowing with happiness?  How many people would have given up?  Let their illnesses, pains, and inabilities to sink in and become depressed?  To just not care anymore?

Inside this frail body, I found great strength.  I want to be strong like her.

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  • Courage is the discovery that you may not win, and trying when you know you can lose. -Tom Krause
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