The human story. Heart-wrenching. Treacherous. Poignant.
She sat with her husband across from me in the clinic room looking at the floor. She always looked downward, but today there was something wrong. I chatted with her husband about the new veteran?s hat he was wearing. As I turned to her and asked how she was doing?a question that usually prompts my patients to tell me what I can help them with?she hesitated.? She then turned to her husband sitting on her right and said, ?Go outside.?
He had always accompanied her for her medical visits. They are both in their sixties, and I have known them for many years. They are a kind, simple-hearted couple. I don?t recall that she had ever asked him to leave the room before. I wondered what could be so wrong between them that she did not want him there.
He left the room without hesitation. I could tell he did not question her motive or her action?just like any couple that have had a great relationship for many years. Sitting on my round doctor stool, I rolled forward and leaned toward her and asked, ?Well, what?s going on??
She said ?Dad is sick, and they sent him away to die.??She often mumbled.? And I was trying hard to understand, especially today since she was speaking in a broken voice. She leaned back in the chair and looked at me without further explanation.?I said, ?Your dad? Who sent him where???She said, ?It?s my husband?s dad (she called him dad). He is so weak. He did not want to go to hospice or the nursing home, but they could not take care of him.? At this point, it was becoming a little clearer to me, but I thought to myself, Why would she be so upset about an elderly father-in-law? So I asked, ?So you?re close to him??
At this point she looked down again, and tears started flowing freely. She said ?I hate it when I?m like this. He is like a father to me.??I thought to myself, Wow, what a nice lady. I rarely see this kind of devotion from a daughter-in-law.? But she continued, ?See, my mom thought she was too good for my dad, even though she was an alcoholic. So when I was 9, my mom?s family ran him off.? At this point, she was almost sobbing.
A Pain That Doesn’t Go Away
At 63, a gentle simple lady, who is missing three of her front teeth, was obviously experiencing powerfully painful emotions. But I was still not sure about how her father and her father in law?s illness are connected.
She continued as she cried. She said, ?I remember sitting in my dad?s lap at age 9. That was the last time I saw him. He petted my hair, and I felt so safe with him. And he kissed me. After he left, my mom washed my face with soap. I never forgot that day.?
?And I heard in 1967 my father had died. I never got to see him again.? And as she said this, she was crying. I reached out to hand her some tissues. I could tell that this was a childhood trauma of some sort, but still wondered how it connected to her father-in-law.
She wiped the tears from her face and continued, ?My father-in-law, since we met became like my father. He treated me as one of his children. He loved me.? She said this as she looked at me periodically, but mostly she gazed at the floor.?Then she looked up and said with the saddest face I have ever seen, ?He is like my father, and there is nothing I can do for him.?
I was taken aback. Wow! I thought, It never ends, does it? Life. Pain. Even at the ripe age of 63, you still have to deal with childhood trauma? I felt sad for her, for all of us, for our human condition.
She said, ?I don?t want my husband to see me like this. He has enough on his mind.” Then it all made sense. A little girl lost her father, then found a kind man who became her father. And now she is losing a father. Again!
Healing In a Hug
I took care of her medical issues and at the end I gave her a hug. She held tight for a few seconds and I returned the gesture.? I could feel at this moment that she felt alone. And as several other patients waited for me in the other rooms, the best medicine I could offer was a warm embrace. I wanted to tell her, ?I understand. I hear you. It makes sense to me why you feel like that. I love you. I share with you the pain, the pain of our human story.?
I did not say any of these words.
I just hugged her.
Even when you feel you have nothing else to offer, my friend you can touch the heart of another human soul with a hug.
For Further Reading:
Lesson From a Dying Patient
My Patient With An Artificial Heart