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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

My Courageous Patient

“Oh my God!” The charge nurse shook her head, and sighed. I heard her, as I stood by her desk, looking for a medical chart. 

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“The new admit...” Her face had an unusual, worrisome expression. “Have you met him?”

“No, not yet. I’m actually looking for his chart.”

“Please, go and see him.” She looked distraught. “I’ve never had a patient that looked like that. It’s just so sad.”

“What?” I frowned, with no clue of what was upsetting her so much. I thought I should better go and meet Mr. Johnson, the new resident who had just been admitted.

I knocked at the door. “Come on in,” I heard a deep voice reply from inside the room. I opened the door and walked in. Mr. Johnson was sitting on the recliner.

I understood immediately why the nurse was disturbed. Mr. Johnson’s appearance was shocking. Nothing like I had seen in a nursing home before.

Mr. Johnson had suffered a long fight with cancer, and it had won, now metastasized, with his face showing the battle scars. He had just undergone a surgery that required  part of his skull and face being removed. Some kind of skin implant was done to cover the enormous wound. 

I was prepared to see something heartbreaking, but not to this extent. His appearance was something only Hollywood would produce, a picture from a scary movie. It was certainly disturbing.

Fortunately, I remained calm, and treated him like any other of my residents. I welcomed him, and offered to accommodate for him anything that was feasible to meet his needs. 

He was polite, yet his words carried a hint of authority.

He wasn’t looking for sympathy

At that moment, I started looking at Mr. Johnson from a different perspective, his appearance being no longer a distraction. I saw a proud man in his late eighties, not ready to give up with his long battle against cancer. 

In the following days, the staff complained that Mr. Johnson was “demanding,” and that he would not comply with some of the “standard” care protocols. 

“He doesn’t listen, he just does what he wants to do,” an aide said. 

“He wants to go home but the hospital told him he had to go to a rehab facility,” a therapist commented. 

“Mr. Johnson is really upset,” a nurse voiced to me. “He went to the dining room for breakfast and he got mad at people staring at him.”

My lips drew taut. I knew my resident was facing not just the battle against his illness, but also the shun of others who failed to realize that the scars he visibly bore in his losing fight against the cancer hurt his pride. 

I visited Mr. Johnson in his room that afternoon. He laid in his bed. He asked me to sit at his bedside. I did, and we began a light, trivial conversation. Then he seemed comfortable enough to start telling me about his personal life. 

He spent a great deal of time talking about his career in the military. The conversation turned into a fascinating and meaningful discourse. The spirit of a courageous officer emerged there in front of me as he continued his narration of his 26 years in the military. A brave American soldier shone through his anecdotes of his WWll mission as a gunner in a military aircraft. 

                                                                                                                                              Photo source
I no longer looked at a patient with a deformed facial appearance, with protuberant freshly and bloody scars. What was in front of me was a hero. A hero from WWII and a hero here and present, struggling to be released from yet another battle, for freedom. 

Mr. Johnson talked about his illness, and how he had gone against the odds to survive, even though his battle had left him with quite an unpleasant appearance.

“I’m fully aware of how I look, and won’t be intimidated because of that. That’s why I went to the dining room this morning, but it was overwhelming to see all those people staring at me, like if I looked creepy.” Mr. Johnson spoke in a broken voice and his eyes welled in tears. 

I held his hand, and said nothing. I felt a knot in my throat. 

“You see? I want to be where I belong... home.” Mr. Johnson said with soft words. “I want to go home.”

“Mr. Johnson, you’re a fighter, and an inspiration to anyone who will know you.”

A week later, I went to Mr. Johnson’s room to say good-bye. He was being discharged to his home that day. Home health services and other medical arrangements were made. 

“You’re an angel. Thank you,” Mr. Johnson said, and drew close to me, kissing me on my cheek. 

I hugged him, fighting away tears. 

I heard that Mr. Johnson died two weeks after his discharge. His body had given up, but his spirit remained, especially among those he touched with his wisdom and courage. 

"Even against the greatest of odds, there is something in the human spirit - a magic blend of skill, faith, and valor - that can lift men from certain defeat to incredible victory." - Walter Lord (1917 - 2002)


Bica said...

Such a moving story, Doris. What a courageous man...not quite ready to let go. God Bless his soul.

Rita said...

What a touching story of a true fighter in every sense of the word. :)

chocolatecovereddaydreams.blogspot.com said...

This brought tears to my eyes. I have scars that I often wish weren't there. They make me feel awful inside, especially when people stare or ask questions about them. Mr. Johnson definitely had a story to tell and I'm so glad that you were kind enough to listen.

Amrita said...

A real hero


I read this very tearfully Doris, you see I have a real phobic fear of cancer and I can't get the doctors how I feel. In other aspects of life l am positive, how I wish I didn't feel like this.


hyperCRYPTICal said...

A wonderful story of a true hero - thank you for this Doris.

Anna :o]

Linda said...

Thank you for sharing another wonderful person's story!

Anne Gallagher said...

Oh what a sad story. But he knew he wanted to go home, so I'm glad he got to be there when he passed.

Linda Myers said...

Thank you for being there with this fine man, and thanks for sharing the story with us.

Mariette VandenMunckhof-Vedder said...

Dearest Doris,

What a touching story of a very courageous hero! No words on our behalf can cover his actions...
Love to you,


Kathleen said...

Powerful, touching, convicting. I wonder how many of my petty whines would hold up against so indomitable spirit? Thank God you were commissioned to befriend during his final days.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Doris - such a brilliant tale - you do tell your stories well and they get to our hearts ...

I'm so pleased there was a happy ending .. he died at home, with full honours of his life with him. It's wonderful that the hospital services were able to put it in place for him.

Amazing man .. thanks so much for telling us .. cheers Hilary

Anita said...

What an inspiring and moving story...your patient fought a good fight. May he rest in peace.

steveroni said...

Doris, you know more than I, that each Peep, EVERYONE--has a story. We probably agree on this: I have never met one whose story was--in the least--uninteresting!

As a 'barkeep for a dozen years, restaurant worker for another dozen, and Motel front desk guy for another dozen (WAIT! Let me count those dozens--grin!) I probably seldom got as close to my Peeps as you, in your work.

Are we not blessed? to be free to 'talk' to Peeps (I am right now being 'cleared' to go into the jails here, and carry a message of hope--for whoever wants it) and grow from learning how others have dealt with their (Ugh! hate the word) ISSUES?

OK, I'm getting outta here. Bye!

Cloudia said...

have served all of us
with this
incredible true
story. Bless You-

Enjoy your weekend!
Aloha from Waikiki
Comfort Spiral
> < } } ( ° >

Retired Knitter said...

It is a reminder of the greatness that lives in the generation we are losing now.

If there ever was a generation we could learn from ... it is The Greatest Generation".

Great post!

Mary Aalgaard said...

Excellent quote to end this story.

A Plain Observer said...

I remember seeing a kid with a deformed face and not knowing what to do. I wanted to look away disturbed, I also wanted to look at him like any other. I saw his mother's look. She wanted her son to be seen as any other. I looked away.

A Thorn Among Many said...

Doris, you do such incredibly important work and you do it so very well! Sometimes I wish I could follow you around and see how you do it:-)) Take care of yourself, Jerry