Wednesday, 11 January 2012

What You Hear Is Probably What You'll Say in Forty Years (Or: Just You Wait Till You're My Age)

After a twelve hour shift at work, I stopped by the grocery store to grab a few things. My mind was already on the light snack I planned to make when I got home.

An elderly gentleman stopped me in the bulk food aisle, asking where he could find walnuts.

"They're for my wife," he said. "The doctor says they build up immunity."

After I pointed out the walnuts and extolled their health virtues, he commenced to tell me all about his wife's  two-month stay in the hospital with phlebitis, how the nurses were too rough with the bathing, opening her bedsores, and  how one heavy-set nurse listened to him and connected with him.

He barely took a breath, talking so quickly, spit formed at the corners of his mouth. It was as if he were afraid I'd walk away if he stopped.

I didn't walk away. I listened, nodded and made sympathetic sounds as he told me his wife's 40-year gynaecological history, from the time she had her second child. "She had this problem ever since then," he said. He went on to say he didn't trust the younger doctor who ignored his wife's complaints.

"Older doctors have more experience. I told this young doctor I'd sue if anything happened to her," he said. "Her leg was swollen like a balloon." He finally got the doctor to recommend the best guy he knew, who later said, "Thrombosis. If it was caught earlier, I would have prescribed a simple medication that would have cleared it up."

He interrupted his story several times to say, "To make a long story short", and then he continued to make the long story longer. At one point, he mentioned his wife was an avid reader, and that he brought boxes of books for her to read in the hospital. She would mark the one she finished with an asterisk or an X, so he'd know to take that one back.

I wanted to suggest an e-reader, but of course I didn't have a chance to squeeze in my suggestion.

His concern for his wife and his rheumy eyes reminded me of my old neighbour Uncle Bob, who passed away what seems like five years ago, but was probably more like ten. He had lost his wife Dora several years before that, and I remember listening to his concerns about her hospital stay.

I also remember seeing Uncle Bob in his last days, a tiny man who'd seemed so huge when I was a kid.

The man's loneliness struck a chord with me, reminding me that many older people live alone and have no one to talk to. Some embrace technology, like my widowed 90-year-old neighbour, who I also knew since I was twelve years old. She received an iPad last year and loves to email her grandchildren and play cyber-scrabble with her sister in Britain. My own father is technology-savvy, and my mom at least knows how to handle Facebook.

Not everyone has access to such technology, nor the desire to embrace it.

The fears of people whose loved ones are at the twilight of their lives seem to live on in a never ending cycle. Will I stop a young mother on the street and tell her about my family drama? Will the nurse who neglected to use a gentle hand while bathing an old woman with bedsores complain of the same mistreatment forty years later? Will the young doctor who admitted his ignorance think outside the box when he is older and more experienced, thus saving a life?

After I wished him luck, the gentleman said, "The doc told me what started it all. When she had the baby, he made a incision (I knew what he was talking about) with instruments that weren't clean. Watch out for dirty instruments."

With that advice in my head, I went off in search of boneless chicken on sale.

Picture: My Grampy, who didn't have a chance to tell me stories, except for the Halifax Explosion  when he was six. I am counting on my parents to tell me more stories. And I'll listen.