We have a patient on the service this week, an elderly lady who recently had a massive stroke. As in, she was fine when she went to bed, and woke up the next day unable to speak or swallow properly or move her right side. It's an interesting and difficult case, because since she is unable to talk, it's hard for anyone to know just how much she still understands, beneath it all.
But I was reminded today-- and it's good to be reminded-- that she's not just an "interesting case."
Her husband was in the room when we went in to see her, sitting in a wheelchair facing his wife. The attending asked cordially, "So how is everyone doing today?" And the patient's husband looked at him and replied, "Well, I'm not doing so good." And two tears ran down his face as he looked back at his wife. And at the end, before we left, our attending put his hand on the man's shoulder and said, "We don't know just how much she understands. But she knows you're here with her." "I hope so," he replied sadly.
Their granddaughter had informed us that they've been married for 57 years. And I thought of how many Christmases and sunsets and cups of coffee and Sunday dinners they had shared together, and how young and beautiful she probably was when they got married, and all of a sudden she wasn't just an old lady who couldn't talk, and he wasn't just a hospital visitor. For a moment they were the hero and heroine of some great Shakespearean tragedy or epic tale.
I once read a quote-- I can't remember it exactly, or even who said it-- but the idea was... if we could know all the joys and sorrows of a person's life to their fullest extent, then every life would be as fascinating to us as the greatest novel.