I walk out of her room with a heavy heart. Her bed lies empty in the glow of the hot August sun creeping in through the blinds. Earlier, I had asked the CNA standing outside attending to the medicine cart, about Ms. Singleton. She had told me matter-of-factly, “She died last night in her sleep.”
I sit down on the plush sofa that lines the wall of the nursing home passageway. This one is my favorite – I sit and write notes on it, reflect about life, catch a moment’s breath from my busy day to exchange texts with colleagues and friends, and also daydream occasionally on it from time to time. Today there are tears in my eyes. Why can’t I control them? Why am I losing my focus as a clinician?
`I Am Your Psychologist’
I first saw Ms. Singleton almost five years ago. I was new to the practice and this was my first visit inside a nursing home in America. There she was, my second patient for the day, lying down on the bed with a pearly smile on her face. I had asked her my regular intake questions. She had answered all of them with her smile in place. Now and then, she had looked up into my eyes and asked me about what I do. “Are you a priest?” “No, Ms. Singleton, I had replied, I am your psychologist.”
Since that day, I had seen her everywhere in the nursing home. At the ripe old age of 95, she still did her own laundry every day.
She was also a bit delusional and called the police a couple of times because she thought 9-11 was an inside job done by Mr. Bush, our 43rd President. She could be very stubborn at times, not wanting to talk to me or to anyone for that matter.
She would tell me about her daughter and her son-in-law, and how hard it was for them to drive to see her anymore. She would narrate to me incidents from her childhood in Alabama, where her ancestors had been sharecroppers for generations.
She would tell me about her dreams, and even about her nightmares. She would often pause in the middle of a sentence to look up into my eyes, and say, “Doc, don’t fret over me. I’ll be okay.” She was proud, she was temperamental, she could be a pain in the butt sometimes, but she always wore that trademark smile of hers in place.
When I went to visit my folks in India last year, she was very depressed. She told me that she thought I would never come back to see her again. When I came back and saw her, she was relieved to no end, and gave me that million dollar smile of hers in no mean measure.
I am still sitting and thinking of her. I am feeling a deep pain somewhere in my heart today. I slowly wipe away my tears as I see the unit nurse walk up to me, “Doc are you ok? We need you to see Ms. Keith in Rm. 208. She is talking about killing herself.”
As I rise up to go to my patient’s room, I say a little prayer in my heart, “Goodbye Ms. Singleton. Hope you are smiling that heavenly smile of yours through all the clouds up there. “ And I swear I can hear a wavering 95 year African-American lady’s voice somewhere in the distance, “Doc, don’t fret over me. I’ll be okay. The show must go on……”
Elderly woman photo available from Shutterstock