Published November 22, 2006
I arrived at the nursing home the other day to find Ruthie,one of the more vibrant residents ,on her way to her room. She was carrying some packages that I offered to carry for her. She reluctantly obliged. As we headed to the steps,I offered her my arm which,again reluctantly, she took . She seemed exhausted by the time we got to the top of the stairs, so I put down her packages and just held her for a few moments. After a bit, she assured me that she was ok , but I insisted on escorting her to her room. She was really 'winded' by the time we arrived at her room. I got her inside and asked if she would mind if I got some nursing help for her. She said: "Louie, please just help me to my couch and get my oxygen for me." I told her that I was going to stay with her until she felt better, which she assured me would be in "...just a few minutes,thank you."
Ruthie sat back on her couch,holding my hand ,breathing in the oxygen, and appeared to be feeling a bit better. She asked if I could stay a bit longer. Ruthie then began to tell me how her life had become meaningless. Ruthie asked *me* how much longer she'd have to live like this-awaiting,anticipating,actually hoping for death to come and take her-night after night, only to awake the next morning and face another meaningless day.
When I first met Ruthie at the 'home', she had told me that my voice sounded familiar. She told me that she was a library fan AND a fan of the show! She had often told me to "stay on them" and "go get 'em Louie" after I'd arrive,post-show, at the 'home'. Ruthie's a vibrant woman-one of the few at the 'home' that still drive. She has a car and often goes out during the day.
This evening,I saw and learned about a very different Ruthie-a Ruthie who feels that her life is now all but over.
I asked Ruthie if she had family and she told me about her kids who were grown and away. She told me about some family that comes and visits, but that her day-to-day life was meaningless. The upside for Ruthie is that she's bright,vibrant and mobile--- these are also also her downsides, as she's at a facility where most residents or NOT bright,vibrant or mobile.
Ruthie wanted to tell me more about how she awaits death everynight and "... why doesn't death take me Louie?". She then told me that she has nothing to give anymore," ...all I do is take...". That is not the case, I assured her. Ruthie is a giver, she's always trying to cheer others up in a very sad and difficult environment. Ruthie then told me that she was taking up *my* time. "See,Louie, I even took from you tonight...you've wasted your time with an old lady, carried her upstairs, put her in her room...and listened to her complaints about life."
No,Ruthie, *you gave* to ME tonight, you let me be useful in a way that I could only be with you affording me the opportunity. You've allowed me into your room, into your life. You've shared your thoughts and hopeful fears with me in a way that only you could do. You've *troubled* me while enlightening me and reminded me to, as the John Prine song says: "...take time to say *hello in there,hello*".