I must have met her about three years ago when I first started in the EMS industry, although she did not register as a memory until I’d taken care of her numerous times. Patients in nursing homes can become anonymous bodies that are to be transported from one place to another. Oftentimes, they are in vegetative states, or are so far gone into themselves that conversation is impossible.
She’s a large, stocky woman with long white hair and broad features — a classic, homespun face. I learned from the staff at her nursing home that she had been a gospel singer when she was younger, and one can easily picture her standing in front of a mountain congregation, playing her guitar and belting out songs of devotion. Her family was never at her bedside when I arrived to take her away, but she spoke of her children as though they were very young. She, unfortunately, is lost in the world of Alzheimer’s Disease, and lives in a reality all her own.
She had a very unique way of addressing people: “Hey Mister…”, and her conversations were peppered with “Mister” this, and “Mister” that. As I got to know her better, and began to remember her from encounter to encounter, it became clear that her prized possession was a wristwatch that she wore proudly on her right wrist. This watch was nothing spectacular to look at; an inexpensive gold-plated metal band that was chipped and discolored in many places. The face of the watch was scratched and slightly cloudy, as if the glass had been exhausted by her looking at it so much. None of this seemed to matter to her, as she almost reverently held it up for me to examine as though it were the most expensive Rolex available.
“Hey mister”, she’d say, “Do you like my watch?”
“Why, yes!”, I’d reply, “I do! Where did you get such a beautiful watch?”
“My son gave it to me. He’s such a good boy. I sure do love this watch!”
This conversation would continue on, with her explaining how her son “just” gave her the watch for her birthday, and how none of the other presents could hold a candle to it. Her face, normally stoic in the hard-working mountain-folk way, would light up as she described all this to me. Then she’d fall silent for a couple of minutes as she looked at the passing scenery falling behind us through the rear windows of my ambulance. Inevitably, however, she’d reach up, touch my leg, and say, “Hey mister! Do you like my watch?”
A good while passed in which I didn’t see her — I had transferred to another station, and only rarely made runs to the nursing home that she lives in. A few days ago, however, I was dispatched to her room to take her to the ER for an evaluation for possible sepsis. I almost didn’t recognize her as I walked up to her bedside; she still had the same stoic look about her, but something was missing. Her speech was somewhat slurred and incoherent, and she didn’t loudly complain when we transferred her over to our stretcher as she used to do. After my initial evaluation was complete, and all my interventions were in place, I tried asking her about her watch — I had noticed that it was missing from her wrist while checking her blood pressure. She looked up at me, but her face was vacant and she didn’t reply.
I suddenly felt a deep sorrow for her — more so than after any horrific accident or untimely death that I’ve ever worked. It was as though whatever shred of personality she had left after the ravages of Alzheimer’s Disease was contained within the chipped metal and milky glass of that dimestore wristwatch, and now it was gone. For those who didn’t know her as she was, she’ll be just another faceless transfer from the nursing home to the ER and back, and not the old lady who’d touch your knee and say, “Hey mister! Do you like my watch?”
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