I have a patient who is a delightful little person who doesn’t talk a lot. When she feels a nap coming on, she will simply announce, “Tired”.
What happens next reminds me of the discussion of hospitality we had a few weeks ago. Practicing hospitality can be a trial when people are pushy and unreasonable. But could the unreasonable demands sometimes mean something more?
“Tired” is my patient’s cue for the nurse to come over to her recliner. She removes her glasses, and hands them to me. She then picks up each animal and cartoon character she has amassed on her chair and hands them over one by one. The Cookie Monster, who continues counting cookies for a moment even after being placed on the shelf. The plastic Belle who sings “Something Sweet.” The brown puppy, who barks when dropped into the purple tote beside her recliner.
She then draws her feet up into her recliner and lays her head on her pillow.
Now when I was new, I might have just left it at that. I would go sit down and she would rest for about two minutes and then say, “Blanket.”
So, after inquiring whether she wanted the green or purple one, I would snuggle it around her and sit down and she would soon fall asleep.
Finally I got smart and decided to save myself a step. I asked her which blanket she wanted and snuggled it around her from the beginning.
Then I went and sat down.
After about two minutes she said, “Elmo Towel.”
I got up and took the Elmo towel off the shelf and added it to her blanket. Soon she feel asleep.
One day, I decided to be even more proactive. I wrapped the green blanket around her and laid the Elmo towel on next.
Then I sat down, pleased to have saved myself a few steps.
A few minutes later she said, “Socks!”
For a moment I didn’t understand.
“Oh, you want your slipper socks!”
I went to the drawer to get them. We put them on, and soon she fell asleep.
Then I realized her routine was not so much about layers of clothes. It wasn’t about temperature or even comfort.
She just wanted to know that I was still there.
Could it be that sometimes, when someone interrupts our daily routine, it’s less about their unreasonable request and more about that person wanting to know that we are still there, still willing to help?
I can’t post photos of my patients, but here’s a couple of handsome men pounding stakes into the community garden, which by the way is still standing! And I must say that the most handsome man–the tall one on the end–provides me with a continual example of what it means to let someone know you are still there, and I feel very blessed to have that reminder.