by Beth Siviter
As a nurse, I often have the privilege of seeing people at their best, coping and surviving when things seem so difficult. I also see people at their worst. The most amazing things may happen when people at both ends of this come together.
My patient Michael was an angry man in 1995: life had been unfair and he wanted everyone to know about it. We could never do things right. The bandages were always too tight, too low, too loose, too high. He was young to have such serious leg ulcers — but years before he had lived on the streets and those years had taken their toll.
He was capable of being active, but he refused. He tried to convince us, for example, that he needed home visits because he was housebound. When we found him at the supermarket, we had proof he wasn’t housebound and told him he would need to come to the clinic instead of getting a home visit. He told us where to go — and said he wasn’t coming.
Finally, we convinced Michael to come to the leg ulcer clinic. He wasn’t impressed, and grumbled all the way there about how we were abandoning him, mistreating him, the usual. At the clinic, he was surrounded by a bunch of older ladies waiting for treatment who shared stories, enjoying their day out. Michael complained that he didn’t fit in.
I agreed. Although I’d hoped Michael would just accept this, it wasn’t going to work.
When it came time for him to go home, I found him engaged with a very lonesome widow named Rosie. When I told Michael his taxi was there he said, “Tell them to take someone else, I’m busy”. He and Rosie were the last to leave.
Michael booked himself into the next clinic.
At the next clinic, Michael brought Rosie a little wood shelf he had made. He became the star of the clinic, doing odd jobs, mowing lawns, repairing broken windows, and shopping for those who truly were housebound. Amazingly, his legs finally began to heal. He continued to attend, just to visit.
One day he took me aside. He thanked me for allowing him to still come by. I couldn’t hold back and asked him why he did. He said when he heard Rosie talk about how much she missed her husband, he felt guilty about being angry for being alive. That first day she told him he should come fix her sink because he was a man and men did things like that. Then she said, “Stop feeling sorry for yourself and be useful if you want to feel needed! No one wants something that isn’t useful!”
He attended regularly until his brother called to tell us that Michael had died during the night. “I don’t know what you did to him, but he was a changed man”. Amazing what a little lady with a leaky sink and some straight talking can accomplish!