An 'unforgettable patient' story about a farm boy from Nebraska whose serenity in the face of life-changing circumstances makes a lasting impression on the nurse who visits him on the farm to evaluate him for a move to assisted living.
A gaunt, elderly gentleman in bib overalls appeared in front of the ancient farmhouse, smoking an unfiltered cigarette and watching me closely as I pulled off the road into the dusty driveway. Next to him stood a dark-haired woman who seemed at first glance to be young enough to be his granddaughter, but whose face, upon closer inspection, was almost as weathered as his.
The two greeted me warmly, if a bit cautiously, as I stepped onto the porch. As I've done many times in my career, I had come to evaluate a prospective resident for a move to my assisted-living facility, and once again felt the awkwardness of the situation for all concerned. No one makes these decisions lightly, I knew, and once again I was impressed with the dignity I saw on display as I was invited into their home.
His name was Rowland, but he'd been known as Roy since his teen years because, as he explained to me, he thought his name was "too frou-frou for a farm boy". At ninety-five, he was the sole survivor of six siblings, and his flat Nebraska accent could still be heard in his voice despite his having lived on the West Coast since the end of World War II. He proudly showed me around his living room, where hung pictures of his family of origin and his own children, all of whom were now in their sixties and seventies. But it was when he spoke of his wife that his craggy face broke out in sunbeams......Laura, her name had been. They'd been married for sixty-five years when she turned from her cooking to greet him one sunny summer morning, had a massive stroke, and was dead before she came to rest on the linoleum floor. But to hear him tell it, she was very much alive in his heart.
Then, he asked me to take a walk around the small grass-seed farm, where the crop was just about to be harvested. As he puffed on his cigarette, he talked seriously of his declining body and mind and his impending move, and I found myself filled with fierce admiration for this "farm boy", who was facing yet another in a long series of indignities that his renal failure and macular degeneration had foisted upon him.
"I don't want to leave this farm," he told me matter-of-factly. "It's the only place I've ever lived at since I got out of the Army. It's where Laura and I made our family---Sue still lives here, you know. She takes care of me. Or thinks she does." A wry grin and a wink followed this statement. "But, I've decided that I'm going to make the best of things, no matter what. So, you think this place of yours will put up with ol' Roy?"
Well, we certainly did 'put up' with him, and he became one of our favorite residents. He was quiet and somewhat reserved for a time after move-in, but he eventually made some friends and could often be seen on our porch, smoking and chatting as genially as he had that day on the farm. He was always respectful toward the staff, and to my knowledge he never once complained about his changed circumstances. The closest he ever came to admitting his sadness was about a year after he'd moved, when during a care conference with him and his daughter I asked him how he liked living with us.
"It ain't the farm," said Roy frankly, "but it ain't half bad."
Sadly, this past year we've watched "Ol' Roy" dwindle slowly but inexorably. Now ninety-seven, he knew his journey was drawing to a close as his renal function continued to decline, and though dialysis was obviously needed, he refused: "I'm an old man and I'm tired. I'm ready to go find my Laura."
Last Sunday, his daughter Sue took him out of the facility for Easter dinner at the farm. She helped him up the stairs to the main house, turned for just a moment to unlock the front door......and in that instant, he fell backwards, hitting his head on the first step and tumbling down the rest of the way.
He never regained consciousness.
His injuries were "catastrophic", according to the attending physician who spoke with Sue, who then related the story to me over the phone on Monday morning. Roy had not only a severe brain bleed but a ruptured spleen, which was inoperable given the grave nature of his condition. We talked about bringing him back to the facility with hospice, where he'd be in familiar surroundings with familiar people who were only too willing to be with him and keep him comfortable, but a greater force than ourselves made the decision for us before we could get him out of the hospital.
Naturally, Sue feels terrible about the circumstances of Roy's death, even though she couldn't have anticipated or prevented the accident. And all of us who worked with him and cared for him are shocked and revolted at the thought of how he must have felt as he fell down those steps; I think we all had hopes that he would go to sleep one night, and simply forget to wake up again.
But now there are nights when I myself drift off to sleep, and I can almost smell the freshness of newly harvested rye grass and hear the roar of farm machinery as a tall young farmer in biballs puts a brown hand to the gearshift. And somewhere, the voice of a woman named Laura floats across the green fields, calling him to supper.Last edit by Joe V on Apr 5, '13
About VivaLasViejas, ASN, RN Guide
Joined: Sep '02; Posts: 26,720; Likes: 43,454
RN and blogger extraordinaire; from OR , US
Specialty: 20 year(s) of experience in LTC, assisted living, geriatrics, psychApr 5, '13Viva, you always have the words to bring tears to my eyes. I don't know what happens when we die, but I do sincerely hope Ol' Roy gets to hold his Laura again.
Thank you.Last edit by uRNmyway on Apr 5, '13 : Reason: Tears apparently made me miss a letter...Apr 5, '13Oh my heart.
Every now and again we are blessed to encounter a work of writing which finds closer ties with lyrical prose, ringing clear, sounding pure in our minds and linking our souls as crystalline music. Intangible, inexplicable and no less powerful.
How blessed do I feel to have just experienced what, to me, rings as true as an Aria.
And for the love of all things smothered in cheese, why are you not published?! You're killing me!Last edit by CheesePotato on Apr 5, '13Apr 5, '13Maybe he had the brain bleed first, and was going to join Laura the same way she left him. We should all be so lucky. That's my opinion and I'm sticking to it. After my eyes stop watering.Apr 5, '13This one truly brought many tears to my eyes. As I read, it brought back memories of my dad who died 5 years ago this month, less than 2 months after he moved into an assisted living facility.Apr 5, '13Thank you, thank you for sharing this story!! Oh, how I would have loved to have known Ol' Roy and listened to the tales he had.Apr 5, '13What a beautiful story, Viva! It certainly brought tears to my eyes.
God bless you for sharing!Apr 5, '13Wow I love this! Touched my heart and I would like to think that he never felt fear or pain as he went down those stairs. He only saw his Laura's face.Apr 5, '13Thank you for sharing this story. It is beautiful.
I hope this is not frivolous to say, but I think Roy must have been happy that his last moments of life were arriving at home and approaching the front door. I hope that is the feeling he took with him.Apr 5, '13Actually, Baubo, I have no doubt that he was thrilled to be back home where he and his wife raised their family. I'm sure he would have preferred to die there than in his sleep at the LTC facility.Apr 5, '13My mom died a couple of years ago. After an intense 4 days w/my sisters and her caregivers @ her bedside, she passed around noon. I was so exhausted, I didn't feel safe to drive the 10 miles back to my own house. ~ 2am, I was sitting sort of stuporously on the couch I had been sleeping on and I got the strongest picture in my mind: my Dad's face w/the biggest grin I'd ever seen, and I thought, "She made it!"
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