Doing morning rounds this a.m. at a nursing home primarily staffed by black females, I was struck by the commonness of daily tragedy. Over the course of my 8 years spending a very few hours a week at this facility I’ve developed friendships and rapport with some of the staff; nurses, lpn’s, and aides. For most of them, their cultural world is a little different than mine; the only thing we have in common is our humanity and faith in the Creator God. I was reared in a white/Hispanic suburb in L.A., most have them have been raised in primarily black enclaves in our city or other parts of the South. But I’ve gotten to know some of them and they have become, for the most part, comfortable with me.
I’m just sitting down behind the nurses station setting up my laptop for notes when I hear 5 or 6 nurses crowded into this little isolated office behind me praying with great fervor. Now a lot of them speak about their faith, their church and meetings but I had never heard a group of them supplicating God together, loudly and passionately. It lasted about 5 minutes then they came out of the little room still praising God but more to themselves.
A few minutes later I was able to ask one of the nurses what they were praying about. She said they were praying for what was going on at the nursing home and also for “my mouth.” I did not ask for nor receive further elucidation though she seemed glad to share with me.
When I came back, I chatted with one of the aides – Betty. I asked how she was doing and she said, “not so well. My sister [who was a patient there] died a couple of weeks ago.” Betty seemed sad but also resigned. Her sister had been in dialysis for 7 years. The lifespan of the average individual in dialysis is about 4 years. Betty probably did not take more than a day or too off, she needed to work and had been back at it for several days. I think Betty is going to feel worse in the next couple of months as the loss of her sister sinks in.
Another aide, Suzie, is always pointing out friends of hers “who need to come lay on your couch.” There is always quite a bit of laughter – Suzie is good natured and liked by her peers. Towards the end of my time at the facility today she had come to the nursing desk doing some paperwork and mentioned that she needed to be on my couch. I did not quite hear it right, I thought she was referring to another friend of hers and I teased her with that. She repeated, “Doc I need to lay on your couch.” A couple of aides also behind the desk then told me that Suzie’s daughter had just died. Well I didn’t quite know what to say and initially wasn’t sure if it was a joke or true. Suzie just sat there working on her paperwork. I had been packing up my laptop to leave and was stumped about what to do. There were several people around and it wasn’t possible for me to have a private word with Suzie and I was still at a loss over what had happened. I headed down the hall, guiltily, and asked another nurse what had happened to Suzie’s daughter. Apparently 1 week ago the daughter was shot and killed by her husband who then committed suicide. Nasty stuff that.
I stopped by another office on the way out and left Suzie a note expressing my sorrow for her. I signed it “Most Respectfully.” And then I walked out of the facility to head on into my office. If I would have been a more expressive man, I would have given her a hug, but I don’t do that very well and the informal boundaries between docs and aides is unstated but real.
But now I know why the nurses and aides were so passionately praying when I first walked in this morning. I should have joined with them.