One of my favourite people I’ve met in hospital was N, an elderly Italian lady who spoke a mix of English and Italian to me that tested my High School Italian classes to their limits. She’d push her little trolley around, with a crochet blanket she’d be working on for her grandchildren in her spare time, down the hallway toward the doorway that led to the smokers area. She was always grateful when I’d slow down to walk with her, where she’d leave her little purple trolley at the end of the hallway and come outside for a dart with me. She’d lose her cigarettes all the time, so she’d hit me up for a smoke three of four times a day.
No matter how crowded the small smoking area was, somebody would always stand up for her so she had a seat. “No, no no…is okay” she’d reassure them, but nobody would take no for an answer. I think she liked that we took such good care of her. Nothing was too much effort. If she was cold, one of us would run inside and get her jumper. If she wanted a coffee, someone would go inside and make her one and bring it out to her on a saucer. In fact, my hospital comrades have always been incredibly kind and selfless when it comes to accommodating other people. Older people, especially. I was admitted with a woman in her late 80’s one time, who was super plucky and incredibly on the ball. She had a filthy mouth and a terribly sad past. God, she made me laugh though. “Who’s got a cigarette for me?” she’d ask the group, and instantly 25 packets of smokes would come out of people’s pockets, poked in her direction. The nurses only let her come out for one cigarette at the time, so she’d smoke it right down to the butt, then light up another defiantly. “Fuck them!” she’d say, laughing. She’d keep it up until one of the nurses remembered she was out there and would come out to escort her back in. Sometimes she’d power through 6 or 7, one after another during her 20 minute smoko. She cracked me up. I learned a lot about her over our smoking sessions. Sometimes I’d cry when she’d talk about her past, and she’d lean in and kiss my cheek and hold my hand. She’d known a lot of pain and loss in her past, but she never lost her ability to show kindness to others which I found an incredibly beautiful characteristic. Then there was the old bloke who would tell me constantly that it was good he had a wife, otherwise I’d have been in big trouble. He was quick witted and frisky like a fox. He introduced me to his family who would come in a few nights a week to sit and talk in the lounge, They were so kind and they’d share stories about their father in his younger years and we’d all end up in stitches at his antics. Him especially, his laugh hearty and strong. He had been an incredibly hard worker who constantly reminded me that I could be a very wealthy woman if I’d run away with him, he teased. And just like we did for the older ladies, we did for the gents. Someone always made them a drink, they’d pop them in front of the line when it came to dinner and lunch. If they forgot a knife and fork, someone would grab them for them. They never went without a chair, or someone to dine with, or conversation. You’ve gotta give it to the mentally ill when it comes to empathy. We’re full of it. It’s a beautiful trait that comes with an insidious illness. Maybe it’s because we know what it’s like to feel excluded. Perhaps it’s that we can imagine being elderly ourselves someday and still being hospitalized for an illness we can’t control. Or maybe I’ve just been blessed to be admitted with incredibly kind people each stay. Probably a mix of all three. It’s amazing the people you bond with in hospital. The elderly, young people in their twenties that I admire for tackling their illness so early, mothers and fathers of adult children my age. All of us with one thing in common that forms a bond that’s hard to explain. I’m looking forward to forging those kinds of friendships again this coming admission. Yes, they’re transient, and they only last two weeks, three if you’re lucky, but they’re people that you often wonder about down the track, hoping the best for them even if you know you’ll never see them again. Sometimes it’s only those few weeks you need for someone to make a lasting impression on you. I know that’s been the case with a lot of people I’ve met in hospital. I think about them and smile, and wonder how they’re doing and hoping that the people in their everyday lives show them as much kindness as other patients showed them during their admission. I’ll never know, but I can certainly hope.