Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 1 Corinthians 13:4
I love grumpy old people. There’s usually a lot in their world that they cannot control. I would be grumpy too.
Last week I arrived at a nursing home to see a patient. I didn’t know she had changed rooms, so I had to ask a housekeeper where she was. I was led to a new room and discovered that the patient now had a roommate. Usually roommates of my patients don’t cause any trouble and most enjoy the music.
Not this roommate.
When I walked in I had to pass the roommate and when she asked me who I was I told her I was here to see the other person. She said, “ok,” and seemed agreeable. My patient has middle-stage Alzheimer’s and as a result has a cognitive delay. She also doesn’t speak well. And she’s hard of hearing. When I received permission from my patient that I could do my session, I went to draw the privacy curtain a little more and the roommate had already forgotten who I was and was very suspicious of me.
I sang my first song along with the guitar and then, in a very loud voice (since she is hard of hearing), asked my patient if she liked that song. From the other side of the curtain I hear an emphatic “NO”. I stifled a laugh. And then after about 5 seconds my patient smiled and nodded to me. I asked my patient if she would like to hear another song. Guess what I heard? “NO” from the roommate. Ha! And then my patient nodded her head. During my second song I heard the roommate repeatedly say, “Get her out of here. Get her out of here.”
(Aside: As a clinician, this is actually something I need to be aware of, as I do not wish to agitate anyone, especially someone that is not being directly served by me. But I deliberated the situation and decided that it wasn’t enough to justify ending my session.)
Then the roommate started saying, “bang. bang. bang. bang.” I’m not quite sure what that was about. Meanwhile, my patient was smiling and making eye contact with me, as I sang loudly to her. I knew that every question I asked would receive an answer from the other side of the curtain, but what else could I do?
I finally reached the end of the session and said to my patient, “thank you for letting me come see you today!”
“You’re not welcome!”
“I’ll come back and see you again, ok?”
All of a sudden my patient said, “Are you leaving?” And I went through the conversation again. I assured her I would come back soon to see her again. And as I smiled one last time to my patient and let go of her hand, I heard:
“Tell her to get the hell out of here!”
I love grumpy old people. I really do! That was so awesome. I love that after 70 or 80 or 90 years, they have the freedom to say whatever they want to. I smiled at the roommate on my way out. I did not get a smile in return. That’s ok.
When in doubt, be kind. You never know when someone’s going to tell you to get the hell out of here.
Kindness goes with patience. And patience goes with grace. And grace goes with love.
p.s. I wish I could convey to you how funny this scene played out. It was right out of an old British sitcom.