I love making administrative rounds. These few hours ground me and remind me of the burden and privilege we carry. Greetings, welcomes, thanks, small talk, serious talk. The visits are never ordinary as each patient has this journey…this unique experience…this story that is there staring at me and waiting to be heard.
“Alex” offered a half smile as we entered his room. I introduced myself and inquired about his stay. I scanned the white board on the wall and remarked on some of his goals and offered accolades for his general surgeon. It seemed a pleasant and uneventful encounter. Then he stared at me with a look that was saying, “You really have no idea, do you?”
I pulled up the stool that was tucked under the counter. I asked if I could sit. I asked about his home: he had none. Family: none. Friends: none. He rescued me from empty chase for filler in his story.
“Where does the name ‘Keyser’ come from?” he asked. I told him what I knew of its goat path to Ellis Island. “As romantic as it sounds, I have no idea of its true history.” He smiled.
“Does a name make you someone?” he asked me. Curious, I thought for a moment and replied….”I guess it gives us context for an image of who we are.”
A bigger smile crossed his face and he said, “I like you, man.” Then, his eyes changed and softened, his smile relaxed. “I don’t know if my name is necessary for anything other than to paint that board up there.”
His eyes never left mine. Mine never left his. I sensed he wasn’t finished with his thought.
“I am walking anonymity, Mr. Keyser.”
I sat quietly, never asking him to elaborate. I didn’t offer a retort or an encouraging word. It wasn’t time.
“But for this pain inside, you would have never known me. Just a straw in the bail…not even a needle to be found.” This rugged poet of a man shook me with his words.
He wasn’t cynical or bitter–just sort of resigned. “It’s really not so bad, I don’t have to worry anyone or make them afraid.”
My chest tightened and I fought back a tear. I leaned in and said, “No one should be anonymous. You are with us now. For this time you are…Alex.”
We sat silently for a moment more. His nurse assistant knocked and entered, asking permission to take care of some things. Alex smiled and said, “Sure, Dear. I’m just chatting with my new friend.” I stood and said I would like to come back and visit more. He politely nodded in agreement, sensing it was unlikely, but considerate.
I stepped out of the room and took a deep breath. My body felt a rush of cold. Mildly choking from the lump in my throat.
It snowed the next day. I worked from the comfort of my home. I talked to my daughter and my mom and my friends and others I love. I ate and played my guitar by the fireplace. I don’t think often about what it would be like without all of this. I am grateful for every person and every thing and every moment, but there are times when life crowds the gratefulness. Alex brought me back.
I returned to the hospital Friday. I didn’t check the patient list, I just walked to his room. Another patient occupied the space previously his. I remembered our few moments with a stool next to a bed in a quiet room of contemplation.
Alex, you are not a straw in the bail. I hope our time offered your body a chance to heal. I hope our time offered your spirit some comfort. I hope you find a home, friendship, and a family beyond the new one you have in us.