New Year; New Life
“True kindness presupposes the faculty of
imagining as one’s own the sufferings and joys of others.”
I met her a little over six years ago. My nurse of many years retired. I faced the prospect of training a new employee on the numerous tasks that I had grown used to delegating. Add to that the complicated nature of the illnesses that I treat; dozens of potentially toxic medicines; lab tests that almost never gave a final answer; outcomes that weren’t always positive. Transferring thousands of pages of medical records to an electronic medium. Moving to a new office. Late in the year, with the holidays looming in the background. I complained to my wife.
What am I going to do?
“I know someone at my work that may help.”
I interviewed her over dinner at Bristol’s. Right away I noticed several things. Very young; in her early twenties. She looked prepared. She didn’t eat much. Her appearance was immaculate.
Tell me what you do at work.
She worked at an assisted living facility. She supervised more than a dozen employees; all of them older than she was. If anyone was sick, or their car broke down, or had family issues (this happened at least weekly) she had to get on the phone and find a substitute. 24/7; even when she was on vacation. If any of the residents needed a piece of medical equipment, such as a hospital bed, she made sure that insurance would pay; she would order it. She helped my wife to coordinate the medicine schedule for dozens of patients; you can imagine the upheaval when the doctors changed dosages or stopped a medicine. Families and pharmacies had to be notified. Employees were coached. Mistakes cannot happen. She dealt with complaints: from patients; doctors; employees; management. She remained calm through it all. At the same time that she was going to school to finish her RN degree. I forgot to mention: she loved her family and remained close to them.
I think that I have a better situation for you.
Two weeks later I threw her into the fray.
Don’t try to learn everything at once. OK to ask questions. Many. I will take over some of the chores that I’m used to delegating; just ease into it.
By day three the number of questions slowed down to a trickle. By day six I was back to my usual work flow. By week two she began to teach me about the new software. On the second day of 2010 we moved into our new office; without a hitch.
This is the problem of leading a life free of worry. One does not realize that other things are happening in the world. I acquired several grandchildren. Moved my home twice. Published my book. Started my blog. She finished her degree and started on a new one; got married; had two children; moved into a new home.
At the same time that we cared for more than a thousand very sick people. Within a few months of our move to the new office I noticed that when patients called they would not ask for me. They went straight to her. I developed a sense of security from knowing that she was in charge.
By now I don’t ever have to say what I want done. She can either read my mind or I’ve become a predictable old fart. Or both. In six years together she has not had a single bad day; not one. She has the extraordinary capacity of enlightening the life of everyone that she comes in touch with.
The rest of the office staff has made a joke out our relationship. They think that if she says that the sky has turned purple I will see nothing but that color when I step outside.
There may be a bit of truth to that.
For the past few weeks she has not looked the same. It was clear to me that there was too much work; for everyone. The ranks of arthritis specialists are thin; the number of people with autoimmune disease keeps rising. There’s no reasonable expectation that any time in the future there will be less to do.
She asked to talk to me a week ago. She has accepted a new job. Close to home; lots of vacation time; very little stress. Her children will have a chance to see her more.
I’m bleeding inside at the same time that I say that I’m happy for her.
It would be sinful for me to focus on losing her. For six years I have had the privilege of working with the kindest soul that I’ve ever met. Someone who wakes up every morning thinking of what she can do to help. A brilliant, creative, generous person who’s way overdue for a break from our demanding routine.
A few years ago the staff began to refer to themselves as “Paco’s angels.” As true a statement as was ever spoken. I have lived in Heaven for all of this time.
This coming week will be Katie’s last with us. I will not be in mourning. I will be thrilled that she has found the right situation for herself. I will be thankful that I have been touched by her presence; my rough calculation is that she has added ten years to my life expectancy. Soon, when things calm down at the new office, I will have a party for her, to give our patients the opportunity to thank her and wish her well.
She has been a coworker; a protégé; a good listener; a daughter; a life saver for me.
God bless and keep her always.