"There always is an answer," he says, as I spear some pasta bowties and hand him the fork. "I just don't know what it is." I hand him another forkful of food---chicken this time---and he eats it with relish, relinquishing the fork only when he has licked every bit of sauce from the four long prongs. His puzzled mind seizes on one thought, and then the fork and its contents become his universe once again.
I visit another patient in her room, not having seen her for several weeks. "So, what's new?" I ask, as I sit on the edge of the bed. "Nothing that's good," she replies with a sigh. "Can I get you anything?" She reaches out her hand. "Just some black coffee and ice water. That's all." She's lonely, but chooses solitude as her health continues to decline, staying in her room throughout the day and night. I bring her some smiles and coffee, and honor her desire for quiet.
Another patient, quite new to me, asks for little, and does so apologetically. "I don't want to hurt you or cause you pain," she says, "but I'd like to get out of bed." Such a request is always honored immediately, and we reassure her that we are in no way inconvenienced by her requests, large or small. She is so sweet, so frail and thin. Her family visits and they look at photographs of happy and healthy grandchildren. Last time I was here, this room held another who has since left this world. It's a revolving door where death is concerned.
One bed in the house is empty. The last time I was here, that room was the center of attention, with a confused and agitated young patient, a morphine pump, and a devoted family sitting vigil seven days a week. He has since died, and for me there was no time for goodbyes. But working as infrequently as I do here, every leavetaking is a potential goodbye, and we make the best of each opportunity to be kind.
As for my friend eating the bow-tie pasta, he is always looking for answers, but the tangled neurons in his brain insist that the answers elude him. But still, he finds the wherewithal to ask the questions.