Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Brief and Pleasant Exchange

She's waiting for me in front of the tired clapboard house on a busy city street. I'm doing a visit for a colleague (in my new consultant position), dropping off some meds and checking in on this very lively couple with whom I am totally unacquainted.

"Hey! Thanks for coming over with the meds!" her partner yells. He is jovial and talkative, slapping my back and shaking my hand.

The house is a boarding house: shared kitchen, office downstairs with staff during the day. Pretty clean inside, a little rough around the edges. Their room is one large bedroom with a bathroom and a closet. A little small and dark, I think.

"How long have you been here?"

"About a month," she says.

"It's great. You both seem really happy. Can I check your blood pressure while I'm here?" I hand him his prefilled medication box and give her the rest of the things I've brought over: medicated shampoo and cream, Lidoderm patches for his muscle pain.

"It's so much better than the shelter," he adds. "I've been clean two, maybe three years now. See my tracks?" He shoves his arm at me as he rolls up his sleeve. I examine his forearm and the crook of his elbow, which he obviously wants me to inspect closely. Sure enough, track marks galore, but quite old and healed.

I take his blood pressure as he sits on their only chair. When it's time for me to check hers, she sits on his knee.

"This woman," he says, motioning to his partner. "She's my life. Don't know what I'd do without her."

"You all obviously care about each other a lot," I say in response.

"Yeah, through thick and thin," he says. She laughs.

We talk briefly about their health. I question them, nurse-style, about their bowels, their urinary status, pain management, respiratory status, the usual line of questioning. They answer each question with kindness and patience.

"Hey, thanks for coming, man. We really appreciate it." He shakes my hand and slaps my back again, just like he did when I arrived.

She leads me down the stairs.

"You have yourself a man who loves you, don't you?" I ask.

"Oh, he's the best. We've been though a lot together."

"Well, you keep taking care of each other. I hear you're both doing a great job."

She smiles. "Yeah, I guess so. We're tryin'. That shelter was awful, but things are better now. Thanks for bringin' our stuff over. Sometimes it's so hard to get to the clinic."

"No problem. Glad to help out," I reply. "I hope to see y'all again."

"You're always welcome here." She smiles as she closes the door.

So polite. So welcoming. So amenable to my presence, despite never having met me before. A thoroughly pleasant interaction, made easier by the fact that I bear no responsibility for their care, just for this brief and satisfying exchange.
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