Gopher, Chad, and Carla are all volunteers. They do not officially represent any institution that may be mentioned.
On a visit we met a lovely woman who was sitting alone in her room staring out the window watching the rain fall. We knocked and announced are visit and she waved us in and patted her leg to get Gopher to come over to her side. I took another chair in the room and sat down near her. She pet Gopher for several minutes, and then sat upright while she let her hand gently stroke his head.
She started talking about her old dog that she had on her farm back when she was a young wife with a new family. Her husband at one time had sustained an injury out in the fields, and their dog had come to the house. Typically this dog stayed with her husband the entire time she worked so she knew something had to be wrong. She put the dog in the house and took off running in the direction her husband was working. She said it was only a mile, but it felt like an eternity getting there. She saw the equipment on the horizon, but no sign of her husband. When she arrived she found him unconscious with a badly mangled hand. She then said, “I don’t know how I found the strength, but I got him up and in the back of the truck.”
She took off and rushed him to the hospital, where unfortunately several fingers and a part of the hand were amputated. She told me it was the first time she had ever driven, and was happy not only that he would be okay, but they made it there without further injury and laughed. She then went on to tell me how after that day things had changed, when she was growing up and as a farmer’s wife she was expected to care for the home and the kids as he cared for the fields. She then told me it was not that he was mean, or unfair, it was just the way it was. After he lost part of his hand though he needed more help and we were in no position to get a hired hand, so not only did I learn to drive a truck, but learned how to disc a field, care for cattle, and even how to work on an engine. That moment she felt the farm had really became a family business. She also told me that even though before that time she never wanted a dog, there was always a dog in her life at the farm after that.
The nurse aid interrupted after that story, to check on her and let her know that lunch would be coming soon. She told her thank you, and that she was going to return to her visitors until lunch, and the aid left.
She gave a few more reflections on her life, her marriage that lasted 43 years until his death. How even after his death she ran the farm and maintained the fields, only to give it up, get moved to the city to be nearer to her son, and eventually into the facility when she could no longer care for herself. She smiled, and thanked me for coming by, but it was time for lunch. We thanked her for the stories, set up a new time and left.
We went to the nurses’ station to sign out, Gopher getting all the pets you can imagine as he is quit the ladies’ man. I smiled and thanked them, and turned to leave when the aid that had stopped by the room moments before stopped me and asked how long we had been visiting. I told her we had been working for a year and a half, but today was our first visit to this facility. She leaned over and pet Gopher, then told him how remarkable he was. She stood and reported to me that in the last six months she had not heard the patient speak, all she did was stare out the window. She apologized, telling me she had been eavesdropping on our visit. She went on to tell me that when she first came in she was warm, pleasant and talkative. In the last few months as her disease progressed she had become more confused and disoriented and in fact had not spoken in over a month. She thanked me and Gopher again for our visit, and told Gopher he was a miracle worker.
I had heard of this happening before, but this was a first to me. Had the aid not told me this woman had not been speaking, I would have thought nothing special of this visit outside of the opportunity to meet someone new and hear about their life. We had the pleasure of visiting her a few more times before her death. We did not have a repeat performance of storytelling, but she always smiled and pet Gopher. I don’t know if we will understand in my lifetime what allowed her to connect with the world around her like she did on our first visit, but I am happy that Gopher allowed her to tell some of her story at least one more time, and we will not forget who she was.