“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
I sometimes reminisce about my memorable days as a home health nurse in rural East Texas. The area was very remote, and most of my patients were quite advanced in years. (Everybody lives forever in that part of the world, in case you weren’t aware.) The local farmers raise sweet potatoes, the ranchers raise cattle, everybody grows hay. They’ve all known each other for a lifetime. Three generations often live near one another, attend church together, eat Sunday lunch together. Many are business owners, or they’re retired from engineering, teaching, finance. They’re a different breed: strong, resilient, stable…And many of them simply never left home. Being there is like stepping back in time, in many ways.
One of my favorite home health patients was Miss Millie, a beloved retired school teacher who was 82 years old. When you live in a rural area and are responsible for seeing folks scattered here and there, it’s always nice if you can see some of them on the way in to the city. It made sense for me to stop at Miss Millie’s house right after I left home, because she was on my route and had to have an early morning blood pressure check. It was a good situation except for a few problems ~ namely, that Miss Millie had a penchant for alcohol, she sometimes slept late, her home was not heated, and she had to eat before taking her blood pressure pill. Unfortunately, the most memorable days were those when the temperature was hovering at a chilly 15 degrees and there was ice/snow/freezing rain. I often arrived early to pound on her door. I’d occasionally be forced to bang on her bedroom window to rouse her! Sometimes it was downright scary, and once I even went home and brought my husband back for assistance.
But after she was awake and in her robe, she’d invite me inside so that I could light her fireplace and warm up the house. The house was very small, so warming it up didn’t take long. Next in our routine was for me to fix her some toast and tea, so that she could eat and take her pill. At the age of 82, needless to say, Miss Millie wasn’t one to hurry. I sometimes stayed with her for a couple of hours, particularly if her blood pressure was a little high and she had to take an extra pill.
Oh, she was very special~ someone who’d traveled, who’d known famous people, and who could tell spellbinding stories. She was spunky and flamboyant. She was beloved by everyone because she’d taught them, their kids, their grandkids. She was someone who was always in church on Sunday morning. She was Miss Millie, and people always remembered what Miss Millie said and did.
Miss Millie was a favorite of mine for a very special reason. It was often necessary for me to check her blood pressure more than once. One morning she said to me, in her kindest school teacher’s voice: “You have the gentlest touch of anyone I’ve ever known.” I never forgot those words ~ they were music to my ears and put a song in my heart ~ cherished to this day. It was the highest compliment I ever received from anyone, ever. Oh, I’ve loved many patients, received letters of commendation from families, and my name was once engraved on a plaque because I cared for a rich man. But I’ve never forgotten that high compliment from Miss Millie. Thank you, Miss Millie. I know why everybody loved you ~ I still do! You gave me a gift that will always be cherished, and sweet memories of our time together.
WHEN I AM AN OLD WOMAN I SHALL WEAR PURPLE
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens. ~ Jenny Joseph