Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Anzianos

The first time I saw Mr. Anziano come into my critical care section, little Mrs. Anziana followed the EMS stretcher closely with the dedication and concentration written on every wrinkle of her face. It was extremely busy and everyone was milling about so the nurses tried to shoo her out, stating that they wanted to get Mr. Anziano settled in and many tests done. "I 'ave been taeking care of him my whole lahfe!" Mrs. Anziano declared, "there eez nahthing about him I 'ave not seen." She stood resolutely by his bed.

This would have been fine if she did not start coming in while the nurses were drawing blood to inspect their work, or talking to anxiously him in melodramatic Italian. They asked me to escort her out. She refused, of course, but I coaxed her to at least take my arm and walk to the waiting room, just for a few minutes, I promised. She kept staying her steps and looking back, bemoaning that it was ludicrous she should be "shut out" when they had been married over 60 years as teenagers in Italy and how much she hated Germans. "You don't have a German boyfriend, do you?" Err, no- "Good! Those gooud for nahthing---" I let her talk on and left her sitting impatiently in the waiting room.

Returning to perform an EKG, I was putting stickers on Mr. Anziano's chest when the curtains rustled and Mrs. Anziana burst through- "I wanted to see eef I could help." The nurses escorted her out again and again and again, but she came back each time as soon as we left her in the waiting room. She was frail and elderly, but resolution made her strong- it did not seem appropriate to call security on her, but I never forgot how tenaciously the little old Italian lady clung to Mr. Anziano's side for the many hours until he left the ER to go to his hospital bed.

Mr. and Mrs. Anziano returned on an almost weekly basis for the next few months. The first time I helped treat him, Mr. Anziano was still verbal and barely ambulatory. Through the many hospitalizations and strokes he had, his face became locked in a terrible open-mouthed twist and Mrs. Anziana was always shuffling resolutely behind him, jabbering, making a general fuss, and clutching her purse in both hands.

Last night in critical care, I walked into a treatment room to greet a new patient who had arrived... I was taken aback- sitting quietly in the stretcher was Mrs. Anziana, more quiet than I had ever seen her. I called Mrs. Anziana by her name and her bright eyes scanned my face; she did remember me and was touched I remembered her name. Mr. Anziano had died a week ago, she told me. Her daughter brought her in because she had a fever and waning appetite. "I remember you took great care of him." I said. "The best care," her daughter agreed. I wrapped her frail little body in a blanket and mused on how she must have been feeling. When you've been taking attentive 24/7 care of someone you love dearly, it hurt, but at least you always had something to do, something to be of help. In a moment, she lost the love of her life and her daily occupation. Such people rarely take the same good care of themselves, though, and I worry for her. I had always admired her incorrigible spirit.


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