A Different Sort of Bravery – Part One
My co-workers will sometimes have a laugh at my expense because I seem to have a knack for encountering people I know in the grocery store. Kids of my son’s Boy Scout Pack or daughter’s Girl Scout Troop, parents of patients both past and present, my friends, friends of friends, and even the occassional unpleasant encounter with someone I wished had walked the other direction, as described here. For the most part though, the encounters are innocuous – we exchange pleasantries, we discuss the events of the day, and we move on. Fairly straightforward – usually. My lastest endeavour at the grocery store was anything but routine, though, and made me think a little about how it might have been handled better. I saw a patient, I said hello, and it was downhill from there.
In the interest of privacy, I’ll keep my description of the patient to a minimum, mostly because her case is highly unique and she does travel the country seeking different treatments, and there is a small possibility (albeit miniscule) that someone will read this who has encountered her, or may do so in the future. The important details are that she is a middle-aged adult who has suffered an Acquired Brain Injury following a surgical procedure, and she has no functional memory at all. As in, zero. If you’ve ever seen the movie “5o First Dates” with Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler, it is an interesting and frightening depiction similar to her situation. Unfortunately, the real life version is nowhere near as fun or entertaining as the movie. When this patient comes in for Vision Therapy, she often calls me by name and has a decent sense of where she’s headed in the office (a routine we have maintained by taking her into the same room for the several months she’s been in VT), and to the casual observer, she may be exhibiting some working memory skills. The truth is she has a digital calendar which she carries around that lists my name, the reason she’s at our office – “fix my eyes”, and the color of the paint in the room she’s seen in. It’s really conpensation at it’s finest. One of the biggest mistakes ever made during her VT program was the one time I tried to take her into a different room. She fell apart and had to go home, and all we had done was sit down. Yes, she drives thanks to GPS. Yes, she cooks with supervision. Yes, she has directions on her iPad for everything she needs from the moment she wakes up to the moment she goes to bed. This includes such directions as “take a shower” and “lock the front door”.
Walking through the grocery store yesterday, I noticed my patient pushing her grocery cart. She looked at me, I looked at her, we both smiled and I said hello, calling her by name. She was frozen.
“Do I know you? Your voice sounds familiar but…”
As I started to talk more, she immediately began to exhibit behavors similar to when she shuts down in the office and asks to go home. I realized that this may have been one time I shoud have just kept walking. My mind was racing. Did I just throw her off horribly? Is she going to fall apart right here in the grocery store? Should I take her home? Is it better if I just stop talking and walk away so she can recover? What can I do? I can’t just leave her here in this state!
I was stuck.
We happened to be standing within a few steps of the produce department and upon a quick glance, I noticed that there was only one person in that area, so I suggested we walk over to where it was quiet. Once there, I asked her if I could look a her planner, which was in plain sight. We opened it and flipped to the page marked “Normal Tuesdays”, and I pointed to my name. “This is me. I’m Robert. Every Tuesday you come to my office and we work on your eyes. We do things with (describing activities) and we have a lot of fun!” Her stare grew even more blank, she was becoming visibly agitated, and all because I said hello.
My heart sank even more. Now what?