The Great Shoplifter
It’s one thing to not have a good rapport with a patient, and it’s another thing entirely to have a patient openly admit they do not enjoy your company. Sadly, there are times when both occur simultaneously. It happens sometimes, and when it does, I usually laugh it off. In fact, some therapists may shy away from these patients, but not me. I view them as a challenge.
Recently entering our VT program was “Jane”, who is my senior by a mere 36 years. That makes her 76 years old for those of you keeping score. A recent cancer survivor, the remnants of Jane’s radiation and chemotherapy left her with a dizzy head, double vision, and the temper of a hungry grizzly bear whose newborn cubs are missing. She’s a pistol. Openly admitting she has moments of lucidity followed by moments of pure apathy, mix in a little absent-mindedness and the painting is complete. But even with all of that, she is working to feel better and that’s the business we’re in, so she graces us with her presence twice per week. Oh, and don’t dare suggest any aspect of her challenges may related to her age. People have died for less, I’m fairly certain.
Jane was raised during a different era than most of us. Men wore suits and ties, women wore nice dresses, and kids were to be seen and not heard. This was just daily life; no special occasion needed. Families ate meals together, neighbors respected each other, and integrity was the coin of the realm. Jane is proper, she is polite, she is very well spoken, and politely excuses herself at the slightest hint of speaking out of turn. Always dressed in elegance, surely she would prefer to sit home alone rather than allow the world to see her in less than her best attire.
Sessions with Jane can be challenging. They vary from her wanting to sit in the relative dark (we have a very dimly lit room which can be made completely dark) and discussing the arrogance of those who created fluorescent light bulbs (she is light-sensitive too), to tackling the vectograms for nearly a full session and refusing to relent until such a time she feels she has achieved fully. Because of her fragile state, rarely are two sessions even close to identical. Nonetheless, we push on. About three weeks ago, Jane insisted she try a vergence program on our VTS 4. Against my better judgement and protest, I agreed. She got through it, did fairly well, and her session ended.
The following week, Jane came in with a different demeanor, almost as if a wave of passivity had washed over her.
“Robert, I’ve made a decision. I’m going to listen to you from now on. You’re not going to believe what happened last week after my visit…”
Now may be a good time to tell you I am afflicted with a poor filtering mechanism when it comes to the words and ideas that pass over my tongue and into the world. You’ll be happy to know, although certain words describing what the bird left on the rock were in my head, they did not make it out. I simply smiled and asked her to enlighten me.
Jane went on to explain she had stopped at the grocery store adjacent to our building after her last session. She walked around slowly, collecting the items she needed, and then went through the check-out line. She described being a little dizzy and slightly “foggy” while being in the store, but nothing unmanageable. The next lucid thought she shared was the manager of the grocery store knocking on her car window to wake her up so she could come back into the store to pay for her items. She had walked out of the store without paying, placed her items in the backseat of her car, and fallen asleep in the driver’s seat.
There are many aspects of this story I cannot delve into out of respect for patient privacy, but I will tell you Jane is not forgetful, quite the opposite in fact. She is sharp. After discussing the events further, she came to realize the often criticized slow pace of her VT program actually has some advantages; and most of them by design. She was visually exhausted that day and allowed her own “stubborn ways” (her words, not mine) to take over and push too far. She stopped short of apologizing for her behavior, but she did offer a laugh at her own expense:
“I’m the great shoplifter of Austin, Texas. I’m pretty sure they have this old lady on the “shoplifter’s watch list” because every time I’ve been in that store since, someone meets me at the door, takes my arm, and asks if I require any special assistance”.
We laughed as her little bit of levity landed us on a common ground.
Did anyone else hear that?
I swear it sounded just like a barrier crumbling to the ground…