The Power of Love

brightly colored zinnias 
When I was in training there was a woman who for many years taught every single resident to come through that program how to treat congestive heart failure.

She was the classic definition of a frequent flyer. She lived alone in a ramshackle motel on the outskirts of town. She had kids but they didn’t like her and never came around. I can’t say that we blamed them. She was mean as hell.

Each time, she would stop taking her meds and her body would swell …legs like giant sausages, lungs frothing, drowning in the excess fluids. You could see on her face that she was suffering and it was hard to understand why she did this to herself time and again.

Just take your frickin’ meds already!

We would admit her, give her IV Lasix, make her pee liters and liters over 3-4 days, and then send her on her way knowing full well that she would be back again in two or three weeks.

One late night, it was my turn. She had a reputation for being an ugly, hateful woman and I did my best to walk in with a Code Red swagger, guns blazing. This tactic worked for a lot of difficult patients… but not for her. Before I had completed my interview for her history and physical she was spitting and cussing and screaming at me to get the f**k out of her ER room. 

(In all fairness, that room had probably had been purchased for her by all of those previous visits so she was well within her rights…)

I decided to let her cool off and try again in a few hours before morning rounds. 

When I went back I decided I would try the sweet, perky lady doctor routine. When I bounced into the room she cracked one eye open at my cheerful greeting and grunted.

“I remember you,” she growled, told me to go to hell, then rolled over in bed with a few more loud grunts so that her back was to me.

“Look, you know the routine. This isn’t your first rodeo. I have to do this, so let’s just get it over with shall we?” 

I did a cursory exam as she riddled off expletives at me. She was a professional abuser and before it was over with, I was fuming.

I had let her get to me.

As we did rounds with the attending, she was sitting up with her bloated legs hanging over the edge of the hospital bed. She lit into me again, telling anyone who would listen that I had cussed at her (I might have) and had manhandled her (that part probably wasn’t true).

Finally, I had had enough. I let everyone go on ahead of me and I sat on the edge of the bed next to her.

“What do you want?” I asked her, struggling to keep the frustration out of my voice.

“Something you can’t give me.”

Was that a tear? My stony heart softened ever so slightly.

“Try my?”

She stared warily at me for a minute, sizing me up. Finally, she spoke. “I want someone to love me.”

I swallowed my pride. I put my arm around that woman and I told her that I loved her. Then, I told her that she needed a shower in a bad, bad way. 

She laughed. I laughed.

And that was the last we saw of her in the hospital. 

No joke. 

I saw her in the clinic every few months. She took her meds faithfully. She was not hospitalized again until 18 months later when she died of something completely unrelated to the heart failure.

She became one of my favorite patients and I miss her even now. She taught me that love, not swagger, gets things done. 


103 thoughts on “The Power of Love

  1. What a wonderful story! But you know what really struck me? I thought even if it had not happened exactly like that–that you both laughed and she changed her behavior–you still listened to her and did what she needed, and that’s what really matters.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sometimes people are so starved for kindness even something simple like that makes a profound difference. I started out hating her. The problem, as I have often found, is often with me. When I change myself, things around me change.

      Liked by 5 people

  2. What I find especially interesting is that your two “put-on” personas didn’t work – the tough efficient ER doc and the perky, sweet lady doc. But when you dropped those personas and became yourself, you finally got through to her. Lesson learned? The doctors I’ve always gotten along with best as a patient were those who simply treated me as another human being like themselves (or as a parent like themselves if it happened to be one of my kids needing medical care).

    Liked by 1 person


    Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on R.R. Wolfgang and commented:
    An absolutely moving post on the power of love by one of my favorite bloggers, Victo Dolore. It is so hard to be on the brunt end of verbal abuse, but to swallow that hurt and see the wounded individual underneath? That fills me with hope and love. We all need someone to love us, someone to acknowledge our humanity, our hurts, our being. I am eternally grateful to Victo (and all the other doctors, nurses, social workers, and human beings out there), who see the human being under the abuse, and treat them with love.

    They are my heroes.


    • If you take all of my good moments and string them together it probably does make me sound pretty amazing but I do have failures and moments of humanity that remind me I am nothing more than the right person at the right time now and then… (Thank you!) 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I get that too. None of us are perfect but you have made a difference in her life, mine and I’m sure many others. She made a difference in yours. It’s such a good reminder of the power of love. Thank you.


  5. I have to admit it, my favorite patients have often been the most demanding, noncompliant, rude, arrogant, difficult people. I think it almost became a challenge to figure out how to care for them while still maintaining my sanity. I learned a lot from my frequent fliers as a nurse, and those experiences taught me that most people are difficult to deal with for reasons completely unrelated to me. Sometimes I just needed to spend some time learning about their concerns.
    Fear, isolation, and loneliness are very real issues for the chronically ill. They become accustomed to the rules of hospitalization, and they start living by the clock. What else do you do when the scenery never changes from those 4 ugly walls?

    I remember so many lessons I learned early in my career from patients who had seen many newbies come into their room. Many of them used that opportunity to see what all they could get away with. (Fully capable men trying to trick you into a bed bath?) Eventually, they respect you when you start actually doing your job- and fostering an environment that increasing their independence.

    Sometimes, they never do get better. You watch them slowly dwindle away as health slips further from their grasp. Those people are forever with me. I remember them and I am eternally grateful for the lessons they taught me about caring for difficult patients. People say we are so caring and giving by being in this field… I think we are given an awful lot of gifts that many people never get to experience. Gee, I must be feeling nostalgic. Great piece. It made me feel so many things.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Pingback: LOVE THOSE WHO INFURIATE YOU…? | Cynthia Reyes

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