She’d been kicked out of every other primary care office in town, because she drove everyone crazy. She had coronary disease, end-stage COPD, a history of bleeding ulcers, chronic back and leg pain; she was also a breast cancer survivor with terribly botched reconstructions, and she carried a diagnosis of paranoid personality disorder. She saw a cardiologist, a pulmonologist, a psychiatrist, an orthopedist, a gastroenterologist, and a pain doctor. She drove them all crazy.
She called the ambulance to take her to the emergency department at least three times a week. Once a month or so she’d wind up admitted, usually to leave within 24 hours against medical advice, generally to go smoke a cigarette.
The visiting nurses once called to tell me she had dozens of pill bottles all over her house. She took whatever medicines she felt she needed at any given time. She’d call me up at all hours of the day and night demanding prescriptions: pain pills, sleeping pills, psych meds she thought would help her sleep. She usually told me that someone had stolen the pills I had just prescribed. The wonderful neighbor lady who drove her to her appointments was alternately an angel from heaven, and a bitch who stole pills from her all the time.
I’m not sure how, but we hit it off.
She’s demand Vicodin, Percocet, Ambien, Seroquel; whatever. I’d say, “No.” She’d wail and shout for awhile; then she’d ask me what size sweaters I wore, and insist I come over to her house, because she had all these brand new sweaters she’d never worn — they still had the labels attached! — that she swore would look wonderful on me. (I would never have taken her up on it. She was truly paranoid enough that I’d be seriously concerned she would later accuse me of stealing them.) We’d chit-chat about this and that. Actually, I usually worked on finishing up my work for the day while she yammered on and on, encouraged by just an occasional, “Really?” or, “How about that.” Eventually, she’d have talked herself out and would say, “Well, I’ll let you go now.”
“Okay,” I’d answer. “You take care of yourself.”
“Oh, I’m going to die soon.”
“Not yet,” I’d answer. “I’d miss you.”
“Oh no, I’m going to die.”
“Well not just yet. Okay?”
Recently she was hospitalized for real: GI bleeding for which she’d needed transfusions, complicated by arrhythmias that required new meds. She’d gone to a rehab around the corner from my house for a few days, and I’d stopped by after work to say hello. We had a lovely visit, sitting together in the Physical Therapy department, chatting with the therapist and each other. She again insisted I come over to her house and go through her closets.
She told me, gravely, that her heart had stopped while she was in the hospital. Two whole seconds at a time, while she was sleeping. I pointed out to her that it always started up again.
“But what if it doesn’t?” she asked.
I’d just shrugged.
“I don’t care,” she’d answered. “I’m ready to die.”
“Not yet,” I’d protest. “I’d miss you.”
“I mean it. I’m going to die soon.”
Actually, I’d never seen her look better.
I got a call from the coroner today. She’d been found dead in her home, lying on her couch. The neighbor thought she was sleeping, but she never changed position for 12 hours.
I’ll miss her. I may be the only one, but I’ll miss her.