Stories of Hope and Wonder: Just Human

We will fight on the beaches, we will never give up!

I knew I was getting old when I decided that I would not even make a meager attempt to make any New Year's resolutions this year. It used to be in my younger days, much younger days, that I lasted a good one, maybe two, months sticking to my commitment to not overeat, not overspend and be forgiving and nice to everyone despite their behavior. Eventually I gave in to human nature and found myself at the mall in the food court eating Cinnabons and writing in my journal how was going to get even with the next person who cut me off on the freeway.  Alas, I reluctantly resolved to accepting the fact that I am only, miserably, disappointingly, just human.

Amidst my disillusionment, I went to the nursing home to make rounds on my patients.  Along the way I stopped at the grocery store and picked up a sandwich for lunch. On my way out, I passed by the bakery section and in Pavlovian fashion stared and pined for the mini-scones, my favorite indulgence in times of despair. I remembered I would be seeing "Clara" at the nursing home, so I grabbed two containers of mini-scones, blueberry and cranberry-orange, rifled through the tea section until I could find Twinings, then raced through the check out line.

I stood quietly outside the entrance to her room, so as not to wake her up. Clara was well into her 80's, 86 I think by now. She grew up in Liverpool, England, made famous by those four boys known affectionately as, "The Beatles." The Liverpool she remembers, is quite different.

When Prince William and Kate Middleton married, I watched the Wedding Ceremony with her on television, "the tele" the Brits call it.  She went on about how her father told the family at the dinner table not to condemn "him" for marrying "that" divorcee. She was talking about when Prince Edward abdicated the British throne so he could marry American divorcee, Wallis Simpson. An event that changed the course of history. Go watch, "The King's Speech," and you will understand.  I was in awe, a true witness to history. That was not even the half of it.

One day she was in the hall in her wheelchair and wheeled herself over to the resident's telephone. She picked up the phone and asked me to dial 9-1-1 for her. I asked her what was wrong, and she said, "They won't let me have a cigarette in this place so I'm going to call the police. I know my rights!"

Alas we calmed her down and I called her son to find out more about her and what we can do to help her quit smoking. Even though she was elderly, I did not want to see her last few years fraught with breathing problems and oxygen tanks.

Her son said she has always been a "tough, old" gal and that she had been through a lot in her day. He learned years ago not to argue with her and to give her a little leeway. When I asked what he meant by that, he shared with me that when she was 14 years old she was living in England with her family during the Bombing of Britain. She had told him about the times she would go to bed, and wake up the next morning with the building across the street completely in rubbles from the previous night's German Luftwaffe bombing raids. She lost friends and neighbors; young, old, infirm, men, women, many in the prime of their lives, to the ravages of war. Their sacrifices for the indomitable spirit of freedom that each human being on this earth cherishs deep in their heart, becoming a page in history.

She slowly opened her eyes and turned her head towards me in the doorway and called me over, not sure who I was. I asked her if she would like a blueberry or cranberry-orange scone and she smiled, "One of each okay?" Like any self respecting Brit, she was most excited about getting the Twinings Tea. "I've been to the Twining's store in London you know. Goes back to the 1700's. Kinda like me," she winked.

I sat quietly in the chair next to her bed while she relished every crumb of the scones and sipped her Twinings tea, with milk and, my God, three teaspoons of sugar. She's 86 years old for cryin' out loud, let the woman have all the sugar she wants the non-physician part of my brain screamed.

Her belly full from scones and hot tea warming her blood, she drifted off into sleep. How proud and relieved I thought Winston Churchill's spirit must be when he thinks back to that summer of 1940 when the RAF, known as "The Few" kept Hitler at bay, for people like Clara, and ultimately, for the entire free world.

For people like Churchill and Clara, their stories, their lives, their faults, their failures, their successes, just being human, just being ourselves, can pass along so much to so many.





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dexterjibs January 06, 2013 at 04:41 AM
I know you and I have had our differences, but they was a great blog, Mary. A great read.
Susan Etchey January 09, 2013 at 12:20 AM
Dr. Ballard, your stories of hope and wonder are truly inspiring and wonderfully written. I hope you will continue this as a series. What you are doing is giving all of us who may be critical, fearful or skeptical of doctors a fesh perspective on the best of practices in the medical field, the true role of a healer. It's not just about prescribing and testing, but about empathy and listening. And beyond that, you're amazing writing really gets to the heart with a meaningful message. In my opinion your writing about these insights and humbling experiences is fulfilling your true purpose on this earth to create harmony, cooperation, sharing and reverence for life. This is really good stuff!


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