It was just like any other day. I was at the nursing home getting ready to see my patients. “Bill” had arrived during the holidays and “Emily,” his wife of 37 years, was there to help him get ready to leave this week and finally go home. It was a short stay as far as nursing home stays go, two weeks, but enough time for him to get his strength back and feel like he could get through his day without too much help from Emily. She smiled and took his hand, telling me that he could never be a burden to her in any way.
In Bill I saw a young man living his life to the fullest in a jovial gentleman’s body at the twilight of his life. Happy and welcome to see his doctor, he reached out his Grandpa arm and with a strong handshake told me how fortunate he was to get the “teenager” for his doctor. Now that I’m over fifty, I’ll take any compliment where I can get it.
The light through the window reflected not only the sunshine outside, but the years of sunshine I could see that these two had experienced in their lives as husband and wife. It was the second marriage for both of them and Emily went on about how lucky she felt that they had met, and even luckier that they have had so many years together.
“He’s 92 you know Dr. Ballard,” Emily smiled with pride in knowing how well she has taken care of him.
I reached over with my stethoscope and listened to his heart and lungs, felt his pulse, a steady, strong beat matching his steady and strong disposition. They looked at me, as most people do, for the answer to the questions I can read all over their faces. How long will he have doc? How many more years can we enjoy each other together?
“Good news. You sound great! At least another five years with that ticker, I’d have to say.” Their sigh of relief and exchange of smiles to each other said it all.
“Bill, did you ever think you would live this long with such a gorgeous wife at your side?” I asked. He laughed, then Emily stepped in, as the wife usually does when the husband stumbles to find the words to answer a question.
“Go ahead Bill, tell her what happened,” Emily pushed. Now I definitely had to know what was going on. They piqued my interest.
“Ah, she doesn’t want to hear about that.”
“Yes she does. It’s a great story Bill.”
Hello people! Don’t keep me in any suspense any longer, I have rounds to finish.
“Okay, okay. I’ll tell her.” Bill looked at me both embarrassed and relieved that he could get this off his chest, like he was going to tell me some great confession. Like always, what Pandora’s box did I open this time?
“I was 104th infantry in WWII and fighting in Germany during the Battle of the Bulge. I’d been fighting for three days without sleep. I was up at the line and was so tired that I crouched down next to a tree and fell asleep. I heard a voice, my mother’s voice, say, ‘Willie, Willie, wake up. The Germans are here, you need to get up and fight.’ I woke up to find a squad of Germans advancing right in front me. There were trees and snow all around and it was hard to see them through the fog. I saw the Germans advance. I started shooting and made it back to my foxhole in time for me and the guys to hold them off.”
“One twist of fate has given me all these years with Bill.” Emily squeezed his hand while they gazed at each other in silence. The kind of silence that speaks between volumes between loving couples.
I thanked Bill for giving me the opportunity to care for him during his recovery and especially for the fascinating story. Emily thanked me for caring for Bill, but mostly for listening.
Listening, I thought. In this day and age of smartphones, computers, twitters, facebook, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Everybody’s talking and nobody’s listening. On that cold, below zero, foggy day in Germany in the winter of 1944, Bill listened, and it saved his life. Maybe it can save your life too.
Dr. Ballard is an Internal Medicine and Geriatric Physician practicing in Enumclaw, WA, 360-825-1389. She recently published her first novel, “Revealed,” available at Amazon, Kindle or Smashwords.