Monday, September 22, 2014

"Not Very Smart"

It turns out that her daughter is a nurse on another floor, and that daughter is the one who requested that I visit the patient.

She was 80 years old, but I would have guessed her to be 75. She was sitting in the chair, supported by pillows, with an oxygen cannula helping her to breathe. I pulled over another chair and settled in for a chat.

I have to say that I straightaway I liked her. A lot.

I began, as often I do, by asking what had brought her to the hospital. She replied that it was her breathing.

And then she got to the point. "I'm a twin, you know." I hadn't known. Her fraternal twin sister had been "the smart one." "I'm not very smart," she told me. "But my sister was smart." The sister had died at 39. My patient had now lived twice as long. We talked about the special bond of twins (my own mother was a twin); my patient will always miss her sister. She thinks of her every day.

She rambled on. She'd been in the hospital for pretty many days, not exactly certain. And she didn't know when she'd be going home. The diabetes was the problem, she said. She had it and didn't know anything about it. "I don't WANT to know about it. I'm not smart enough to understand it." I was taken aback. This was the second reference to not being smart. She lives alone, and people were worried about that in connection with the inadequately managed diabetes. I inquired about perhaps attending a patient information class on the subject, but, no, she didn't want to do that. Her daughter, the nurse, understood the diabetes and would take care of it. Her daughter was very smart, she said, "not like me."

Our conversation wandered around and soon the beeper shrieked and I needed to leave. We said a prayer together, and I said I would ask Sister to stop and see her on Monday, and off I went.

All the way down the hall(s) she stayed in my mind. I conjectured that her parents had been the ones who had given her this terrible message, the self image of stupidity. We tend to believe what our parents tell us about ourselves. I wondered what they would think, how they would feel, if they knew that 75 years or so after receiving that message, after marrying, keeping a household running, raising a family, helping at least one child through college, after all of that, she still believed what they had said.



10 comments:

stitchinpenny said...

Parents make mistakes, but sometimes children interpret things in their own way. My younger daughter who is brilliant, pretty, and used to be very outgoing lost confidence because of a traumatic event. She never shared that event with us, but began to believe we loved her sister more and in spite of spending time, money and many loving hours we couldn't convince her otherwise. She finally found a therapist that got to the root of her problem and actually saw the 10 years of tough times for what they were and apologized to us for what she had done.

Janet O. said...

I feel so bad for this woman, that, however she got the message, she has not been able to overcome it. As you pointed out, she has done much in her lifetime to indicate she is a capable woman. Too bad she has never been able to see it herself.

Melinda said...

How sad. Sometimes parents don't realize how powerful word can be.

Marilyn Kalinowski said...

How sad was also my first thought. ��

Ms. Jan said...

If there was ever a reminder about how important our words to our children are, this is it.

Lori said...

I agree with stichinpenny. My parents bent over backwards to treat all the kids the same, yet today at the age of 52 my sister still feels like "I am Mom's least favorite daughter". In reality, my sister has gotten more help from my parents than any adult should ever expect from their aging parents. It is very upsetting to my mom, but I tell her is it not her fault, it is my sister's problem. It is not always the parents fault.

Barbara Anne said...

What a powerful message for all to hear. It is sad that this very capable woman still feels limited by that childhood hurt.

It just goes to show that "Sticks and stones ..." was wrong.

Hugs!

Quiltdivajulie said...

No one will ever know how the "not as smart as your ____" message was imprinted on this lady -- teachers, neighbors, people at church, someone seen regularly at gatherings, a bully on the playground . . . Oh, yes, parents have influence but so do LOTS of others in our lives. Bless her heart . . .

antique quilter said...

sad she had to live her life thinking this/believing this. sometimes I think we as adults need to step back and realize words are just words and believe in ourselves….

LoieJ said...

I was told very clearly by my cousin, who is just four years younger than I am, that I couldn't sing in tune. We were about 5 years old. But she is musically gifted. And although I'm clearly not musically "gifted," I've taken part in music groups and lessons all my life, but I never have had any confidence in my abilities. Fortunately, I can still enjoy the church choir, where grace and meaning are more important than individual ability. (Which is why churches need choirs, not musical soloists. But that is another story.)