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.