A brief story about two old lovers in hospital. We shall call them Romeo and Juliet.
Romeo is dying. He’s on a ward in the bottom corner of a hospital, an is slowly but surely coming to the end of his time on this earth. On top of his current illness, he has dementia. On good days he’ll remember what happened that morning, and on bad days he doesn’t know where he is. But there’s one thing he very rarely forgets, and that’s who his wife is. She visits when she can, but it can sometimes be tricky for her to get to Romeo. His wife is Juliet.
Juliet is a patient on my ward. A ward at the top of a tower block. Juliet has been with us for a long while now, as is so often the case with elderly people admitted to hospital with easily solved medical problems but far trickier social situations. Juliet also has dementia. Her’s behaves differently to her husband’s, as she always knows where she is, and that her Romeo is on the other side of the hospital. What she forgets is details about events. She’ll forget the doctors have seen her that day, or forget that she’s got a cup of tea by her side already.
Each day, a nurse, doctor or auxiliary from my ward accompanies Juliet on the journey across the hospital to find her Romeo. When she arrives by his side, he brightens up, becomes talkative and does what he can to converse with his Juliet. It tires him out as they try to fit a day’s worth of company into the hour or so afforded by the accompanying staff member (usually on their break or well after they should have gone home). By the end of their time together each day, Romeo is exhausted and falls asleep. Sadly, this is all his doting wife remembers. The rest of the day, evening or night she will weep that he was asleep on her visit that day.
Romeo deteriorated and doesn’t have long left. Juliet knows this, and it’s one thing she can’t forget. Today, a beautiful thing happened. The nurses, auxiliaries, juniors and even the consultant spent their lunchtime re-arranging the ward. The ward was completely re-arranged. Juliet moved out of her side room, but to do so, a male bay was switched with a female bay (with different bed numbers). The whole ward team moved, cleaned, and rearranged each bay/room necessary with the ultimate goal of allowing Juliet’s Romeo to transfer to our ward.
The Old Lovers were reunited. Juliet, being medically very well, now spends most of her day by her husband’s side. She no longer weeps at night, and he is spending his last days smiling.
The ward team didn’t have to go to all that effort (and it was a hell of an effort!) to do this, and didn’t have to stay late because of it on a Friday evening, preparing for the weekend care, but they all did. And what an incredible difference it made to two people in hospital together. It was healthcare and compassion at it’s finest and it was beautiful to see.
When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun