Today, Zoë and I went searching for Dr. Rybstein, who specializes in patients with a history of drug abuse. When we finally did find her, she was engaged in a meeting, so we set up camp in the adjacent recreation room, which was, for the most part, devoid of residents. We saw a resident we knew, whom I will call C. We asked the basic questions—how are you feeling, what are you up to today, how did you sleep—C told us his birthday was coming up. C seemed excited, so Zoë asked him what his plans were for his birthday.
“I don’t make no plans in advance, you know,” C said, “It’s a blessing just waking up this morning.”
Later on, another intern, Joseph, joined us. C went on to describe the hardships he had experienced. C has seven brothers and three sisters, a mother who passed away when he was three, and a father he is not willing to talk about. C has experienced a stroke and external trauma, leaving him blind in one eye. C has a history of drug abuse and, most importantly, is HIV positive.
“But I’m a fighter…I’m gonna make it.” C’s account was peppered with statements like this one; he made it perfectly clear that he intends to leave this facility alive and in good health. C’s optimism, in spite of all he has witnessed and experienced, was inspirational. He refuses to give up, and at 51 years old he plans to overcome any and everything thrown his way.
It is amazing what people are willing to share with you if you show that you are willing to listen. We spoke to C for roughly fifteen minutes. When people are as far advanced in their diseases as many of the residents here, you find yourself skipping the pleasantries and really focusing on what the resident has to say. “How are you?” is not just a mandatory greeting. You ask a healthy person how they are with the expectation that he or she will say “Good, and yourself?” but here you ask a resident how he or she is expecting to hear the truth—that very few people here are “good.”
However, despite the turmoil and sometimes even depression of living in a long-term nursing facility, residents like C manage to thrive. In the six days I have worked at TCC, I have seen so many types of patients: those who want to leave, those who want to live, those who want to die, and everything in between.
The hard truth of the day is that C, like many of the residents of the discrete (HIV) unit, will die fairly young. But so many residents, especially the ones on discrete, maintain a positive outlook. It seems trite until you see it in action, and I would not have written about it until today, but seeing someone in such dire straits with such optimism is both rattling and uplifting. C gives me hope; because if C can have hope, I can.