Meet Sam. He’s a Holocaust Survivor. Remember.

Change of Shift Report: 6:40 AM

Room 250: Dementia; Vital Signs WNL; skin intact; prepare for discharge to home; pt restrained in Geri-chair; babbling jibberish; family involved.

This was the information I received prior to meeting the person behind the words.  Indeed, he was restrained and he was trying to get un-restrained.  An elderly gentleman, 91 yrs old to be more precise, wearing the uni-sex gown of indeterminate color, and finely tooled leather slippers.  And, indeed, I could not understand what he was saying but that was because I don’t understand Polish.  He was absolutely agitated and trying to get out of the chair.  Squatting down to make eye contact, I apologized for not understanding him and asked if he could speak English.  The deep, dark wells of his eyes met mine and with perfect diction he said “Forgive me, I forget sometimes. I need to go the bathroom and cannot figure out how to get out of this chair.”  Ah hah, a caregiver’s dream: a patient who could clearly communicate a need and a solution. To the bathroom we danced the shuffle and slide, the to and fro, and the 4-step pirouette.

Let The Games Begin

Who feels dignified doing their bathroom business? Anyone craving company?  Relax, they’re rhetorical questions.  It’s my job to ensure that inherent dignity is never compromised, especially when doing for others what they cannot do for themselves.  It’s a place of great privilege and responsibility not to be taken lightly.  I confess that my ‘no-longer-a spring-chicken’ status served me well and most patients let down their veils of modesty fairly quickly.  But Sam was a harder sell and my bag of tricks was rapidly emptying.  “You’re 91 yrs old and you speak Polish. Are you Jewish Mr. Drix?”  “Yes, I’m Jewish”.   He’s still holding back on me, and I on him.  He doesn’t know that I grew up in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood.  He doesn’t know that during the High Holy Days of the Jewish Liturgical Year I was one of only three students, in my grade, at school.  They other two were Chinese. The rest were observing the Holy Days.  I spent a lot of time in the homes of my Jewish friends, became addicted to bagels, and now ready to pull out of my bag of tricks the Merlin-worthy words “Then you wouldn’t deny me the opportunity of doing a mitzvah*, would you?”   And we looked into each others eyes and waited.  A heaviness lifted from his shoulders, and a twinkle sparkled in his eyes, “Of course not”.   So now he’s doing a bigger mitzvah than mine.  Big deal!   We started talking while washing, grooming and dressing.  Neither one of us could tie his tie worth a hoot but it didn’t matter. By the time his Grandson came to bring him home, he was wearing his charcoal grey suit, white shirt, polished shoes, wisdom-filled eyes and smile, ready to walk out of the hospital gently holding his Grandson’s arm.

Dr. Drix’s Story

Is told, in his own words, via his book  “Witness to Annihilation”,  and in his family’s words via the Obituary below.  *Mitzvah:  regarded as an inescapable obligation, yet they must be performed not from a sense of duty but with a “joyous heart”.  There are 613 (!) separate mitzves, Maimonides remarked that a person who performed only one out of the 613 deserved salvation – if he did so entirely out of love. Said Eleazar ben Simeon: “Happy is he who performs a good deed: that may tip the scale for him and the world.”  (from “Hooray for Yiddish!” by Leo Rosten)   So do a mitzvah already!   May we all do lots of mitzves and, in so doing, be more prepared for our Last Great Adventure of This Life and maybe ‘tip the scale for the world’ as well.


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