continued from below….
My second page of the afternoon came just ten minutes after I left Mrs. Glass. Now, a nurse in the emergency department was asking me to support the wife of a patient brought in from a nursing facility. The nurse told me the patient’s name, which was so Italian I thought I had heard her wrong. The name made me think of the rough-hewn streets of Rome, of brightly painted stucco, and vineyards lining the graceful terracotta slopes of Tuscany.
I entered the ED and spoke briefly with the nurse who paged. She told me Mr. Romano, (as I will call him) was stable but they still needed to do some assessment. The doctor would be in soon. Mrs. Romano was more of a concern at the moment. She seemed confused and nervous and her English wasn’t great, or so the nurse told me. I entered the examining room and introduced myself to Mrs. Romano. She immediately rose to greet me, taking my offered hand between her two, and peered up at me. Viviana, as she insisted I call her, was a short, softly rounded woman in her mid seventies. Her face was incredibly wrinkled with skin that hung past her jaw. Viviana greeted me like she would a much-anticipated guest entering her home. With heavily accented English, she thanked me repeatedly for coming and led me to a chair next to her own. She gave me the chair closest to her husband. Once settled she patted my hand and then indicated the man on the bed, “my Antonio, he is very sick.”
Indeed he was. Mr. Romano lay in the bed just two feet beyond our chairs, moaning. His eyes were open and he starred at the harsh florescent light panel without blinking. His hands were fisted at his sides, his mouth hung open to reveal empty gums. Viviana and I chatted as the nurse examined Antonio, changed his dressing and diaper and took his blood pressure. Viviana told me her husband lived in a nursing home just a few miles from the hospital. He had been there for two years, since his health had deteriorated beyond her ability to care for him. Antonio had Parkinson’s, diabetes and dementia. He had lost his ability to speak almost a year ago.
The conversation shifted easily between us. I asked about her situation – her husband’s health, where they were from, and their family – and she shared comfortably, pausing every now and then to sigh and mutter in Italian each time her husband moaned. Over the next hour Viviana not only answered to my questions, she told me her story. As she told of her life, strength and independence reflected through the anecdotes. She may have looked feeble but she was anything but. She lived alone in the house she and Antonio had shared for forty years, their three grown children lived within city limits. The Romano’s had been married 56 years, immigrating to the US when they had only been married for two. They came from a small village, married young and decided to try their prospects in America. She spoke of hardships with money, the joy of buying their first house, the birth of their children, receiving news of the death of her parents – 56 years retold with thick Italian inflection as though she had just left her homeland last year.
It was a beautiful story, stirring, laced with the kind of nostalgic adventures that would make a good film, but the whole time Viviana talked it was with a sense of detachment. I felt as though she was telling someone else’s story, that she was just a narrator rather than a main character.
The doctor and nurse completed their exam and gave Mrs. Romano an update. Her husband had an infection, perhaps an ulcer, and they needed to run some tests. They drained his stomach through a permanent port in his belly; brown liquid flooded the tube and collected in a plastic container mounted on the wall. Viviana asked why it was brown. The nurse said it was blood from his stomach. Viviana’s response was, “Oh.”
She had few questions: would Antonio be okay and would he be staying in the hospital because she needed to move her car. In an hour, she never got out of her seat except to welcome me. She didn’t take her husband’s hand, even while he moaned. She asked more questions about me than her Antonio. She looked at Mr. Romano several times but she never spoke to him. It seemed peculiar to me, a strange response to her husband’s physical state. When the nurse told Viviana that Antonio would be moved to a regular room, she said, “Okay, I go home.” She turned to me and said, “What can I do? I go home. This has been too long. Thank you for sitting with me. You a sweet girl. It’s been a long time.” Somehow, I knew she was not referring to the hour we had spent together. I asked her if she would like to pray for Antonio. She replied that she didn’t know any prayers. I told her I could pray for his health and that he could rest well. She said that would be good and I prayed while she patted my hand.
“What can I do? I go now.” Mrs. Romano, married 56 years, gathered up her purse, escorted me to the door, thanked me again and left.