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"Fred"

Get OUT! Get away from me! You’re all FIRED! Get the #&%@ OUT!

Joe’s hospital roommate—we’ll call him Fred—raged unceasingly at the harried nurses and the orderly assigned to serve him. Fred had recently had brain surgery and was on a new medication; he was not himself. I was uneasy being only steps away from his unpredictability, but Joe seemed fine, and in fact whispered to me that we should pray for him, which we did. Fred’s wife and adult daughter stood in the corner and took it all in, confused and sad.

At one point Fred threw off his blankets and stormed toward the bathroom, shouting and cursing and “firing” people, his open gown useless in its intended purpose. He suddenly noticed Joe in the next bed and stopped.

“Oh! Hi—what are you in for?”

Joe was once again dealing with aphasia and had about 50% of his vocabulary accessible, but he was able to answer, “I have brain cancer”.

Fred’s face relaxed. “Oh man, I’m so sorry. That’s terrible…I hope things work out for you.”

He continued on to the bathroom while the nurse insisted that the orderly accompany him. Fred refused help and resumed his tirade, firing them both. Things got physical, security was called (a real cop showed up and was amazing in his ability to calm Fred), and Fred was moved to a single room.

A few minutes later, I ran into Fred’s wife and daughter at the elevator. They were still shaken. They apologized profusely and insisted that Fred was a good man and they had never seen anything like this before, that they didn’t even recognize him. My heart broke for them. Stressed and fatigued myself, I said something that I hoped was reassuring before we parted.

All this time, Joe was undisturbed. He seemed to feel only compassion for Fred, even while Fred was making life extremely unpleasant for the rest of us. It occurs to me now that Fred also felt compassion for Joe when he learned of Joe’s cancer. Neither of them was in a position to offer practical help to the other. But I think in some odd way they connected that day.

I really hope Fred became himself again.



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