Working in a hospital with recent stroke patients was an all-or-nothing proposition. They were usually go grateful to be alive or just wanted to die. A quick glance told all.
Albert taught me much about strokes.
One afternoon while making rounds I'd met him, curled in a fetal position. A pale, dried-up old man with a look of death, head half-buried under a blanket. He didn't budge when I introduced myself, and he said nothing when I referred to dinner “soon.”
At the nurse's station, an attendant provided some history. He had no one. He'd lived too long. Wife of thirty years dead, five sons gone.
Well, maybe I could help. A chunky but pretty divorced nurse avoiding the male population outside of work, I could satisfy a need. I flirted.
The next day I wore a dress, not my usual nursing uniform but white. No lights on. Curtains drawn.
Albert hollered at the staff to get out. I pulled a chair close to his bed, crossing my shapely legs, head tilted. I gave him a perfect smile.
“Leave me. I want to die.”
“What a crime, all us single women out there.”
He looked annoyed. I rambled on about how I liked working “rehab” unit because I got to watch people reach their maximum potential. It was a place of possibilities. He said nothing.
Two days later during shift report, I learned that Albert had asked when I'd be “on.” The charge nurse referred to him as my “boyfriend” and word got around. I never argued. Outside his room, I'd tell others not to bother “my Albert.”
Soon he agreed to “dangle,” sit on the side of the bed to build up sitting tolerance, energy and balance. He agreed to “work” with physical therapy if I'd return “to talk.”
Two months later, Albert was on a walker. By the third month, he'd progressed to a cane. Fridays we celebrated discharges with a barbecue. Albert and I danced to Edith Piaf. He wasn't graceful, but he was leading. Tear-streaked cheeks touched as we bade our good-byes.
Periodically roses, mums and sweet peas would turn up. He was gardening again.
Then one afternoon, a lovely lavender-clad woman came on the unit demanding “that hussy.”
My supervisor called; I was in the middle of giving a bed bath.
“So you're the one! The woman who reminded my Albert that he's a man!” Her head tilted in full smile as she handed me a wedding invitation.