The world is very small, despite its size and number of inhabitants. There are days that remind me of that on occasion, and today is one of them.
Once upon a time, I was a lowly research assistant, tagging along for testing of research participants. One participant made a huge impression on me. He was a brilliant young man. He worked on cutting edge technology. He had a lovely wife and a bright future. And then he had a significant stroke. It changed his personality. It made him unable to work. It made him unable to be the husband he had once been. His wife wanted a family. She wanted children. And she knew that she couldn't do that and take care of him.
So she divorced him. She remarried and had the children she wanted. He was left alone. When we visited his apartment, it was cluttered and chaotic, a physical manifestation of the chaos and disorganization that reigned in his mind.
His story haunted me. I've thought about it many times since then. I certainly thought about it before I got married. I vowed to stay with BestestHusband for better or for worse. Actually, for better AND for worse. I'd seen enough in healthcare to know that life and health will take turns for the worse. And I had to face the fact that I was signing on for it all. Honestly, it makes me grateful that married life so far has been mostly "for better".
This week I met the man again. He landed himself in the hospital, and then in rehab. His identity dawned on me gradually. His disorganized and unreasonable mind was impacting his ability to recover from his injuries. I was supposed to evaluate and help. I'm still not sure how we'll help. This might actually be the end of him living on his own. This might be the beginning of an institutionalized life.
I work with confused and irrational patients every time I go to work, wherever I work. Usually, they have family members who are with them. So when the patient is suspicious of his medications, the wife reassures him, and he takes them. When he doesn't want to get out of bed and exercise, the wife reasons with him and he grudgingly gets up and walks. When patients are difficult to help, we turn to family members. But he doesn't have a family. Because his wife abandoned him. Because she only wanted "for better". She wasn't really serious about that "for worse" part.
He's been on my mind today. What were the chances I'd run into this guy again? But I did. And his situation is worse than the last time I saw him. And it's burning a hole in my heart.