Nothing in the books I studied really prepared me for what I was about to encounter with my first job in the hospital. I remember going through the orientation and really feeling like a deer in headlights. Something about the hospital scene always attracted me. I wanted to be part of this team, I felt I belonged here.
I met her on my first evening shift. She was a petite lady, with dark brown eyes. She was sitting in a wheelchair with a lap tray and would call over anyone that walked by. She only spoke Italian.
There was something intimidating about her. When I think back now, it was probably her dementia. I remember being hesitant when I first met her. She had a strong grip with those wrinkly hands of hers. She looked like she was a hard worker. Most probably a home maker. She had to have a bed alarm because she was constantly on the move but not steady on her feet. She needed assistance feeding, and that was the time I spent most with her. All she would call me was “Bella, Bella, Bella” nothing else. She had only one son with the love of her life. I remember talking to him and asking him about her. I wanted to know more about her. He told me one day as we fed her together about her life. She was a beautiful woman and loved very deeply. She was unable to have children but somehow had him many years into her marriage. Her husband and her grew up neighbors in a small town in Italy. They played together at 6 and 7 years old. Years later they married and had been together ever since.
Her husband would walk in with one of those hats older men wear, dark brown blazer and his cane. He reminded me so much of my grandfather. There was no doubt he loved this woman. One afternoon after lunch, I saw him walk in. He went right to the lounge area where he knew he would find her. I couldn’t help but follow. I watched as he went over to her, kissed her lips and then her hands. Then he began unpacking a little bag he had brought. He laid out a handkerchief and pulled out different Italian cookies along with some biscotti. He also had some cheese and other goodies, I imagine they had these together at home. He would try to talk to her and tell her things in Italian, but the dementia was now taking its toll on her, and him. Eventually he would just sit in silence beside her and hold her hand.
Weeks turned into months. Months turned into a year.
My dear Italian Bella was now weaker and more confused. She no longer tried to plan her big escapes. She no longer needed to wear the hip guards or the soft helmet. She would lay in bed and shake the rail once in a while whenever she got a burst of energy.
Even though we never had a conversation, I loved this woman.
There was not a day she did not call me over. ” Veni veni veni, Bella Bella Bella”
And kiss my hand.
One day, I went in to reposition her and freshen her up. She was bleeding. I knew that now it was only matter of time.
She was bedridden now, so it was easier for me to wash her in detail. One evening once I had finished caring for all my other patients, I took some time to go back to her and wash her nicely. I was cleaning her ears when a nurse came in and helped me reposition her, the nurse saw what I was doing and helped me. We did not say much to each other, we just continued washing her up.
Her husband was coming in every evening now because she was now deteriorating quickly. I tried my best to make sure she looked well taken care of.
The next evening, I found out that her husband was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. The son had come to see his mother and had asked the charge nurse if he could bring his dad down to see his mother. She agreed.
I took that time to go in and say my final farewell. I keep everything I had felt for this lady inside. I knew nothing I said would make sense to her. So I did the sign of the cross on her forehead and placed the picture she liked of the Madonna near her head. I gave her a kiss on her hand and left the room.
Her husband came down in a wheel chair being pushed by his son. The son wheeled him close to the bed. Her husband rose from the wheelchair and kissed his wife for the last time. He stayed there for an hour holding her hand. Then the son said his farewells and took his father back upstairs.
The next day when I went into her room. The bed was empty. The new linens were never slept in, her night table cleared.
She was gone.
I sat in her chair for about 5 minutes and let it all sink in.
I wondered about her husband. I wanted to go see him, but I could not bring myself to it.
He died exactly 3 days after her.
I was in the Tim Hortons line waiting to buy my coffee, when I noticed the person in front of me was her son. I tapped his shoulder and gave him my condolences for the loss of his father. He thanked me for all my work and all I could do was hug him.
I was blessed to have witnessed such a love story first hand.
I hope that when I die I will see her calling me saying
“VENI VENI VENI BELLA BELLA BELLA”