Some patients are difficult. Some take a long time. When I saw on my schedule that I had a patient coming in who “needs extra time” and had an extra slot blocked off for her, my stomach dropped a bit- it would make for a long afternoon. Until I read the name of the patient and realized who it was. Yes, she needed extra time. Yes, it could be difficult to care for her. But she was so pleasant- a pleasure actually.
Her chart labeled her simply as “learning disabled.” I have been taking care of her for years, having inherited her when her previous midwife left our practice. My guess is she is on the autism spectrum somewhere, though I am not a psychiatric provider. She also has some compulsions, leaving the house wearing no less than ten layers of clothes. The extra time needed for her was merely so she could dress and undress.
She spoke in in a loud monotone voice, but was friendly. She complimented me, and just about everyone else she interacted with, on at least several pieces of clothing I was wearing.
“That’s a nice sweater and necklace and shoes and hairstyle. Your hair is so long. It wasn’t that long before.”
“No I think it’s the longest I’ve ever had it.”
She has an astoundingly accurate memory- for people and dates especially. She could tell me the exact date of each of her mammograms over the past year. She quoted from a letter she received from her previous midwife informing her of the death of a mutual friend of theirs.
“I didn’t see you last year. I saw Margaret. You were on maternity leave,” she started. I could see where this was going. “Did you have a boy or a girl?”
“A girl,” I answered with a smile. Isn’t it nice when people ask about our babies?
“That’s nice. When was she born?”
“Oh, the day after Valentine’s day. That’s nice.”
And then the visit somehow went one. I asked my typical calcium intake and exercise questions. We discussed her weight. I asked how retirement was. And all the while I thought about her amazing memory. I would have told her the truth if she asked the right question, but it didn’t come up. I felt like she would ask about my baby in years to come, because she would remember. So at the end of the visit I said to her,
“I have to tell you something. You asked about my baby earlier. Well, I wanted you to know that she died shortly after birth.”
“Oh, that’s so sad,” she said without hesitating. “What happened?”
“Well, she her lungs were too small and she couldn’t breathe.”
“Why were her lungs small?”
“So she had some birth defects, because she had Down Syndrome. Sometimes babies with Down Syndrome had issues like hers.”
“I know some people with Down Syndrome. That’s sad about your baby.”
“Thank you. And thank you for asking about her.”
I wanted her to know, because she’ll remember. She’ll remember Mabel for years and years.
Is there someone you know that will remember your baby always?