I have a new hospice patient, her name is M. We were visiting yesterday and chatting about this and that, and she said she tries to drink at least three refills of her oversized hospital mug throughout the day. I mentioned that I found it hard to stay hydrated in the winter because drinking water makes me feel chilly, and she stopped me right there. “Who says it has to be just water?” she said, craftily, and dug around by her bedside. I was absolutely positive she was going to pull out a flask and my head briefly spun at the ethical quandary of a patient with hidden booze (she can’t have that, with her health situation and all her medications, someone must be informed! Then again … she’s on hospice, maybe she should be able to have whatever the hell she wants?) but she produced a box of Twinings tea. “It tastes like a dessert mint,” she said. “And if you put a Stevia or two in there? Oh.”

This is a wholly different situation than it was with P., who was in a care facility. M. lives at home, and it is a very busy household. Adult grandchildren live there, a tiny 2-year-old runs around, M.’s daughter comes and goes and seems burdened with managing just about everything. In the midst of it, M. moves laboriously from bed to chair and back again. She keeps all sorts of things within reach: notebooks, hand towels, snacks. A cup of that sweet minty tea.

It’s hard not to feel like a stranger who’s arrived wielding a dubious skillset, which is exactly what I am.

One of the notes in her file included a vague warning about a cat: “The grey cat does not always appreciate being petted.” The family also told me to watch out for him, that he was known for attacking people out of the blue. As a result I have been downright terrified of this cat, greeting him with a quavering voice whenever he slinks nearby, breathing a sigh of relief when he moves on.

Yesterday he suddenly jumped into my lap and sat there for nearly half an hour, purring heavily as I nervously scratched his ears, and I thought: HE CAN SENSE MY CARING NATURE. NO NEED TO DOUBT MY ROLE, MY SOOTHING POWERS ARE FELT BY ALL! Then he leapt down, started to leave, reconsidered, and sunk his teeth into my ankle. As if to say, It’s not about YOU, asshole.

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