Monday, March 11, 2019

I love you x 3.

There was this older gentleman who'd been admitted to my team and his admission was soft. We call admissions "soft" when someone was on the fence about whether or not to keep the patient hospitalized or send them home. But anyways, he got admitted and his issue was quickly sorted out and the very next morning he was ready for discharge. Nothing about his problems were exotic or earth-shattering.


We actually didn't see him as a team on rounds that day. His issues were so straightforward that I'd agreed to see him on my own. He was nice enough and didn't have many questions when I got to the end of the encounter. And so. I reached for his hand and wished him well.

And that was that.

Well. Not really. I always like to find some way to connect with my patients or to show them I have an interest in them as a person. This patient was pretty quiet so it wasn't exactly the easiest thing in the world. I tried anyway.

"Is someone in your family coming to pick you up?" I asked. "If not, we can arrange a ride for you."
"My sister will be coming to get me. I'm okay with the ride part."
"Okay," I responded. I smiled and prepared to stand up from the bedside chair. "Do you have children, sir?" 

At Grady that question feels rhetorical--especially when talking to the elders. Of course this man had children. He probably even had grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
"No, ma'am. We never had children."
He said 'we' not 'I.' Hmmm. So I bit. 
"Were you. . . previously married?" I kind of wanted to smack my forehead after saying that. I was relieved when he didn’t seem to take offense to that question. 
"If I could have been, I would have been." 
He stared out of the window and his eyes began to glisten with tears. I wasn't fully sure how to proceed but I hungered to know from where the emotion was coming.
"Tell me more." That's all I said, sitting myself back down in preparation for his response. Vanilla enough. Forward enough. Maybe even too forward, but I didn't want it to be mistaken as anything other than the question it was.


He turned his head and gazed at me. This soft-spoken man who'd uttered very few words since his hospitalization touched his fingers to his lips and then pressed them together to hold in the first thing even close to a smile that I'd seen since walking in. "My love. That is a good word for him."

Yes. Him. Aaaah.

"Do you mind telling me more?" 
He smiled and shook his head. Then he began to speak.
"His name was Morris. He was funny and loud and a really, really good dancer. He wasn't afraid of anybody, either. We met when I was still a teenager but we were inseparable. He didn't care what people thought about him loving me, either. Nobody."
"Wow. How long were you together?"
"More than 20 years off and on. He went to the military for a little while and I lived out west for a couple of years. Then we came back together."
"Morris sounds amazing."
"He was. I took care of him until he took his last breath. I held his hand and stroked his cheeks and just kept on saying 'I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you' until his last moment." He started blinking fast to remove the tears that were quickly forming. Then he sighed deep and hard. "He was so, so brave. He was the love of my whole life."
I was already crying. I patted my own cheeks and smiled. "I love that you just kept saying 'I love you' until the moment he died. That's probably one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard."
"It was so hard being gay back then. There weren't people clapping at parades for us, either. Especially in Atlanta. But Morris always said that life was short and that we needed to live. He said we deserved love and I believe he was right. One funny thing he always said was, 'You don't want to hear about, talk about or imagine your mama and her sex life. Why the hell you got your drawers all in a bundle about mine?'" He let out a moist chuckle and then quickly looked wistful. "He made me brave, too."
"Wow. What happened to Morris?"
"He died of AIDS. Back before they had all the stuff they have now. I got lucky somehow and didn't get it. But his family was scared of him and they weren't nice. That's why I wanted the last words he heard to be 'I love you.' I must have chanted those three words for more than six hours straight. I'm not kidding you. He was in and out of consciousness but I just kept on. Sip some water and then say it again. And again and again and again."
"I love you, I love you, I love you. I can think of no more beautiful way to make a transition."
"I pictured him hearing my voice and then God taking over with the same words." He looked over at me and smiled. I could tell that he was serious.
"Me, too." And with that my voice cracked and I started full on crying. I sure did. And he handed me his tissue box off of the tray table and I took three pieces. And then we just sat there imagining Morris escaping the pain of horrible stigma and ignorance and not being accepted and advanced AIDS and just feeling free and loved. Following the sound of those three soul-fulfilling words.

I love you, I love you, I love you.

It was perfect, that moment. Perfect in how unexpectedly beautiful and pivotal it was. Every time I imagine him standing vigil over his brave Morris saying, I love you, I love you, I love you, I cry. And it feels good, too, because I know I'm honoring their love and that moment that I had the chance to be introduced to it.

I love you, I love you, I love you.



  1. And now I'm crying too.
    Bless all who love. It is the holy thing.

  2. You made me cry with this beautiful story. That right there is love and I'm so thankful they had each other. And to leave this world hearing those words is a blessing indeed. Thank you.


"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

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