I want to tell you about “Nick.” He’s one of my patients. He’s younger than 25 and he has a progressively debilitating neurological disorder that killed his mother when he was very young, and also his aunt.
Nick lives with his father, “Bruce,” in a neighborhood most of us wouldn’t want to visit after dark. Bruce has a very elaborate system of locks and bolts and cages on the door. He wears a gun on his right hip.
If you took away the tragedy of Nick’s impending death, you’d still have horrible poverty and Bruce’s own chronic health problems–and, yes, some of his own bad habits–and his fear that tonight may in fact be the night when someone breaks into the house and steals Nick’s main escape from his personal hell: a flat screen TV.
He loves sci-fi.
From time to time, Bruce tells me about various shootings nearby as if he were talking about the weather.
Nick cannot speak. Diagnosed as a teen, his speech eventually left him. But he communicates very well. His eyes tell you everything. They’re wide open, windows to the soul. He hears and understands perfectly.
If his eyes don’t tell you what you need to know, he answers with a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down. The other day, the social worker told me that Nick communicated he’s afraid to “go to sleep.” So I went to see him. It was rich. We talked about fear and hope, and how God mysteriously is in both, helping us through. I tried to normalize his fears. I told him I get afraid, too.
Bruce told his son that he would one day get to see his mother and get to know her because he didn’t know her hardly at all, way back when.
At some point, Bruce said his son gets on his nerves. I laughed and said to Nick, “I bet he gets on your nerves too.” The thumb went up and he smiled.
Bruce loses a lot of sleep because he’s up in the night helping his son. Every time I visit, I think, “How much does this man have left?” It’s a life on the edge whose edge remains unknown.
Bruce gives so much, and struggles in ways I cannot imagine. He recently pawned the title to his vehicle so he can pay for his son’s funeral. We all tried to persuade him otherwise, but he did it.
Love makes people do funny things.
Bruce can’t imagine getting serious help for his own self, at least not now, because after all there’s Nick, three feet away from his twin bed, wasting away and communicating only with his thumbs and his eyes and his face.