Grady Primary Care, Summer 2018
Her: "Look like I lost a lot of weight over the last 3 years. I guess it's good for my health but I just thought I'd mention it since I ain't been doing nothin' to try."
I clicked into the weight flowsheets in her chart.
Her: “It's been gradual. It's only when I run into somebody who ain't seen me and they say, 'Dang! You lost a lot of weight!' or 'Girl, you look good! What you do?' I don't even have the heart to tell them that I ain't done nothing."
I nodded at my patient—a Grady elder—and, following that prompt, moved back a few years to see what she'd previously weighed.
3 years ago: 228 pounds.
Now: 180 soaking wet.
Me: "Wow. You have lost weight."
Her: "Told you."
I looked up at her and sighed. I mean, yes, she was “up in age” but her screenings were all without evidence of cancer. Her blood work was pristine, too. This was weird.
Me: "You been fasting at church? Or given anything up since then?"
Her: "No, ma'am."
I leaned my chin into my hand and scrolled more.
Me: "Well, you're right that it's gradual. Looks like it started somewhere around 2015.”
Something bad would’ve declared itself in 3 years. But 40 pounds was a lot of weight to be losing without trying.
Her mood and affect were light and normal. Still, I went ahead and did a simple screen for depression which, for the most part, came up negative.
Me: “Changes in your appetite.”
Her: "It's there, but I just don't eat as much these days."
Me: "Why is that?"
She thought for a moment.
Her: "I eat to live now and that's it. But I used to live to eat."
The side of her mouth turned up and some inexplicable emotion washed over her face. She cleared her throat and went on.
Her: "My mother and I used to have dinner together every night. She was a great cook and taught me all she knew."
Her: "When Daddy passed on about fifteen years back, Mother came to live with me.”
Me: *still listening*
Her: “Not 'cause she couldn't do for herself or nothing. Just more because she liked being with people and such. Mother was like that. She liked people and company."
Me: "I get that.”
Her: "Me and my ex-husband had split some time ago. So yeah, it was good for both of us.”
I bit with the obvious question.
Me: "Umm. . . did your mother pass?"
Her: "Yes, ma'am. She went home jest ‘fore Christmas in '14."
Just 'fore Christmas in '14. Hmmmm.
Me: "I'm sorry."
Her: *sigh* "Yeah, baby. Me, too."
Her: "Once Mother moved in, it was just us for a while. We was both up in age so look like we was like the ol' Golden Girls. Sholl was."
Her: "Since she loved cooking so much, we made dinner side by side in the kitchen and ate together every night. Mmm hmm."
She cleared her through a few times to break up the mounting emotion.
Me: “What kinds of things did your mom like to cook?"
She placed her hand on her bosom and laughed hard and deep at that question. Now felt glad I'd asked.
Her: "Chile. Mother liked it all. And see, since she was one of them old school cooks, she knew how to make everything from scratch. But the reason I'm laughing is 'cause later on she got into them ol' cooking channels. Thought she was the Top Chef, chile.”
Her: “Lawd.” *shaking her head* “I mean anythang you name, Mother and me tried it out. Right there in my kitchen."
Her: "And no matter what, Mother had me set that table jest like I did as a girl. And you know? I would."
Me: "Even leftovers?"
Her: "Them, too."
Her: “And Mother believed in eating on your good plates. We ain't never had no china or nethin'. But we had us some nice enough settings and we used 'em every day, me and Mother. We sure did."
She let out a wistful sigh and blinked back tears.
And that? That did me in.
I tried my best to smile at her as the fat tears rolling down my cheeks mirrored the ones that had been sliding down hers. Because now? Now, I got it. I got why this woman, who used to live to eat now only eats to live.
She froze and closed her eyes for a moment.
Her: "So guess it do make sense why my weight fell off, don't it? 'Cause now I just eats to live and that's it."
Me: *touching her forearm*
Her: "Now it look like I jest like to get meals on over with, you know? Keep it simple. Otherwise it make me miss Mother too much."
She looked skyward and shook her head.
Her: *weeping* "Lord Jesus. Mother, I miss you so much. I mean every single day, Lord knows I do."
Me: *whispering* “Take your time."
And you know what? She did. After patting her eyes, she balled her fist and let out a moist cough.
Me: "Wow. She sounds so awesome."
Her: "She was." *smiling* "Mostly I be crying because I'm so grateful we had that time, you know? God ain't have to give us that time."
She emphasized the word "give." Then she shook her head and quickly changed to a nod.
And that was it.