By Joe Novak
“Why me,” he asked, wanting to break the silence, not really expecting a reply. I was there on my weekly visit and at times the conversation would crawl to a stop. Our conversations were about school days and Grovewood Pool and characters from the past. My friend Pat had multiple sclerosis and had been bed ridden for a dozen years; very difficult watching him wither away.
We lost touch for several years after high school, I found him living with his elderly parents; I was stunned to see how MS had ravaged his body, forcing him to spend most of his days in a wheel chair or in bed. His mother walked me to the door as I was leaving and with a tear in her eye thanked me for visiting. “You are the only one of his friends who visits; all his friends have abandoned him,” she sadly exclaimed. When his parents passed, he moved into a nursing facility where he would live out his remaining 24 years.
Pat and I had a lot of history behind us; our friendship went back to grade school, through high school and he was an usher in my first wedding. I am not writing this looking for any accolades for these visits but to encourage you to visit someone bedridden: an old friend, relative, or even someone you barely know. Whenever I would run into Pat’s former friends, I would encourage them to visit, but with little success. Little did they care that an hour with Pat would have made his entire week a joy.
I had been visiting Pat weekly for about 34 years and watched him go from a wheel chair to a bed that he would only leave on rare occasions. It was a heart-breaking scenario. Near the end, I often asked God to free him from his misery, and he finally passed in October 2012.
When a staff or family member would thank me for visiting, I would say; “a cat purrs for its benefit as much as yours.” This meant that I was benefiting from these visits as much as Pat, and in a way most people could not imagine. When leaving the nursing facility, I would get a euphoric feeling, not for any achievement, but for the fact that I could leave a situation I had no control over and on my own power could go do anything my heart desired, knowing Patrick never could.
My visits with Pat made me a very grateful person because I realized that my worst days were a thousand times better than Pat’s best days. I will always be grateful to him for that life lesson. Pat never complained and tried to joke about his situation in an attempt to make lemonade from the lemons life threw at him.
I have always been blessed in life. When I had a stroke, I recovered functionally in two weeks. When I left an unhappy marriage, I found the love of my life, my wife Nettie. When I had no job, God showed me how to build my business and made all the intricate pieces fall into place. So, I must ask, “Why me”?
Joke: Some people say “Life is exercise enough,” I just wish that tossing and turning counted as exercise!