I nicknamed my favorite patient Little Bo Peep. I can explain: her earliest memory was of dancing through the streets of New Orleans during Mardi Gras, dressed as Little Bo Peep. She was 3 at the time, perhaps 4. It was hard for her to remember. Her memory had been “hazy,” she admitted cautiously — worried about how I would take that confession. She admitted a lot of things to me.
Over the course of two weeks, I noticed that we had a lot of shared interests: nail polish (eh, I’ll admit it), German Shepherds, and Russian literature – in particular, Anna Karenina.
She was dying — I think she knew that but I was blinded by my desire for her to live — and nonetheless she took such interest in my life. Carefully spun sentences stitched us closer together. Patients with terminal cancer have a great need for emotional support; I found myself holding her hand as she cried, painting her nails, cleaning her up after she vomited. We spent a lot of time talking – she hated to be alone – and I often told her that she knew me better than anyone else in New Orleans. She didn’t believe me, but it was true.
I was both fascinated and terrified by her disease process.