How many times do we hear that people who torture us are truly tortured themselves? They are in so much pain that they lash out like an injured animal.
We tend to strike back. We call them bad, evil.
This is a natural human reaction.
It’s crazy difficult to deal with a mean abusive person.
We do want to fight back, punish them, isolate them, flee from them.
The idea that they are in pain never occurs to us. Why would it? They’ re thrashing around throwing pain on us.
We would have to be extra-big and stretch ourselves to see their pain when they are torturing us.
When I was a young nurse, the meanest woman I ever met demonstrated what I am still processing to this day. (Still trying to “get it,” instead of getting revenge.)
I think of her sometimes when somebody is super-difficult.
“Lily” had liver cancer and was the orneriest patient ever. (She still holds the record, in my book.)
In 1979 her hospital stay was several weeks long. (This was before insurance companies tightened up and shortened hospital stays.)
Lily was a hellion. We frequently had to rotate the assignment to take care of her.
She yelled loud and long. Sometimes she incessantly called out her dead sister’s name, begging her for help.
When we entered the room, she screamed louder but had no specific request.
We would try to calm her down, but it was a struggle.
Our efforts made no difference.
She screamed all the louder when we came in to take care of her.
No matter how many times we showed her the call button, she refused to use it.
She wanted to yell.
If you came close to her bed, she would pinch you and hang onto your flesh like a crab.
Although her fingers were immensely strong, the rest of her was weak.
She needed to be lifted and moved, pivoted to the chair. She was dead weight.
She was capable of feeding herself, but she preferred to throw food on the walls, the windows, the floor. So we fed her every meal.
The whole time we spent with her, she fussed and fumed, one expletive after another, accusations tumbling out.
Nothing was ever done right, according to her.
Even after you did it her way, it was still wrong.
As hard as we tried, she remained sour on every little detail.
Of course, we tried to take her anger in stride. She was ill. She was slightly demented (even though the look in her eye seemed sharp and clear).
She couldn’t be held responsible.
Still, it was difficult to deal with her. Try giving care to a cruel one who pinches you every time you get within arm’s length.
We did put mittens on her eventually. That was a stroke of genius. (A special order, in those days.)
Every shift I spent with her, I felt totally drained by the end of the day.
She sucked us dry.
She would scream to get us into her room, then keep us busy with her latest mess. She invented new ways to keep us there. And all the time complaining and insulting us.
One day she crooked her finger at me to bring me in closer.
I didn’t want to get pinched, but I leaned in slightly.
She seemed to want to tell me something.
“Com’ here,” she said, crooking her finger. “C’ mere. C’ mere,” until I came very close to her face.
“Listen,” she said, acting like she wanted to whisper in my ear.
I bent down even closer, surprised that she had a secret for me.
In my ear she said, “Child, why are you so ugly?”
Then she smiled big at me as if she’d scored.
That was the first smile I ever saw on her.
Her tactics began to evolve from sheer insult to humorous insult.
Something was happening.
While we persisted, working to keep her clean and keep her moving, while we spoon-fed her and stayed at the bedside, her attitude was turning.
We would fluff her and puff her, make her smell powder-fresh.
We would sit her in the chair even when she refused.
She became our grumpy mascot.
We brought her out to the nurses’ station.
She still yelled, but not as often.
Our unit clerk, who had not endured the earlier insults, began to compliment her. “You look so nice today. You smell great.”
We all caught on and began throwing her compliments.
The more often we made such remarks, the happier she became.
She quit pinching and gave us soft little pats as we walked by.
What a miracle we witnessed.
Despite all her nastiness, we were able to show her the beauty of herself.
It was this that helped her turn.
Our persistent kindness finally overpowered her darkness.
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(Thanks to Gerd Altmann of Pixabay for this image.)