This was taking longer than I usually wait. He then had to get through to her the cigarettes he wanted. She offered him three or four various brands because he refused to indicate but insisted on explaining in gabble. By this time, I had decided that he presumed he was being clear of speech and she was deliberately misunderstanding.
He grew louder and louder as he became more frustrated. Finally she showed him a pack that suited him. She then wanted him to come back to the register to pay for the goods he taken there with him. No matter what she said, he refused to go back to the checkout.
By this time the line behind me was filling. People were staring and beginning to mumble. I said to her, “Indicate with your hand what you want him to do. Make a beckoning movement.”
She did so and he completely lost his temper. I thought he was possibly the victim of a stroke. People who have strokes think they are speaking normally when they’re not. He was so angry that he was scary. He was waving his arms around and yelling. One of the guys who often works at the checkout finally came over.
We were all a bit scared by this time, but the moment the customer saw a male he calmed down and spoke in a normal tone, but still not with words. Another checkout woman took his money at the cigarette counter and added it to the total on the checkout. All was calmed, but I was a little perturbed that the customer was close to violence with the female checker but wouldn’t consider the same reaction with a male.
I’ll never know what his problem was but one of the first stroke victims I nursed was very like him. He would go into violent rages with all the nurses except me. I was never mean to him like the others. I never left him uncovered or without reachable food, and I always stayed patient when he got stroppy. His impatience was understandable when everything he said was gibberish and he couldn’t do anything without the aid of someone else.
It got to be that he was always ‘my’ patient when I was on duty. Sometimes I think I saw the suspicion of a smile on his face when I talked to him, and some days I talked my head off. That was because by and large he was left on his own unless he rang his bell. I told him jokes and stories about the other patients he couldn't see. I even told him I was in love with his doctor.
By the time he had a second stroke and died, we were firm friends. He did jokey things in a grumpy way and he made me laugh. I cried when he died. I was the only person who did. I don’t remember him having any family.
That man today – I wish I could have helped. Everyone did but we couldn’t. No one was judging him. The line was hushed with empathy. Sad, really, when people want to help but don't know how.