You were my favorite patient — not just because you looked like Steve Martin, and joked like Steve Martin; not because you were more alive, and not because you were less dead. Nobody leaves our floor, so the Steve Martin types are rare. Each room never fails to contain a new version of an incredibly depressed, shriveled shell of a human being. They’re alive, but they aren’t living. They’re dying, and you can tell the difference just by looking at them.
I walked into your room for the first time with a feeble attempt at enthusiasm. You couldn’t speak, but you’d typed the words that you would’ve said into your iPad. When I walked in, you pressed play and your iPad recited the words.
“Hi,” said your tablet, robotically. “I’m Bill. I’m doing well today.”
I smiled, and told you I was glad to hear that. I moved carefully into small talk, then told you about the blood tests and the other daily procedures I would be doing. You nodded, tried to smile, and typed.
“I’m going to get out of bed by the end of the week,” your iPad said. “I’m very excited.”
I smiled, and tried to think of a nice way to tactfully crush your hopes. None of the patients got out of bed. That’s not why patients are on this floor.
But you smiled, and typed, and proved me very, very wrong. The next week, you’d passed all the checks to be able to get out of bed, and you did pretty well. You didn’t even get annoyed at the fact that the only walker I could find for you released a lousy squeak. As you traipsed down the hallway, each step uttered an elongated whine. You thought that was pretty funny.
As humorous as it was having a squeaky walker, you came up with dozens of other reasons to laugh. Your favorite was the fart app on your iPad. I thought it was almost cute that you could get so much joy from such a childish gag. But after a while, it actually started to annoy me, and that was when you really started to enjoy it.
The other patients on our floor never tried to get out of bed. They never tried to walk. They never found a reason to laugh, or a reason to make me laugh. And every morning, you’d play me a new body of text, riddled with jokes and gags that you’d typed while I was away.
You were my favorite patient — not because you got out of bed, or because you loved life so vibrantly, or because you held life so tightly. When you finally gave up humanity’s typical scraping and clambering for a meaningful existence, you realized that you could live.
You were my favorite patient, because you let go.