Reflections on the Death of an Unusual Friend

I was sitting by myself, in a Cracker Barrel restaurant, on Thanksgiving. My favorite family holiday was anything but that in 2011. I was having dinner and writing my first post on this blog. I was in Atlanta, on the job as a private duty nurse for my client who was a quadriplegic. It was the most miserable job I had ever taken, and writing out my misery was comforting.

Scottie was an unforgettable client. She had a diving accident in her early 20’s that ended her career as a flight attendant and changed her life drastically. In fact it changed many lives, because she went through the years having a marked effect upon her family and all her caregivers and friends. Being so vulnerable and helpless was not easy for Mary Scott Stoddard, or Scottie, as we all called her.

I found Scottie’s ad on Craig’s List of all places. I was needing a job to help my daughter Julia through veterinary school and was having trouble finding one. Even though I’d taken a refresher course, the hospital had passed me over and hired new grads instead of older nurses, like me. I was pretty desperate to get something so I went to the interview even though the salary was low, even though she was really wanting an LPN, even though I would have to drive out to Longboat Key to work.

It turned out that she was glad to hire me. She was in the habit of losing nurses, about one a month, and had gone through lots of them. Word was out there about how difficult an employer she was. The nurse who oriented me was an LPN, working on her BSN, and she hardly ever got a day off and even did some nights because there was no one else. It was a pattern I came to expect over the next six years as I became the senior employee who oriented new people.

I could go on at length about what made Scottie a difficult employer, and I did do a lot of venting in my writing. But I have since spent more time being grateful for the unique experience I had in her employ. Where else would my job description have included trapping raccoons, taking carriage driving lessons, and traveling to Nova Scotia? Our many trips to Atlanta and north Georgia were filled with interesting stops and people. We spent time at Bluegrass festivals and the North Georgia fair. We stopped for fresh peaches in the early summer and apples in the fall. She loved music, so we went to concerts. She loved the inter coastal waterway so we went out in her pontoon boat. She shared her Longboat Key cottage with me when I had family come to visit.

Scottie and I had adventures. Getting a quadriplegic with tons of luggage, two wheelchairs and a Hoyer lift on a commercial airline flight was uniquely stressful. Stopping the van on the side of the road to handle a medical emergency with her was uniquely stressful. Spending nights during hurricanes in her home, with water lapping the floorboards beneath my bed was uniquely stressful. The adrenalin rush of unique stress is about the same as the rush during excitement, and the years have blurred the line. I now think of those times as having been exciting.

I think Scottie got used to me praying for her, especially during those times of crisis when we didn’t know what to do. She even began to ask for it, and to do her own praying. And I think she would say that we got a lot of our prayers answered. Scottie died a couple of weeks ago, at her home, on a ventilator, feeding tube and IV’s. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy ending but she was ready to stop suffering.

Today, I know that the difficult years with Scottie provided me with two things. They gave me income to help a daughter through veterinary school, which was the goal at the time. But they also prepared me for the present time with my husband. I would not have had the experience and the confidence to bring him home, had it not been for the things I learned caring for Scottie. His physical care is almost the same as hers was. I could not have foreseen that part, but I believe that God knew and was even then putting things in place to help us through this difficult time.

Thank you God. And thank you Scottie. May you rest in God’s peace.

Talk (write) to me.

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