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Take the Long Way Home

As Christmas approaches, I think back to one of my favorite patients. I remember John, smile and “take the long way home.”

John was a quiet 80-year-old gentleman with a wonderful, dry sense of humor. He had developed kidney failure, was on dialysis and needed more care than his wife could manage, so the nursing home was his only option. Our ambulance service provided John with his scheduled transportation to and from the hospital for his dialysis treatments. Although my primary job was EMS education, I also took ambulance runs or helped with the Medi-van when it got busy.

I first met John on a warm spring day in May. On this particularly busy day, I was asked to go to the hospital, pick up the last patient of the day and return him to the nursing home. I found John sitting in his wheelchair in the waiting room. I introduced myself and he replied, “Nice shoes.”

It being casual Friday, I had worn red tennis shoes. We both smiled and I wheeled him out to the van. I secured his chair, then started toward the nursing home, while John looked out the window.

About a block from the nursing home, John turned to me and said, “I think you’re taking me to the wrong house.”

Surprised, I said, “You live at Bethel Home, don’t you?”

He shook his head and told me he lived at Community Home. I looked at my schedule and, sure enough, I was headed to the wrong nursing home.

I sheepishly smiled and said, “Well, I guess we’re just taking the long way home.”

He smiled broadly and said, “Okay, it’s a nice day for a ride.”

When I wheeled him into his room, his wife was waiting, and asked him why he was so late getting home.

John winked at me and said, “Oh, we took the long way home.”

Although I didn’t see John over the summer or fall, every once in a while, he would ask about “the lady with the red shoes who takes the long way home.” About a week before Christmas, one of the EMTs asked if I would do his last pickup so he could get home for a Christmas party. I smiled when I saw the name on the schedule—it was John.

When I arrived at the hospital, John had just finished dialysis. He looked up at me and said, “Nice shoes.”

The dialysis nurse looked down at my black shoes and then at me. As I started to laugh, I managed to say, “Inside joke,” and wheeled John out to the van. I secured the wheelchair in the van, looked John straight in the eye and said, “Shall we take the long way home?”

He simply replied, “Okay, it’s a nice day for a ride.”

It was snowing and just getting dark. As we drove past the Christmas tree in front of the hospital, that silent smile spread across his face. I drove down the main street of town, which was beautifully decorated for the season. I turned the corner and drove by one of the churches that had a large manger scene, then back to the nursing home via one of the decorated residential streets. He never said a word, but that smile never left his face.

When we arrived back at the nursing home, his wife was waiting with her hands on her hips. She stared at us and asked, “Did you two take the long way home?”

We both shook our heads and started to laugh. She took my hand and thanked me; then John pulled me down into a hug and said, “The long way home was beautiful.”

John died two days after Christmas. While I was saddened by his passing, he taught me something very important: Every once in a while, we all need to take the long way home.

Merry Christmas.

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