“I’m sorry, Rita, I can’t breathe,” I said when she paused for a moment in recounting her story. “I have to go blow my nose.”
“Yes, I can hear that. It’s okay,” she said, reassuringly. In the many months I’d been seeing her, this type of interruption had never before occurred. Her movements painfully crippled by osteoarthritis, Rita couldn’t clear her own nose.
I went into her bathroom and pulled off wads of toilet tissue, blowing until the air flow returned. I could see her patient reflection in the mirror as I did this, but I was grateful she wasn’t watching me.
Sitting down, I apologized for the disruption to our session.
“That’s okay. It’s natural. We’re all human.” She paused. “When I first got here, I was so embarrassed by people having to take care of me. It was terrible.” She closed her eyes and shook her head slightly. “One time, the doctor had to look at my behind. I was turned on my side and completely exposed. When the doctor saw me closing my eyes, he said, ‘Rita, it’s okay, I’m the doctor. You can open your eyes.'”
“You were trying to hide, to protect yourself.”
“I wanted to disappear. But the doctor, he was very kind.”
“They see these things all the time. It’s hard to get used to the lack of privacy, though.”
“Yes. But what choice do you have?”