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Rosie and the Moth
How an old womansuperstitious and wisedied
as she lived.
By Rita Mariotti
I received a call at my seashore hideaway
to come home because my oldest and longest-living patient needed me. I
have been retired from medicine for several years after a 40-year career
in family practice. Rosie, my brothers mother-in-law, had been my
patient for 46 years, approaching me for advice when I was still a medical
student. She trusted what I said because I was a family member, and because
I understood Italian. Rose emigrated from Calabria in 1935 with deeply
embedded Old-World ideas of medicine: You did not visit a doctor unless
you were seriously ill; you went to a hospital to die.
Rosie continued to call me her doctor after I was licensed to practice
medicine. My services to her were free, and I never pushed her into decisions
with which she disagreed. She respected me, and I her. Rosie came to my
office only on rare occasions, usually at the insistence of her family.
In all the years I treated her, Rosie never took any medication (even
if I prescribed it). She was never hospitalized; perhaps that is why she
lived to be 100.
Rosie lived alone in South Philadelphia
and visited her daughter and my brother frequently at their home in New
Jersey. She was an independent, hard-headed Italian woman. Banks were
not to be trusted, so she carried her life savings in a small handbag,
which she usually clutched against her and always kept within sight. On
and off public transportation, up and down narrow streets, her mobile
personal bank was a constant companion.
She ate in moderation, and kept to a
predominantly vegetarian diet. My brother owns a grocery-butcher shop,
and he supplied all her food needs free of charge. Her major expense was
wine. She drank at least a gallon a week. This habit caused the occasional
need for my medical serviceher injuries from falls due to loss of
perception from excess drinking. I would patch her up, advise her to drink
less, but never stopped her consumption. She appreciated this, and I feel
certain the wine contributed to her longevity.
When I arrived at my brothers
home, Rosie was seated in the chair she had staunchly refused to leave
for three days, ignoring family pleas to go to bed. Her legs were markedly
swollen, and she smelled of excreta. She had stopped eating and asked
for only sips of wine and water. I knew she was in congestive heart-failure;
she knew the end was near, but continued to fight death. I firmly offered
her the choice of hospitalization or bed rest at home. She chose the latter,
but whispered to me that she would never walk again.
Clean and comfortable, Rosie lay in
bed surrounded by a loving, caring family. No invading tubes entered or
exited her body. We heard no screams of pain from injections and blood
tests, as none were done. She chose to end her long life refusing medical
assistance as she had done all her life.
I visited her daily, offering support
in lieu of the treatment she refused. She weakened each day and died quietly
and in dignity five days later as she slept. Her handbag lay with-in view
throughout her illness, and the day before she expired she told her daughter
it belonged to her now. The only interest the contents ever paid was the
probable assurance of an old-fashioned Italian-style funeral.
Rosie had always said the Angel of Death
appeared as a moth. It was a story the family enjoyed and laughed at.
We were not prepared for the shock that confronted us when we went into
the living room after I had pronounced her dead. On the inside of the
screen door, a large black moth was desperately trying to find a way out.
We shook our heads in amazement, then opened the door to allow the moth
the freedom to fly toward the sky.
Dr. Rita Mariotti CW52 last wrote for the Gazette in
May 1998 about her experiences as a young doctor working in Kentuckys
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