Angus and Ellie

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You wouldn’t necessarily expect a lot of laughter in a dialysis unit. But where my husband goes for his treatments (a small, four-chair room in the hospital), staff and patients alike become close, with a fair amount of shared banter between them – and Angus and Ellie were a real comedy team, there. They weren’t hired in for entertainment; Ellie was a patient, and Angus is a volunteer driver who regularly brought her to dialysis.

Fair warning: Ellie will not make it to the end of this article. But I want you to know her, even though she is gone.

When Sem first started dialysis here Up North he was on the same “shift” as Ellie, though she came in more often, attending every weekday for two hours rather than the standard thrice-weekly four-hour sessions. Ellie’s dialysis chair was in the corner of the room facing the door where she could watch all that was going on – and comment on it in her inimitable way. In her 50s, she was small in stature and large in personality and while she often had her eyes closed, she missed nothing.

In those early days when we still lived too far from the hospital for me to go home during Sem’s dialysis, I would stay to see him settled in before heading to the hospital cafeteria to wait out the hours. I’d nod and smile at the other patients when I came in to the room, but didn’t want to intrude. After a few weeks, though, Ellie would have none of that. “Come here and say hello,” she’d demand, so I would obediently go over for a wee chat. When her session was over the nurse would pull the curtain around, and a few minutes later Ellie would emerge, limping slightly on her way to the outer room where Angus waited for her. What I didn’t notice at first was that she had prosthetic legs. In my defense, she was always under a blanket during dialysis, and any time I saw her walking or in a wheelchair it looked like she had legs, so… Oh, hush. I’ll never make it as a detective, okay? Anyway one day, after she’d gotten to know us a bit, she gestured to her prosthetics leaning against the wall (yeah, I hadn’t noticed them either!) and said, “You don’t mind, do you?” We said of course not and from then on the nurse just handed her the prosthetics without the curtain-pulling, first. Blanket off, legs on, and out she went. Angus would be waiting nearby with a wheelchair (the walk to Angus was short; the distance to the van, rather longer), usually barking, “Come on, woman, I haven’t got all day!” while Ellie said goodbye to the patients, nurses, and me, ignoring Angus completely. She’d make him wait for her while she had a sneaky cigarette once she got outside, looking equal parts naughty and gleefully rebellious. “Can’t be much worse than I already am,” she once said with a laugh, waving her cigarette defiantly.

Angus is a beefy, cheerful mountain of a guy. He’s so tall he generally looks straight out over my head as if looking down to my short height would give him a crick in his neck; despite this, he is a warm sort of person, kind and humorous. He used to be on the Lifeboat crew, so I’m not surprised that in his retirement he volunteers to help people in a different way, by driving the “rural transport” van. It’s not just for patients; they will take elderly and/or disabled people shopping or to visit friends, or to medical appointments and so on. It’s a great service, which we are lucky to have.

Angus and Ellie always gave each other a hard time, squabbling like siblings. “You know the first time I took Ellie home,” he said to me once while she was captive in her dialysis chair, “it was before I had the van. She was in the front seat of the car with me and by the time I’d brought her home she was leaning against my shoulder, snoring and drooling.” Ellie spluttered in mock outrage while Angus glanced down woefully at his shoulder as if expecting to still find a drool-patch there, all that time later.

Ellie had a wicked, playful sense of humor. One afternoon I was in the waiting room with Sem’s daughter when Ellie came in and struck up a conversation with her. Asking where she worked, Ellie said, “Oh! Do you know Susan, she works at the desk there.” Sem’s daughter replied that she did, her expression making it clear that Susan was not anyone’s favorite person. Ellie, nodding, said, “She is a bit of a cow, isn’t she?” Sem’s daughter laughed and agreed, and Ellie immediately said with perfect timing and a straight face, “Susan is my sister.” Sem’s daughter was mortified. Ellie let her squirm for a moment before her laughter got the better of her. “That was terrible of me, oh I am sorry but I couldn’t resist. Not to worry – I can’t stand her either. We’re like chalk and cheese, me and Susan!” (Note: it’s exactly the kind of prank Sem’s daughter would play, so she found it very funny, once she recovered!)

Then there was the day when I came in to see Sem and noticed Angus, hot on my heels, brimming with mischief. Ellie caught sight of him and hollered, “Och on you go, Angus, I know you cannae WAIT to tell Bev what happened!” Everyone else in the room started laughing, having heard the tale already (while I wondered who Bev was). Angus, grinning, said to me, “I caught Ellie in her nightie this morning! She overslept! You should’ve seen her, what a state she was in!” Ellie started protesting vociferously: Angus had been early, her alarm clock hadn’t gone off, there must have been a power outage, it wasn’t her fault! But it was easy to see she’d been caught out and she knew it. Angus went on to describe Ellie in her nightie, hair standing on end, scrambling to get herself together while he waited – with saintly patience, of course. She grumbled good-naturedly, muttering, “You just couldn’t WAIT to tell everyone about it, could you!” Angus beamed.

A week or so later I met them on their way out. Ellie thumped the arm of the wheelchair and hollered, “Stop!” Not knowing if she meant me or Angus, I stopped. She fixed her bright eyes on me and said, “I’m going to ask you something and you have to tell me the truth: is your name Bev?” Angus was grinning hard, behind her. Stifling my own grin I shook my head no and told her my name. Angus burst out laughing while Ellie looked at me askance. “Deb? DEB?! Why didn’t you tell me?! HE just told me today that your name wasn’t Bev, but I didn’t believe him. Good lord I’ve been calling you Bev for months!” Until the caught-in-her-nightie story, I’d had no idea she’d thought my name was Bev. Angus gleefully crowed, “I TOLD you, you should have believed me,” as Ellie shook her head in amused disbelief.

The last time I saw Ellie, Angus was wheeling her through the hospital on their way out. I hadn’t seen her in a while and to my surprise she was almost completely bald, with just a tiny amount of stubbly hair growing in. Ellie said archly, “Aren’t you going to say anything about my new hairdo?” Oh jeez… You never really know what to say in those situations, do you? I feared the worst – was she undergoing chemotherapy on top of everything else? I lamely said that it suited her, and – too late! – saw her face light up with that mischievous sparkle. “I decided to do that ‘brave the shave’ thing for charity,” she said. “I didn’t want to make a big public ‘thing’ out of it, so I just asked people to sponsor me, and my husband shaved it all off at home.” That was just like Ellie, doing something kind but without fuss. She turned her head to the side a little bit. “Have a look at the back and tell me what you think.”

I stepped around behind her and was confronted with huge blue cartoon eyes complete with long Bambi eyelashes, staring at me from the back of Ellie’s shorn head. She shook with laughter at my reaction. “I had a friend draw them on. Just because I have no hair on my head at the moment,” she said cheerfully, “doesn’t mean I have to look boring!” Oh, Ellie. No one could ever, ever accuse you of being boring!

It wasn’t long after that when Sem told me in shock one Monday after dialysis that Ellie had died. It was utterly unexpected. On the Friday before, she’d been her usual cheerful self. “She died on Saturday night,” Sem said, his voice thick with grief. “Everyone is devastated. I can’t believe she’s gone.” We never knew why she died, but one of the nurses later told Sem that there was more wrong with Ellie than she let on. Even so, no one really saw it coming. Ellie’s husband was crushed and lost, and for those who shared the dialysis ward with Ellie, things were never the same.

She’s been gone for about two years now, and we still talk about her. Angus is his usual friendly self, but some of his spark has dimmed. He undoubtedly misses his sidekick, his partner in laughs and his friend. We miss her, too.

So why am I telling you about Ellie, when she has been gone for so long already? I guess because the Ellies of the world deserve to be known. To most people she would’ve been just another patient among the multitude. But Ellie was special. She was all of those things that you’d want as part of your day; a breath of fresh air, a ray of sunshine, an ally, a friend, and just a little bit of a naughty troublemaker. She was feisty and she was brave and she always left us smiling.

When I think of Ellie I first feel a gut-punch of sadness because she is gone, but it’s always followed immediately by a lightening of the heart, a smile forming on my lips before I’m even aware of it. She left a big empty space in our hearts, but it’s a space which echoes with laughter and good-natured banter. We are so very lucky to have known her!

Deb Segelitz
Deb Segelitz was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and is astounded to find herself living in the Scottish Highlands, sharing life with her husband, a Highlander she stumbled across purely by chance on a blog site. They own a small business restoring and selling vintage fountain pens, which allows Deb to set her own schedule and have time for photography, writing and spontaneous car rides in the countryside. She is grateful to the readers of ANC for accepting her into the North State fold.
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20 Responses

  1. Avatar Erika Kilborn says:

    So now I am sniffling over a woman I never met. But you brought her to life here and that is a miracle in itself. Thank you for introducing us to Ellie.

  2. Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

    Who is cutting onions in here?

    This tribute to Ellie is marvelous and sad and wonderful and just from your description I feel like I’ve met her. And now she no longer lives on in the people who met her, but she has a different kind of immortality online with people she never met.

    She sounds like a real card and I’m sorry she’s gone. But thank you for introducing her to us, in a way no one else ever could.

  3. Avatar Amy Curran says:

    As always, your writing has drawn me into the story you are telling. Thank you for introducing us and paying tribute to a special person who made the hard parts of life more bearable.

  4. Avatar Cathy says:

    Thank you so much for sharing Ellie with us, Deb.

  5. Avatar erin friedman says:

    As I approach 60, I am consistently reminded that we are all going to be gone, eventually. But we can leave lovely memories behind – Ellie certainly did. Thanks for giving us a peek at her delightfully mischievous persona. “Leave ’em laughin’ when you go”

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed ‘meeting’ Ellie. She reminds me, always, to try to be the kind of person who will be missed when I’m gone.

  6. Deb, I am glad you warned us at the beginning of the impending sad ending, but even so, the tears flowed. What a beautiful piece of writing about extraordinary people in seemingly ordinary settings. And what a lovely tribute and reminder about the joys of taking time to connect with people no matter what the journey. Thank you, dear Deb. xod

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      Thank you, Doni, I’m glad Ellie is touching people’s hearts. I definitely did not want to go forward without a warning, at the start of the column. That’s just not fair to readers, so I figured it was better to let people know up front.

      As I sit here writing lists, getting ready to pack for a planned hospital stay for Sem this week, I keep trying to remind myself to be the kind of person who leaves people better off than how they started, if at all possible. And that includes trying not to moan and groan to Sem about how difficult these next few days will be, because they will be far more difficult for him than for me. So I’m trying to channel a little bit of Ellie, this week, and be a force for good. xo

  7. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    The story is mostly about Ellie, but I feel like I got to know Angus as well. Quite a pair of characters!

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      I’m glad! Angus is a wonderful character in his own right. I was sitting with him once in the waiting room and he nudged me and said, “I had a great meal in your former village last night.” “Did you,” said I, and he grinned and said, “Well, we were there after going to see the football… so it was my wife that told me I had a great meal. I don’t remember a thing.” Heh!

  8. Avatar Candace says:

    What a lovely and bittersweet well-told tribute to remarkable friends both past and present. This brought back a memory of a young man I met in a cancer support group (he had a brain tumor). Typically the group meetings would begin with going around the circle with the polite “How are you?” “I’m fine” stuff. When that was over with this young man would say “ Ok, now tell me, how the f***k are you?” He was a breath of fresh air and from your description I think he’d have fit right in with Angus, Ellie and the rest of the group. You remind me to remember, notice and appreciate the absolute gems of people (including you and your Sem) who were and are still very much among us. Thank you for this.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      Oh I love that story, Candace! That young man must have given a few people a smile with his no-nonsense question once the ‘formalities’ were over. Thank you for sharing this story, you’ve made me smile tonight.

  9. Avatar Janet Williams says:

    Oh Deb, your stories are such gifts. My heart is full.

  10. Avatar Barbara Stone says:

    It really says something about a person when, two years after their death people are still enjoying their stories!