Elissa Ely: Talking Sports ... Or Not

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(Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images)
(Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images)

Mr. Jones and I are talking sports. He spends all day in his group home watching them on TV. I never watch, never read and have no distinguishing tastes in sports. Still, we’ve been meeting for 10 years, every eight weeks — no sooner, no later — to talk about them.

Sports are his life, we always talk about them, but not today.

Elissa Ely

There are many things we don’t talk about: the psychiatric medications the court requires him to take; how, once a year, he stops eating and drinking and speaking and needs to be hospitalized; the secret messages he receives that drive his annual starvation.

Mr. Jones has been smoking since he was a teenager. Today, the group home calls before our appointment. His emphysema has become end-stage, and he’s started using 24-hour oxygen. He’s also failed the fire drills. It’s not safe anymore for him in the group home. Though he has no family and has lived there for a decade, he’ll need to be moved to a nursing home. It’s like a death before a death.

In my office, Mr. Jones holds his portable oxygen canister like a new baby. It just so happens there’s been something in the news lately about a left-handed pitcher. I don’t know details, but I know how to punt.

“How about the left-handed pitcher, huh?” I say.

Mr. Jones looks at me.

“I don’t want to talk about sports,” he says. “I want to ask you a question.”


“I want to know,” he says, “how you’re going to think about me?”

Oh, Mr. Jones, after the little death and the big death, I’m going to think about you with affection and respect, and also with awe, because I never really understood you.

“I’m going to think about you with affection and respect,” I say.

“Ah,” he says. “Could you call my ride now?”

“Should I make another appointment? “

“Oh yeah,” he says. “Eight weeks.”

Sports are his life, we always talk about them, but not today. We always shake hands when Mr. Jones leaves, too. But this time, he’s carrying his oxygen canister…and so much more.

Elissa Ely is a psychiatrist in Massachusetts.

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This segment aired on September 20, 2014.


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