Dec 11, 2011

Life, Interrupted

I carefully walked into the big house. I had come to volunteer at a nursing home without an inkling of what I would find. Grant, the head nurse who happened to be a guy, was friendly to me. He suggested that I play cards with some of the inmates. Sandy and Patty both greeted me with a smile; they were probably used to having visitors.

“Is it cold outside?” Sandy asked, looking at my jacket. With the first impression of their secluded life, I replied affirmatively. “Danny and I live just around the corner,” Sandy introduced herself. “I used to say when I lived there, that when I get out of here, I won’t go very far. And I didn’t get much farther than around the corner...,” she laughed.

Patty mentioned that her daughter had a developmental disability, and she herself had ten different diseases. She said she couldn’t live at home because someone took away her apartment, and her boyfriend’s check was late. She had an oxygen pipe going through her nose. Sandy followed suit soon, talking about her two daughters, how she put a rope in the middle of their room to divide their territories because they fought so much. Her husband Danny was gruff, and didn’t even respond to my hello. The conversation turned to why Sandy and Danny were there. “I was at a hospital and then went back home. We thought we could manage on our own, but we lasted a total of six days. They brought us here as we couldn’t take care of ourselves, he kept falling over…” Sandy wiped a tear from her eyes. She had a pipe coming out of her back.

“Yeah, you come in here, you see a lot of interesting things,” said Patty, to lighten up the situation. “I am winning this game,” I said in a bid to steer the conversation. We were playing cards, and I had a lucky hand. Danny apparently didn’t think much of it. “Beginner’s luck!” he boomed, and we laughed.

Soon they were speaking to me in conspiratorial whispers. “There’s that lady down the hall, who is always yelling and screaming: Turn off the light, turn off the light!” Patty said in her nastiest voice. “Yesterday she came in and switched off the lights in this room. She lives halfway down the hallway, it doesn’t even bother her,” Sandy chimed in.  “And sometimes she even goes down the hallway with her potty bowl, naked!” Patty added. Right on cue, I heard her yelling “Turn off the light, turn off the light!”

 “There’s a guy who always says: Now I gotta start that truck” said Sandy.  I asked why that was. “He is confused,” they were all quick to defend him. “There is a woman” Danny suddenly spoke up. “That always says tomorrow my mother is coming to visit me. And the man next to her says, listen, if your mam visits you then I’m outta here because your mam is 140 years old.” “The woman is 94 years old” Sandy explained. This was one woman I felt really sorry for, waiting for her long dead mother to visit her.

 From time to time, they gave a running commentary for my benefit. “There comes our snack cart,” said Patty, and a woman handed them their snacks of choice--crackers, granola, and peach. Patty also told me that Sandy’s delicious looking chocolate milk actually had protein shake in it. I asked Sandy if it tasted good, and she grimaced. “In the morning she gets it with tomato juice, and you should see her face then,” Patty laughed. “I am just taking it to so that I can get better, and can go back to my life again.”  This was a woman 64 years old!

Later, I would meet some of the characters from their whispers. The guy who wanted to start a truck ambled in. He was in a wheelchair, and looked lost. “What are you doing, Bob?” Sandy asked him. Bob mumbled incoherently for a long time. “I am fixing the toilet,” he finally said in a barely audible whisper. “But you did that yesterday,” Sandy reminded him. “Did I...?” Bob was very childlike. Eventually he went away as confused as he had come.

Patty called her family and we heard her yelling on the phone. Later, she discussed the events with Sandy. “My boyfriend didn’t come to see me because his father had a car accident two days ago and he had to go to a chiropractor,” she relayed. “Why is he telling you so late?” asked Sandy. “Yeah, I know, that’s what I told them; don’t forget that I am here.”

Somewhere along the way Sandy managed to tell me that she and Danny had been married for 50 years. “I tolerate him,” she said with a laugh. “It’s the other way around, actually” Danny said with a rare smile. “You can tell, can’t you?”  Sandy immediately turned to me. Patty added that she had been with the same man for 17 years. Larry walked in, and I asked him about his married life.  “I tried marriage, twice, and didn’t like it,” he replied. “I have a daughter, she never visits me. I have two brothers, they never visit me either.  I’ll probably die a lonely man, and I don’t care!”

Suddenly, everything that I had always feared was staring me in the face. I was scared of being forgotten by my family like Patty, of dying lonely like Larry, of losing my memories like Bob, and I was scared of spending my last days waiting for the visit of someone long dead.  But I also found a lot of inspiration and love. Strangely, these were the people who spoke the clearest English, and understood me perfectly, never asking me to repeat anything. They were so well spoken, and perfectly sane in every other way but their illness. And most of all, I was inspired by their optimism and their will to go back to the life they once had despite being so ill!


ranman said...

Great article!Inspirational to me...pls keep on writing more Sewa.

Anonymous said...

Articulate and well written except for what seems an incomplete and unsatisfying finish.
The use of the term "inmates" which is a 'prison' term, is I think ill advised as it sounds less than respectful and is not used in nursing homes or mental health facilities. A better choice might be "residents" or even "patients".
Please continue writing as you obviously have much of value to say.

sewa said...

thank you for feedback, anonymous, i will definitely be more careful in the future

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