Monday, July 21, 2014

A Catholic & a Buddhist Walk into a Nursing Home Part II: The Special Section


(Continued from Part I)

Having left the woman who had been pleading for death behind, we made our way deeper into the nursing home, in search of the next person on the list. Dazed by our recent experience, we walked in circles in the hallway for a few moments.

My wife sucked up her tears and said, “This isn’t my suffering; it’s hers.”

Together we walked back into the main lobby, where one of my wife’s favorite patients sat in the window, as usual. Her husband who only has one arm sits with her all day and they stare out at the day as if on the cusp of joining it. Despite having dementia, she can be surprisingly lucid and her attitude is always positive and upbeat.  That includes this visit, during which she admitted to having been feeling a bit down the past few days.

She and my wife agreed it was likely due to the abrupt temperature changes we’d been experiencing and more pleasant small talk took place afterwards. Sometimes the husband would chime in with words that didn’t sound quite like words, his bemused expression more distant than that of his wife.  I looked over and saw a woman coming towards us, smiling. She had been at the counter next to us signing in. She was also the daughter of the couple we’d been talking to.

She too had been to church that morning, happily sharing the message she’d heard about monitoring our words and actions when it comes to dealing with others.  She was a positive force in a negative place and, perhaps selfishly, I was grateful for her presence so soon after the woman who’d been pleading with us to let her die.

My wife and the daughter hugged once they’d concluded Communion, both of us still stunned by the revelation that she was 62 years old. We’d thought she was in our age group. And her mother, whose appearance indicated no older than early seventies, is nearly ninety.

We went to the dreaded second floor next, the one with the special section of advanced dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. One lady in particular holds a special place in my wife’s heart because she was one of the first patients she connected with when she first started her ministry and because the woman looks like she could be a relative. She’s been in hospice care for months and comes and goes as far as awareness is concerned. This time she was very aware and very much into taking the host.  I had to stay behind for a few minutes and make sure she didn’t choke before rejoining my wife in the patient lounge.

This was where some of the worst patients were located. Elderly men and mostly women sitting in wheelchairs, staring off into nothing, drooling, spitting. But not all of them.

While my wife was busily doing her best to pray for and with a woman who barely registered her presence, I had gained the attention of a couple old ladies who, shall we say, were in enough possession of their faculties to have the following conversation:

Lady#2- Now that’s what I like right there. Big and tall!

Lady #1- Tell him.

Lady#2- What? No!

Lady#1- Go ahead. Tell him what you like.

Please let this pass, I thought. Please let this pass.

I knew it wouldn’t; I’d had this experience at too many nursing homes in the days my mom was trapped in them to expect any other result except what happened next.

Lady#2 said, “Stop it. You’re crazy!”

Lady# 1 reached over and tapped my arm. I pretended not to understand what she said next, prompting her to repeat herself.

With a raised eyebrow and a smile that was probably sultry when she was younger, Lady#1 said, “She said she likes them big and tall like you.” She leaned in closer. “I like it too!”

I laughed nervously. “Thank you.”

Now she was holding onto my wrist with all her strength which was, surprisingly, pretty impressive.  “Do you have any brothers?” she said.

“No, I’m an only child.”

“You’re an only child?” She glanced over her shoulder and leaned closer to me. “Any cousins?”

The young medical assistant who had let us through the security doors walked over, covered her mouth with her hand, and asked if Lady#1 was bothering me.

“No, she’s fine.” Aside from her aggressiveness, this was nothing new.

“Yep, I have some cousins,” I said.

“You do, huh?” She pulled me in closer. “Well, bring ‘em! Bring ‘em all up here!” She laughed, but not in a way that meant she was joking.

The medical assistant said, “I’m so sorry, sir!”

I forced a chuckle and disengaged my wrist, following my oblivious wife to the next woman, whose dementia was so advanced she had to wear a bib due to periodic spitting. She had no idea what was happening and, after a quick prayer, we moved on to Lady#3.

She was sitting in a wheelchair off the beaten path.  As we approached, she looked up at me and said, “Hello, Father.”

My wife said, “Oh, no. He’s not a priest, he’s my husband. He’s helping me with the Communion. Would you like to take Communion?”

Lady#3, whose eyes had been half shut, seemed to come to life as she looked me up and down. “That’s your husband, huh?”

“Yes,” my wife replied.

“Good-lookin’ man,” Lady#3 replied. “GOOD-lookin’ man. Mmmmm-hmmmmm.”

If I were a Christian, I suppose I’d say the prayer she welcomed afterwards hopefully wiped out the sinful lustfulness in her heart!

Frankly, I was eager to leave what I now saw as the “horny section” of the nursing room. As it turned out, the most emotional experience still awaited us both.

(To Be Concluded)

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