Alice’s No Good Very Bad Day
July 2, 2012
First of all, the hearing aid for her good ear fell from her hands when she was changing batteries, and it broke. The other one isn’t working at all, so the hearing situation is worse than usual.
Next, Celia is still gone. Alice learned from Celia’s son that she’d had to go back to the hospital to be treated for pneumonia. She is now out of the hospital and in a nursing home on the other side of town.
When she entered the dining room for lunch, Celia’s place mat was turned upside down and had been pushed off to the side, a signal to the server not to leave a meal for her. Alice sadly noted it to one of the aides, who told her she had no further information about Celia and did not know if she’d ever come back and couldn’t tell her even if she did know anything.
After she’d sat for a while wondering about her friend, she noticed a woman approaching the table. The woman carried her own place mat. Alice had seen her before and described her to me as “The Woman Who Walks Along and Stares Up at the Ceiling.” The woman sat down in Celia’s place.
Seated, the woman maintained normal eye contact and, thankfully, ignored the ceiling.
Later, Alice would cry on the phone as she related the appearance of this interloper to me, but at lunch she tried gamely to go along with the change. She passed the woman a note, just as she always passed Celia notes. She introduced herself and wrote: “Where are you from?”
The woman wrote back: Portland.
Alice, who always wants a story, felt disappointed. Portland.
Celia was from Portland too, but she’d written long notes about the neighborhood she’d grown up in, her family, friends, and various other people. She wrote little vignettes about the house she’d lived in as a wife and mother, only a few blocks away. She longed for it. One day she wrote about the time she’d heard one of her children crying down the street and she bolted out the side door to see what was the matter. In her rush, she stomped across the fresh cement for the new driveway her husband had just poured, and her footprints stayed in the driveway for forty years and are still there. This is a good detail, as far as Alice is concerned. This is the kind of note she craves.
Alice tried another question for The Woman Who Walks Along and Stares Up at the Ceiling (Except When Seated). “Have you been here at this place long?”
The woman wrote back, “Yes.”
Alice stopped writing questions. On her way back to her apartment, she picked up her mail and when she opened the seat cover of her walker to put the mail inside, the plastic latch snapped and the cover fell part way off. “How will we ever get that fixed?” she wondered. “Do I have to buy a whole new walker?”
“Then,” she continued, “some lady stopped me to ask about Celia, and I could see The Dapper Man was waiting for me down the hall. Waiting, waiting, waiting. When I finally got to him I noticed he was all gussied up, and so I asked if he was taking time off from his gardening, but I couldn’t hear a thing he said and I felt bad about that because he’d been waiting to say something to me and I have no idea what it was. Then I walked 150 steps around the building and fell into my chair when I got back to my apartment. I was so tired. No sooner did I sit down then the maintenance man showed up. He’s filling in for Consuela who has gone to Mexico to see her family. He brought clean sheets and put them on the bed in that crazy way he makes the bed, but he forgot toilet paper and disappeared and hasn’t been back. That was hours and hours ago.”
At dinner time Celia’s chair was again empty. Her place mat was still upside down. The Woman Who Walks Along and Stares Up at the Ceiling came over to Alice and lowered her eyes from the ceiling long enough to say, “They have put me back at my old table. I don’t know why.”
I thought maybe the woman preferred to sit with someone whose hearing wasn’t as bad as Alice’s, so she’d made an appeal to the dining room supervisor, who makes all seating decisions for the residents, and the dining room supervisor had obliged her. Obviously she hadn’t wanted to write notes. But I didn’t say anything to that effect and neither did Alice.
Later, after we’d talked, Alice sent an e-mail recapping some bits of this very bad day. She ended with this: Goodnight from your tired old white-haired mother.
I know she wanted me to smile at that, and of course I did. But truly I don’t know what to do about Celia or the upside down place mat or The Woman Who…etc., or the crazy way the maintenance man makes the bed, or the exhaustion after 150 steps. I don’t know what to do to make Alice’s days better.
What I can do: We have an appointment for the hearing aids. Anybody out there who knows how or where to get walkers fixed, please feel free to make suggestions.