8/12/2008

Tuesday's at the Nursing Home- Hearing Voices

I am sitting in the dining room of the nursing home, listening to a woman who hears God's voice.

"When I lived on the steps, He healed me without the drugs. I try to tell them here but they are bad people. They don't believe me," she says. "God fixed me, two times. You tell them- if I am bad they can give me pills again and I will take them."

Anna rocks back and forth in her seat, a tiny Vietnamese refugee committed by the courts to live in the nursing home after repeated involuntary hospitalizations in the state hospital. She is only a few years older than me, a lone dark-hair amidst a sea of gray heads.

Behind us, a few feet away, an elderly woman with Alzheimer's sits in her wheelchair, parked at an empty table. She stares blankly out the huge, plate-glass window, her mouth frozen into an astonished "O" that makes me wonder what, if anything, she sees.

"There are bad people here," Anna says. "They are Muslim. Muslim bad. God wants me to go to Canada." She wrings her thin, bony fingers. Her eyes well up with tears. "He has work for me there, maybe, but I don't know."

At a nearby table, a fat aide in fuchsia-colored scrubs glances up at us and I realize a lock of her hair has been dyed to match her uniform.

"Very bad people here," my patient says, frowning. "Muslim. They put heroin in my shots."

A few more attendants wander in. Some off-duty friends arrive, one toting a toddler, and the noise in the room swells.

"I can't hear God's voice in this place," my patient cries.

Her agitation increases with the volume. The thick scent of ham and over-cooked, frozen vegetables coats us in a thick, left-over fog. Sound echoes off the beige cinder-block walls.

"This place is bad for my religion. I hear about people losing their faith. I didn't think it could happen to me but it is. I need to hear God's will for me. You have to do something!"

Anna's soft voice is swamped by a child's delighted shrieks. Acoss the room, the little girl's mother flings her daughter high and spins in a careening circle in the middle of the dining room. I catch my breath, certain the reckless woman will lose her grip and send the little girl crashing down onto the shiny tile floor.

I brace myself for the sickening crunch of bone hitting linoleum.

"At the hospital they offer me job, on the mental unit," Anna says, unaffected by the potential drama about to play out behind her. "It pay one hundred, fifteen hundred, I don't remember," she says in broken English.

I marvel at the woman's ability to block out the noise of the rowdy crowd behind us. And then it occurs to me-

Of course Anna doesn't notice a room full of distracting voices- In Anna's world, someone is always talking.

3 comments:

luckypennies said...

This is a beautiful moment, an eye of quiet in a world stormed and clouded by confusion, noise, and the inability to hear God's voice in our everyday lives. Thank you so much for sharing it.

Beth said...

Nancy, I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your Tuesdays at the Nursing Home series. Your posts are sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, and always poignant. Wonderful writing---thanks.

Nancy said...

Thanks, Ariel and Beth, that means the world to me, especially coming from such a cool Mama and daughter duo! Sometimes I wonder if I'm not turning people off by telling such often sad stories, but your affirmations keep me at it. Thank you both so much!