Another Day at the Nursing Home

Gladys has about had it with aides who talk to her like she's a baby. I don't know what it is about old people that makes young aides talk to them as if they were toddlers. We were in the dining room at the nursing home, sitting at one of the tables with Gladys's nurse, Alice, when an aide called out from another table. "Hey, Gladys, what's my name?"

She said it like she was springing a pop quiz on Gladys and Gladys was supposed to perform like a trained circus dog or a precocious child.

Gladys gave her a hard stare, taking her time, knowing you have to play politics in the rest home or your aide won't help you when you really need it.

"Come on," the aide coaxed. "You know it..."

Gladys knew it all right. She's no dummy.

"Puddintain," she said. "Ask me again and I'll tell you the same!"

Everyone laughed, including Gladys who beamed at the aide as if she, not Gladys, was the dumb child.

In the nursing home, it's all about finesse.

Across the hall, little Sarah started off telling me about her glasses and wound up crying over her husband's death 50 years ago. He died having open heart surgery at a time when it was too new to be safe. "He wanted me to tell him to do it and I wouldn't," she sobbed. "He begged me. He said 'I'm too miserable to live, honey. Tell me I should have the surgery.'" But she wouldn't.

"I just had a bad feel about it," she said, sighing. Tears were running down her withered cheeks, her pain as fresh as yesterday. "He made it out of the operating room but he died before we could get back to see him."

She sniffles into her tissue. "They asked if they could have his heart, to find out what gone wrong." Sarah looked up at me, silently pleading for my approval and understanding. I nodded encouragingly. "That was before my grandsons came along and had the exact same problem and they're alive now."

"You were so brave," I tell her.

Sarah nods. "It was hard, you know. When we buried him, we felt so strange, you know, without his heart being there."

I nod, patting her hand. "But you did it to help and look, those grandsons of yours are alive now."

Sarah nods. "I know." She sighs again.

Then somehow we are off, talking about how she grew up in the mountains where there were no doctors. She giggles. "I didn't know nothin'. We thought babies really came from the cabbage patch. When Mama had a baby, they just sent us off into the woods to play and told us not to come back! Then Daddy come and told us we could come inside if we wanted to see the new baby." Sarah laughs gaily. "I said, 'Baby? What do you mean? Where did the baby come from? I didn't know a thing!"

I think about how brave Sarah had to be to leave home at 14 to move to the Piedmont to help out in her aunt's boarding house, never to return home again. To marry a young soldier, bear his children and lose him before he was even 50 years old, to live on as the matriarch of her family and finally, to brave the world of the nursing home with such grace and good humor.

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