Recently my mom has been staying at St. Joseph's Care Center, a nursing
facility up with the group of various medical facilities at Sacred Heart
Hospital. The doctors recommended that she stay there for a while after
her recent surgery where she would be closely monitored and where there
was a staff of professionals to take care of the various things that were
needed for her care.
It's a nice place. Not the nicest in the area, perhaps (I saw a nursing
facility yesterday that had a garden that looked like a drawing of our
common version of heaven), but St. Joseph's seems to be well-run and
as with all of those type places the most important thing is really the
staff — and St. Joseph's seems to have a good staff.
My mom has been there since last Friday as is expected to stay a couple
of weeks. She is doing pretty well, though she's still not up and about
much. My sister and me visited her there last Friday and yesterday.
Mostly it was just my mom sitting on the bed, and us next to it, talking.
Yesterday, though, we did put her in the wheel chair for a bit and take
her for a tour of the center — she was kind of out of it when she first
arrived and really hadn't seen much of it. The facility has two large
recreation rooms for the patients who want to use them, one on each
floor. I was drooling over their big, plasma TVs, swearing that I was
going to find some way to take one home with me. Then there was Hot
Pam (as I called her), a really nice blonde who works at the nurse's
station on my Mom's floor. I was sort of hoping I could take her home
with me, too.
The various patients at the center get around in their wheelchairs and
travel around the facility as they are able. During our little tour yesterday
we came across an old woman in one of the recreation rooms who had fallen
asleep in front of the piano. Then I saw one guy there who couldn't have
been much older than me — I found myself wondering what exactly was wrong
with him that he should be there and what his story was. On our first visit,
a woman caught me siting in my Mom's room and wanted me to push her
wheelchair back to her room. So I got up to do that. By the time I was out
in the hallway pushing her, one of the staff showed up and took over and
took her back to her room.
Yesterday I noticed a white board in the hallway. It simply had dates
and names on it — "11/9 Mary Smith" for example. It was a list of those
who had died at the facility so far that month. There were four names on
the list. I didn't know any of them, of course. But I might have. They are
people who lived their lives here on this planet, probably got married and
had families, who had friends and families and careers. And then they got
old. And sick. And somehow, they ended up at the last at St. Joseph's.
To be honest, I found it depressing. It wasn't the death part — all men
are mortal. It was the fact that so many of them where of an advanced
age and so infirm. Not exactly the Golden Retirement years they always
tell you about.
But there was one thing — one man — who lifted me out of that. His
name, I found out later, is John. I had noticed him on our first day
there. He was sitting in a wheelchair in the hallway, dressed in street
clothes. His chair was turned toward the wall and pressed up close to
it. With his left hand he put his fingertips up to the wallpaper just
above the chair-high floral pattern, on the main gold-colored portion,
and felt the paper. He would move his fingers in a small, circular way
clockwise over the wallpaper. He seemed quite keen on doing this,
remote from the rest of the world. He seemed strangely content.
When we showed up yesterday, I ran into John on our way in. There he
was again, sitting in his wheelchair, his fingertips to the wall, feeling
the wallpaper. I was glad to see him. And for some reason I was glad to
see him back at his activity.
We visited with our Mom, and at one point the cleaning person came in.
Since I was sitting on the seat of my Mom's walker in front of the bed
and was rather in the way, I decided to get out of the room for a bit
to let her clean. So I unlocked the brakes to the walker and, sitting
in it, when out into the hallway. I had the walker pretty much against
the wall, out of the way of passing staff and wheelchairs.
I sat there for a minute or two. Then I noticed the wallpaper on the
wall just beside me. I thought about John. I brought the tips of my
middle and two adjoining fingers up and placed them against the
wallpaper, just above the floral pattern. I made the clockwise motion
with my fingertips just as John did. I let my mind empty, concentrated
on the sensations in my fingertips.
The wall felt like leather. Sort of gritty, but also smooth. I ran my
fingertips over the wall for a few minutes. I didn't have any mystical
experiences doing it, no great Zen illuminations.
I was simply there. Touching a wall that felt like old leather.
At the End of Days, this world becomes very small.