“I can tell you one thing” he said softly and pleasantly, pulling me in to his statement.
“What’s that?” I answer him with a question.
“You are? What would you like to eat?”
“Oh, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, chocolate cake and a cup of coffee.”
“That does sound good doesn’t it?”
“It sure does.”
“When was the last time you ate?”
“Oh it’s been a while”
“I don’t really recall.”
“Yesterday I think.”
The end of this conversation always changed a little bit. Because he couldn’t remember when he last ate. And there was no one there to tell us when he last ate. Because his family thought keeping him in his little room with no TV, no radio, and little human contact was good enough. Apparently. They sure didn’t want to see him in a nursing home.
I asked him again when he last ate. He said he and his brothers walked down the street earlier in the day to get something to eat. I don’t know how many years it’s been since he walked. And I’m not sure his brothers are still alive. To him they might be, in his memories. At least for that brief moment it felt to him like he had spent time with his brothers that morning going to get something to eat. I hope it felt as good for him to think it, as I think it would feel for him to have actually got to do it. I hope while he laid in that room all alone for the majority of his days that he spent time with his mom, his wife, and his brothers. None of whom I could see. But he could. It seems his memories are kinder to him than his family is. The family that can get up and go get what ever they want to eat. Get up and go to the bathroom, without the results lying under them, on them. The family who leaves him every day for hours, and hours, and hours.
Family. Some people do not deserve that term. I’ve seen people struggle to do their best to take care of their own. Burdens are heavy and they only have so much time, so much energy, and they do the very best with it that they can. This, as I looked at this man, and knew the whole story, was not such a struggle.
He couldn’t tell us what year it was. Or what day. Or where he was. But he could laugh. And he could joke with us. He was pleasant. More pleasant than an emaciated 93 year old man should be. He was adorable with his great big eyes looking at us with total trust. And no understanding. When we asked him if he would go to the hospital he said “right now?” I said “sure if you’ll go”.
His response “okay then”.
At the hospital he had about 6 of us talking to him, treating him with kindness, giving him comfort. He said to me “I can tell you one thing” and I said “what’s that?” and he said “I’m hungry!” We wanted the nurses to let him eat NOW. But they couldn’t, not quite yet. They needed to test his heart and test everything else about his frailness that looked so painful to me. So I again asked him what he would like. “Coffee would be nice.” I asked him how he would drink his coffee. “With cream. And sugar. Not too much sugar, just enough to make it sweet.” I told him that sounds good. He said it sure does. About three minutes later the doctor came in and asked doctor questions. He said again “I can tell you one thing”. “What’s that” I asked. “I sure am hungry”. I asked him what he would like to eat. He said “oatmeal” and turned to the doctor and said “do you have oatmeal?” The doctor said he thought so. But he was busy with doctor stuff so I talked to him about oatmeal.
I watched as they put patches on his chest. Hooked up the blood pressure cuff. Checked his oxygen levels. I looked at his face and he was just looking out from his memories. I hope. He didn’t say or do anything. Why was this man with six other people around him, alone?
I asked him if he was tired. He said he might be. I asked him to lay his head back and close his eyes. Rest. And he did. Just because I asked him to. He was tired. He was hungry. But he was getting warm under the warming blankets. He was being watched over. Talked to and listened to. He was safe.
And I can tell you one thing, some people are going straight to hell.