July 18, 2005


“Be with you in just a minute,” the aide says, poking her head into the doorway. “Soon as I finish helping this lady next door.”

The old woman in the chrome and rubber chair by the bed frets to herself for the next five minutes. “When is she coming? I called and called. They hire untrained people – I never know which one they’re sending – always trying to take a break – it’s impossible.”

The aide walks in, brisk and smiling. “What can I do for you, honey? You need to go to the bathroom? Look at you, you’re all squooshed down in your chair! Let’s get you more comfortable.” Making sure the wheel brakes are set, she stands in front of the old woman, squats slightly, and hoists her patient up by the armpits a few inches. The old woman gasps in pain. “Ow!” – it sounds like a child. “That’s where I have a new lump.”

“I’m sorry – “

“It’s not your fault.” Wincing, the patient catches her breath in diminishing gasps. “But that’s not what – “

Her tongue moves against the backs of her upper teeth, but no word comes out.

“That’s not what you called me about? What is it, sweetie? What did you want?”

The old woman shakes her head, with a faint, faroff expression. “I know you don’t like when I call.”

“What are you saying? What do you mean? You call whenever you like, you hear me? We want you to call. That’s what we’re here for. You’re paying me to help you, you understand? You need to go to the toilet, you need to change your clothes, you need a drink of water, anything. You press that red button by the bed.”

“It’s only for emergencies.”

“Who told you that? It is not only for emergencies.” The aide steps closer, places a hand on the old woman’s hand. “Get that out of your mind, you hear me? That button is for you to use any time, you understand?”

With a meek exhalation, the old woman says, “All right.”

“Now what did you call me for?”

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you.” Her eyes go cloudy; she looks past the aide, at the open doorway. “I didn’t know whether to call or not. It’s – “ She shakes her head. Mouth half open, her tongue seeks her teeth and only sometimes finds them, glancing off them and floating behind them like something trying to find its way out of a sea cave. “I’m losing my bearings. I’m trying to tell – it bothers me – I can’t -- ”

The aide is looking at her, letting her try to talk.

“I couldn’t remember -- ” the old woman begins, and then stops, tongue dabbing air, forehead wrinkled, one hand lifting as if dislodged by a current. “What couldn’t I remember?”

“I’ll get you a glass of water, all right?”

The old woman nods, resigned. A glass of water looms up at her and wets her lips, which tentatively touch each other as if to check whether they are still there.

“Is there anything else I can do for you before I go?” the aide asks. “Do you need to go to the bathroom?”

The half-closed eyes flutter. “If you could put me in – “ she searches for the word “that thing –“ The eyelids flutter almost fully closed, looking for words in the dark. “You could take me to the garden room, if I was in – “ she shakes her head, frustrated. “That thing –I could sit – you could move me.”

“You mean your wheelchair?”

The old woman sighs. “Yes. Wheelchair. You could put me in it and take me– “

“Honey,” the aide says, “you are in your wheelchair.”