"...it's not the training to be mean but the training to be kind that is used to keep us leashed best." ~ Black Dog Red

"In case you haven't recognized the trend: it proceeds action, dissent, speech." ~ davidly, on how wars get done

"...What sort of meager, unerotic existence must a man live to find himself moved to such ecstatic heights by the mundane sniping of a congressional budget fight. The fate of human existence does not hang in the balance. The gods are not arrayed on either side. Poseiden, earth-shaker, has regrettably set his sights on the poor fishermen of northern Japan and not on Washington, D.C. where his ire might do some good--I can think of no better spot for a little wetland reclamation project, if you know what I mean. The fight is neither revolution nor apocalypse; it is hardly even a fight. A lot of apparatchiks are moving a lot of phony numbers with more zeros than a century of soccer scores around, weaving a brittle chrysalis around a gross worm that, some time hence, will emerge, untransformed, still a worm." ~ IOZ

Aug 9, 2010

A Prisoner's Revolt

My wife's father feels imprisoned.

Caught in a medical cycle as relentless as any other set of fixed ideas, he cannot leave the mechanically assisted corpse ward nursing home, until he "improves his strength." He cannot "improve his strength" trapped in a dim room, attended by overworked, low wage "health care" workers and bottom of the barrel physicians.

So, we've spent the last week with him, trying to get him to "improve his strength." Which amounts to wheeling himself around the old person prison, through the miasma of antiseptic spray, false smiles and stale urine. (Yes, you can tell the difference between fresh urine, and stale.) Down to the so-called library, with a half dozen books on tape (all potboilers), a book of common prayer, a handful of suspense novels, a bible, a big screen teevee, and the titles of the works of Shakespeare painted on the walls.

He could leave at any time. Against medical advice. You want a peek at that bill after insurance gets to walk away from it?

Currently imprisoned one floor up from his wife of nearly seven decades, he can barely bring himself to see her. She doesn't remember him. She doesn't remember any of us.

No one blames him for fleeing her open casket room as soon as he can, wiping at his tears, his Yankee shame fraying as he struggles to reconcile the unnameable regrets which play across his brow and eyes. My wife certainly understands. She does not visit her mother's medically assisted corpse. I do that, for her.

So, yesterday I took the long-short ride down the elevator, crossed the hall, and took a right towards the brain damage ward. Pressed the red button that lets guests in, passed through a doorway which keeps freedom out. Rehearsed the exit code that unlocks the gate, when a visitor wishes to escape. Guests leave, and the prisoners remain in their digital and wheelchair chains.

Our eldest came with me. A kind boy. Generous and sweet and willing to please others, without ever sacrificing his dignity or self respect. He has learned how to say, "No!" and mean it. He still knows how to give, to give freely that for which he expects no return. In my more honest moments, I know he deserves a better father than I. He always will.

We entered the dining room, crowded in on ourselves immediately by the stink of death, the too loud television, the whirring of pumps, of oxygen machines and dispensary carts.

My mother in law sits alone, staring into naught.

Two days ago, she had pudding on her face. Yesterday, dried potatoes.

Her attending ghoul smiled at us, as we approached. Hey, "P-" I said, picking up her spoon, trying to ignore the aide I have long come to hate.

"She isn't going to let you feed her," the douchebag ghoul muttered through her clenched teeth and pressed lips, approximating what I think she thought of as a smile. She wears eyeliner on her bottom lids only. Her eyes speak a litany of malice, and contempt. I have no doubt that she hits her patients. And steals their mementos.

As I turned to my wife's mother, reaching for the spoon, the ghoul returned to her task. Yelling, bullying the ancient woman into whose mouth she attempted to shove a piece of shit brown donut.

"No, I won't!" her ward yelled, in a surprisingly resonant voice, rich with defiance. "You're not my mother," she continued, pushing the cheap pastry from her captor's grasp. I put down the spoon. The boy and I watched, he nervously smiling.

"I am. You can call me mommy," the warden ghoul whispered, her shoulders hunching, mimicking the threat posture of other great apes. She loomed, her chest expanded. She gritted her teeth, showing them plainly.

Her prisoner did not appear to take notice.

"No, I won't!" she yelled again, her eyes almost twinkling, shedding their rheumy age. The other captives, women of varying degrees of dignity and decrepitude, had all turned their heads, or rolled them, to watch now. A second attendant arrived. The nurse stood up in her booth.

The donut went in, forcefully.

"You need to eat," argued the ghoul, her hand hooked in a claw. They held their prisoner's jaw, working it. The rest of the captives returned to their meals. One closed her eyes, her mouth turned down in naked sadness.

I probably have it wrong, but they seemed less alive, more defeated.

As if the remains of their independence depended in no small part on the outcome of their comrade's defiance. Conversation did not pick up again. Power had won. Again. An ancient truth, wearing the guise of nursing home modernity.

With a great portion of my own cowardice stuck in my throat, and avoiding my son's eyes, I turned back to my own task. My mother in law did eat, and readily. Ham puree and powdered potatoes. She let me feed her. 

Her own revolt? I don't know. The ghoul who ruled her every day could not get her to eat; the son in law she doesn't remember could.

I want to call that rebellion.

I really do.


DPirate said...

Sadly, I have to name it defeat.

DPirate said...

Great post, btw

Anonymous said...

Damn, Jack.

My grandmother died in 2003 after about 18 months in one of those "assisted living facilities" that was much like you described. I remember her saying to me in 2000 that she didn't ever want to be in one of "those places," her voice filled with firm conviction and horror. She knew what they were like.

I visited her in late 2002 at the "home" and it was the saddest thing I've experienced in my adult life. I went to "nursing homes" in my pre-teen and early teen years to visit a great-grandmother, but the existential horror didn't register with me then, I was too young and I just thought the places were grim and boring, much like I though of all people in their 70s and older.

Anyway, that was a damned fine post.

drip said...

My parents, in their '80's, my in laws in their '60's me in my '50's all have this to look forward to in some fashion. It is a circle with rules that can't be learned or understood, only followed or broken. If there is one thought that may help break the trap, it is (I can't believe I am going to type this -- it is the wrong response to almost any question) talk to a lawyer and see if you can get a guardian appointed who will argue to a judge that the medical advice is wrong, and he needs to get out and be cared for by the ones who care for him. That might solve the insurance problem.

But, back to the point, when care isn't care, when rehabilitation isn't going to rehabilitate anyone, when ignorance is strength, slavery is freedom, and war is peace, it is time to go home and restock. Good luck. I have seen the future and it doesn't work.

skeptical brotha said...

Your writing evokes a delicious melange of rage, resentment and regret. You've given voice to every emotion I've felt working in hospitals and nursing homes. Thanks for moving me and reminding me I'm not dead.

Jack Crow said...

Thank you much, folks. Better replies, perhaps, tomorrow.