Constant Motion

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
PUBLISHED!!! Well, received an honorable mention in Talking Stick. But hey, it's still in the book, so that counts!

Submitted: March 21, 2007

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Submitted: March 21, 2007




Constant Motion

September 2006: I work in a nursing home preparing meals for, on average, fifteen residents. My unit is usually filled to capacity, no empty beds. However, once in awhile one or more of those fifteen beds becomes empty, for various reasons. It doesn't stay that way for long, though.

Anyway, on this day in September, I was working and we had an empty bed. In the early afternoon, a new resident was moved in. As I normally do, I ventured down to the room after all the chaos had died down, mainly to introduce myself and to begin the ritual of getting acquainted.

I knocked on the open door and got a smartass response: "The door's open, ain't it?" So I walked in, and there in front of me was a man who really didn't look like he belonged in a nursing home. He was tall, I could tell even though he was seated on the edge of the bed, and he was young. He didn't look to be a day over 60. That's a rarity in my unit. And finally, he was smiling. Good sign.

I subtly checked the note I'd written on the palm of my hand before saying, "Hi, Leo."

"Well, ain't you just a purdy young thang?" he said. He wasn't from around here.

"Thanks," I said. "My name's Julie and I make the food here on the weekends." Same spiel I tell every new resident, even though half of them didn't remember who I was by their first meal there.

"Ah, good," he said. "Hot cooks make the best grub."

I had to ask, the drawl was beginning to bother me. "So where are you from, exactly?"

He laughed a little and said, "I've been ‘round." He looked me over again, then stuck out his hand to shake mine. When he saw his name scribbled on my skin he smiled and said, "I think we'll get along just fine."

Over the next few weekends, I got to know Leo. He had advanced Parkinson's disease, and at times it was apparent. Basically, he was no longer able to walk without the aid of a walker, and his tremors had become so bad that he couldn't perform basic tasks like preparing food or even feeding himself. However, he could disguise his symptoms well, and I assume that was how he avoided the move to the home for so long.

In one word, Leo was a flirt. He teased all the women who worked there, but he took a particular liking to me. I don't know why, but once in awhile someone really does. There's no rhyme or reason to it. Anyway, when I was working he spent a good four hours in the kitchen or dining room, bullshitting, clearing tables, sweeping the floors, and so on. They were good activities for him, and I didn't complain. Who would have a problem with someone doing their work for them?

One day in mid-December, Leo asked me a question that was really out of character for him. Usually our conversations focused on my lack of a love life, new recipes, stories from "back in the day," simple things like that. But that day he asked if I was afraid of dying. I told him I wasn't sure, then asked him if he was. He said he wasn't, then told me, "And it's a good thang too ‘cause I reckon my time's comin'." Then he changed the subject, but I never forgot what he'd said.

One weekend in mid-January, I came to work and Leo's left arm was in a cast. He'd fallen in his bathroom and broken his wrist when he hit the floor. He proudly displayed the names that had been scrawled on the plaster and offered me a marker. For days, he showed everyone the cast, telling them, "She loves me, she really loves me. See the heart she drew by her name?"

I went to work on Saturday and made my daily trip down the hall to visit with my residents. But when I reached Leo's room, his bed was empty. His belongings were packed into boxes. His nameplate had been removed from the door. On rare occasions, people leave our nursing home to live with relatives, to return home, to go to another facility. However, I hadn't heard any such plans for Leo, and I'd only been gone five days. Plans don't get made and executed that quickly. Something had happened.

During the week I'd been gone at school, Leo had suffered a series of mini-strokes. It had rendered him unable to move the right side of his body or to speak properly. He'd been put on a respirator because he could no longer breathe on his own. He'd been reduced from endless chatter to shaky, sporadic written communication, from constant movement to immobility. He had been moved to a bed in the adjoining hospital, and things did not look good for him. Plans were being made to transfer him to another facility that was better equipped to care for him.

During my break on Saturday, I found my way to Leo's room and waited outside until the stream of visitors had slowed. I stood by his bed and waited until he opened his eyes. I didn't think he recognized me, but then he wrote on the legal pad he'd been given as I held it for him. It took him three tries to make the words legible. It must be more difficult than I can imagine, learning to write with the non-dominant hand so late in life. When he finally was satisfied with what he'd written, he dropped the marker and I turned the pad to read it. Sorry you missed all the action.

I'd told myself I wasn't going to cry. But I had to fight back tears as I told him, "That's just like you, always the smartass."

He smiled and I gave him back the marker, and held the pad again while he painstakingly drew the letters. I'm going to miss you if they move me.

I nodded. "I'll miss you too. But they have already gotten the paperwork submitted to transfer you to Duluth. Chances are they will get you moved sometime today." That's the way it always went when one of our residents was transferred. Three days or so if it was an urgent situation, a week or two if it wasn't, and Leo was definitely considered an "urgent situation."

He accidentally let the marker slip out of his fingers halfway through his next writing attempt, and I handed it back to him. I had to read the paper a couple of times to figure out what he'd written. If you cry, it's going to make me cry too. And it ain't purdy when an old man cries. We tend to get ugly lookin.

I told him, "Didn't know it was possible for a man to get ugly looking just from a few tears. Maybe I'll have to find out someday."

Keep your chin up, he wrote then. I glanced at the clock and saw my half hour was up, so I leaned over to give him a quick hug and a kiss on his forehead. "You be decent to those nurses in Duluth," I said.

He took the marker back once more, and after he was done, I took the pad from him. They won't ever measure up to you gals here. Thanks for all the good cookin darling. Tell the rest of them I'll miss them too. I tore off the marked-up sheets of paper and put them into my pocket before I left. I managed to hold back the tears until I was beyond the door.

Later that day, I heard Leo's family removing his belongings from his old room, and when they walked near the kitchen I acted like I was busy. I walked back down to the hospital after my shift was over, and the room Leo had been in was empty. The next day, Sunday, the facility bus pulled up in front of the main doors, and I knew that on board was the resident who would be taking Leo's room. I watched out the window as the frail elderly man was lowered on the wheelchair lift to the ground, and as he was pushed into the building I busied myself again. I didn't visit him.

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