The lunch plate has a light beige blob, a medium beige blob, and a dark beige blob. One blob turns out to be pureed bagel. It is Sister’s rehab in a Jewish community home. The signs are in both English and Hebrew. The synagogue has gorgeous stained glass windows. The doors are all automatic. The hallways are lined with artwork painted by the residents. As rehab places go, it’s a nice one.
For dessert she is served a familiar beige blob of applesauce.
The day goes better with fewer relatives around the old woman in the next bed. But there are still too many people in the room, so I take Sis on a wheelchair ride to see the rest of the building: the large assisted-living dining room, the baby grand piano, the patios and seating areas everywhere. Then I roll her outside to see the sculptures, the pond, and the rest of the grounds.
By the time we get back to the room, the relatives are mostly gone, only two left. On this day they grill the old woman about her mother and grandmother. The relative writes things down.
Get the family history while you still can! As though the stress of having her belongings packed up and moved this weekend wasn’t enough, let’s write her family story, too.
I leave at 2:00, come home and walk one dog, then walk them both with the help of my girlfriend who shows up with her homemade chicken soup. How does she know that I’ve been eating granola bars for a week? I finally bought fruit last night, and ironically, bagels.
I go back for dinner at 5:15. The plate has a rainbow of blobs – green, orange, and white. Peas, lasagna, and potatoes? I take a tiny taste of each with my pinky finger. Definitely not peas, but what? Pureed salad? Maybe. Or spinach?
At any rate, Sis eats it all. The dessert is pureed pound cake. She eats the whole cup.
Of the twelve residents in the dining room, Sis is by far the youngest, by fifteen to twenty years. It’s mostly women, just two men. One man sneezes loudly over and over. The women are either stone-cold silent or can’t stop talking. They are talking to no one in particular.
One woman in a pink hat keeps asking where her dog is. It’s a collie named Leonard. Then it’s a husky, then a greyhound. She keeps changing her story. Two staff people chuckle at her craziness. Then the dog woman says, “It’s all crazy” as if on cue.
A tiny woman sitting alone at a table asks for a brown bag in her New York accent so she can take her dinner upstairs.
“I’m not hungry. I’ll eat it later. Just bring me a bag. Thank you.”
The two other women at our table are quiet. They don’t eat; they stare at Sis and stare at me.
“Has anyone seen Leonard?” the dog woman yells. “He’s pedigreed,” she says. “He’s a good boy.”
“Just give me a brown bag so I can go upstairs and eat my food later,” the tiny woman says. “I’m not hungry. I have all the rights I’m entitled to. Have a nice day.”
I try to have a conversation with the two woman at our table, but they don’t understand. They aren’t wearing their hearing aids.
“You, there!” the dog woman says to someone coming into the dining room. “Where is my dog? He’s a collie named Leonard. He’s pedigreed.”
The staff continues to snicker as the old man sneezes, the dog woman questions everyone, and the tiny woman asks for a brown bag and a little fruit.
“Just a piece of fruit,” she says, “and I’ll save it for later. I’m not hungry. Thank you very much.”
There are twelve residents and four or five aides. The help speaks Spanish to each other regarding who needs to be fed, who needs a fork, and why does the diabetic have o.j.?
“Who gave her juice? She’ll be up to 500 now,” the staffer says.
“Please, someone bring me a brown bag so I can take my food upstairs. I’m not hungry.”
“Leonard?” the dog woman says. “Have you seen Leonard?”
One up-till-now silent woman at our table says to the other, “You have food on your shirt.”
“What?” the second woman asks.
“You have something on your shirt.”
The second woman looks down and brushes it off.
“That’s better,” the first woman says.
The second woman smiles.
My sister is ready to go back to the room now.
To all the Boomers out there: Take your baby aspirin, exercise, quit smoking, drink in moderation, lose weight, find a way to reduce your stress, learn something new, dance, go hiking.
Keep your mind sharp and your body strong.
For as long as you can.
This is what a skilled nursing facility looks like.
I have seen the beige blobs.
I have been to the other side.