Finally, he moved.
Gently, he opened his eyes.
And then slowly, turned towards me.
That was a welcome change of pace. I had come half an hour back to spend time with Mr. Loyd (names hidden to protect privacy). As soon as I entered his room, I saw the completely bedraggled figure uneasily moving around in his bed. His beard, long and unkempt, his appearance, generally unruly, he could easily pass off as an authentic homeless person – what with his multiple layers of clothes and loose pajamas – all of which have clearly seen better days.
He had seen me and asked me to take him to the common area. He can walk by himself – albeit, very slowly. So, I had just shuffled along. He had very slowly sat down on a recliner and before I could find a place to settle myself in, he was deep in his nap. None the wiser, I just sat next to him. Frankly, at a complete loss what to do next. There were three other hospice patients around me who I did not know. One was making a constant low humming noise while rocking back and forth in a simple harmonic motion. One had her neck completely down and could not even lift it to see me. And an elderly gentleman was all the while sleeping in his wheel chair.
I just sat there – looking at Mr Loyd. Years of alcoholism had taken its toll on the body. The pictures in his room of his younger days are almost unbelievable to fathom if you looked at his visage in the present form. His motion has become sloth like. His voice very gruff. A few words escape at a time – it is like he is still very drunk.
“How are you feeling?”, I asked, moment he made eye contact with me.
He said something. Very softly.
I pulled my head towards him. “What was that?”
“I want to call my daughter”, is the best what I could understand.
“You want to talk to Grace?”, I asked. Finally, all that poring thru his life history and family members’ names in the hospice files came of use.
“Okay, we will go to the front desk area and call her up”, I told him.
“Will you come with me?”, he asked.
As a volunteer, you know that you are looking for those cues when you have earned the patient’s trust. He seeking me to accompany him was all the positive reinforcement I needed in an otherwise excruciating test of patience.
He slowly got up. When I offered him help to walk, he refused. So, he just shuffled along. And I went along behind him.
“Mr. Loyd, the phone is on the other side”, I said when I saw him take a turn in the opposite direction – in fact, towards his room.
“I know. I need my hat”.
I had no idea why he needed his hat to make a phone call. But I knew that logic is not the way to deal with such patients. Just let them do what they want to do. Go with the flow. As long as they do not hurt themselves or others. The whole idea is to make it a painless transition.
What do you know? He went to his room, struggled to his bed, reached out for a hat that was on his bed and then literally dove his head into it and then picked up his head upright – along with the hat.
Of course, the next five minutes was occupied plodding on to the phone which was on the other side of the building. All the while, I was chuckling at him walking with a cane and a top hat on. Very funny, I thought. I also marveled at the fact that he held the hat steady and dove his head down into it rather than holding his head up and swinging his hat on to it. Must be his mental condition, I deduced.
I am an idiot.
I realized that truism the moment we reached the phone. He reversed his motion – put his head down, took the hat out and what do you know? Inside the hat were numerous slips of paper!! One of them had his daughter’s phone number. In a flash, I realized that he stores his most precious things in his hat and he wears it around to never lose them. He recognizes that he has memory loss and that is how had adapted!!! And the strange way he wears it? To make sure the pieces of paper would not fly away!!!
I was so humbled that I could slap myself. The asymmetry of our relationship could not have been more stark. I was applying logic and efficiency at every step. And he was trying to do the best with the little ability and consciousness he had.
A few minutes later, I fished out his daughter’s number and rang the number. As the phone rang, I handed it to him. I hung around for a few seconds to make sure it was not a wrong number. (His scribbling is terribly illegible). But the moment I realized from his voice that he had his daughter on the line, I took a few steps away to give him some privacy.
I was expecting to overhear him complain about his condition, the premises, the care given to him (patients in a hospice have very little ability to logically process how much help they are being given), the money that he cannot move in his bank. Oh! Yeah! He is given to calling up a particular branch in a particular bank to move some money that he never had. To understand the greatness of humanity, you have to understand that the hospice office once explained the situation to the bank and the bank actually plays along with him – saying they are on it… so that he can get some mental peace!!
Well, as I said, I was expecting him to complain about something like he always did. But I could not help overhearing what he asked first – “Honey, were you able to get that job?”. And his response to whatever she said betrayed the fact that she had not.
As I sank in a chair a few feet away from him, I was just swept up by a flood of emotions. Here is a gentleman, knocking on the doors of death with inability to do anything for himself. And yet, when he woke up from his nap and he looked at me, his first thought was not about himself – but his daughter’s well being. He was trying to find out if she had gotten a job to support herself with.
I have no idea what the situation of his daughter is – I hope to learn as I talk more with Mr. Loyd. But I was overwhelmed by the fact that I was worrying myself about how he was going to get by his days with his physical condition, and all the time, he was worried about his daughter!!
The pieces of paper….
The unkempt beard…
They all started shimmying in front of my eyes as I closed my eyelids to fight back a tear or two.
Once a dad. Always a dad.