As I walked through the door of the nursing home, I heard a loud moaning. Anxious, I looked over at my three youngest kids whom I’d brought with me. They had already said they didn’t want to come, and now there was this scary sound, not to mention a number of scary looking old people in wheelchairs patrolling around the lobby. I had offered to let my girls stay in the lobby and look at the fish and do puzzles, but noticing the elderly women leaning precariously sideways in their wheelchairs next to the puzzle table, I decided the girls might be better off in Nicole’s room. At least there was a T.V. there they could look at.
The moaning grew louder as we turned the hall. Who was making that sound? I’d been in nursing homes before where there were people who sounded like that, but I’d never heard anything like it at this place. I’d taken the kids here many times before and never felt this uncomfortable. The sound continued, a deep and melancholy moan. It was definitely on this hall. Was it the new man across from Nicole?
No, I finally realized as I reached her door. It was Nicole. Her mouth was open wide and the sound coming out was loud and deep and full of anguish. Was she in pain or was she angry?
“She’s been that way all day,” said the med-tech, who was passing by as I walked in the room. He was a big, black man that I’d seen helping change her sheets last week. He had a kind face and had been the one to explain what they were doing to me. They’d drawn a curtain around her, but they hadn’t been able to cut off her noise then either. She’d been cursing and shouting at them, angry and spiteful, finally sticking her tongue out at them as they left, telling them angrily, “I hate you! I’m getting out of here!”
“Is she in pain or is she upset?” I asked the man, thankful that when Nicole heard my voice she stopped moaning.
“Both,” he said with a wry grin, “They gave her some medicine a few minutes ago.”
“Medicine,” I knew meant Lorazepanor some other anti-depressant. She takes a lot of those now, and took even more before she ended up in the nursing home. In fact, it was a scene involving Lorazepan and Asti Spumonti which landed her here first place, two and a half years ago. We never did find out exactly what happened between Nicole and her husband, Michael, but she had apparently fallen on the floor and lived there for four days unable to get up. I cleaned up the mess later and discovered all the empty pill bottles, cookies and a freezer full of ice cream. For my husband and I, it has been a long two and one half years.
The girls followed me into the room and immediately started watching the T.V.. I went over to Nicole’s bed. She was moving around in an agitated manner and clutching a knitted blanket with her left hand, but she had stopped moaning.
“Nicole, it’s me, Virginia. I’m Christopher’s wife.” Her eyes were closed, but she opened them briefly to look towards the girls. I didn’t know if she was asking a question, but I decided to answer it anyway, “I’ve brought my girls with me. There is Steffi, Sophie ,and Mollie.” Steffi has spent a lot of time at the nursing home and going to the doctor with Nicole, so she is more used to this routine. She came to stand next to me. “This is Steffi, Nicole.”
Steffi raised her hand to wave and said, “Hi Meme!” in her high little voice. Nicole closed her eyes again. I had been stroking her hand and moved over to stroke her hair. My husband likes to have his hair stroked and I had found that Nicole liked it also. I’ve thought a lot about how it must feel to be trapped in a bed without much contact with people during the day except for having them change your bed linens and feed you. She calmed down and relaxed as I stroked her hair. Every once in a while she opened her eyes and muttered something. Some of the words seem to be in French. Mostly, though, I don’t think she is saying anything coherently.
After a while, I attempt to untangle her hand from the crocheted blanket. Her gnarled fingers are twisted in the fibers and I’m afraid she will hurt herself. She resists me. When I finally get her fingers free, she immediately clutches fiercely at the rail of her bed. I try to offer her some drink. It is strawberry. I think it is the same strawberry drink that was there the day before. She has never liked strawberry, only chocolate. She doesn’t want any.
I water her plants. The girls are contentedly watching the story of a mother preparing for a triathlon. I think, what mother needs to do a triathlon? And, what is a triathlon compared to caring for preschoolers and parents with Alzheimer’s? Yet no one is coming with the T.V. cameras into the nursing home. Perhaps there is too much reality here to show it on T.V. Too much sadness. Too much death.
Michael, Nicole’s husband, was on hospice the whole time he was at this nursing home, yet he outlasted several room mates. At first, I thought they had just moved the other men because Michael was too contentious. Then,when I was visiting him with Nicole, he set us straight. “What happened to your room mate?” Nicole asked.
“He died,” said Michael.
“What?” said Nicole.
Michael leaned forward and spoke louder, “He DIED.”
“Oh.” said Nicole. “That’s too bad.” There was a pause. The T.V. was blaring and there was a sound of trays clanking as the kitchen help set out lunches. “I guess it is lunchtime,” Nicole finally said. “I’d better get back to my room.”
That had been about a year ago. Michael died in June. Now it is February and Nicole is the one unable to leave her bed. I wonder, what does she still remember? Do fleeting moments of the past come upon her sometimes? Is that why she is moaning, or is it something else? Rage? Pain?
Although she has told us she is ready for the end, I know her soul is not prepared for death. She has no hope for a life beyond. No faith in God. Or so she has told us, when she could tell us.
I pray for her. I stroke her hair. I kiss her forehead. Then, motioning to my girls, we leave.