A smiling nurse wheeled in a taupe plastic covered plate and announced, “it’s dinner time, Pop!” She transferred the dish and a cup onto another table and left the room.
“What’s that next to your food, PawPaw? Is that hot sauce!?” I pointed to a king size bottle of Louisiana Hot Sauce.
“Sure is,” my husband’s 85 year old grandfather said, ” I don’t pour more than a few drops on my food. Adds some flavor to this…stuff” He waves an aged spotted hand over his evening meal.
“And you’ve got a huge salt shaker there too. You know what they say about salt– it brings out all the flavors of those around it”
PawPaw leans close to me and grins, “And that’s what I do, too”
Thanks to my husbands week off and a stroke of good fortune that enabled us to go to the beach, we were able to spend some time with his grandfather, who lives in a nursing home in Evergreen, Alabama. If you don’t know where Evergreen is, it’s in between Mobile and Burnt Corn. If you don’t know where Burnt Corn is, well, that’s a shame, because anywhere named Burnt Corn is worth knowing where it is.
We were going to meet up with my husband’s mother and her sister at the Shrimp Basket around 5:30 (which kept us from seeing how PawPaw doctors his food with hot sauce and salt), so we arrived at the nursing home about an hour early to spend some time catching up with PawPaw. PawPaw is living off of one quarter of a lung- he’s fighting double pneumonia and has COPD. That didn’t make one bit of difference, though; between gulps of oxygen, he talked nonstop the entire hour. Despite his peers around him, he’s extremely alert and knows exactly what is going on. He has the same razor sharp wit that I see reflected in his daughter and is one of the reasons I love my husband so much.
The nursing home has three to four activities a day for the residents, and we stopped to check it out on our way to his room. One event, set to take place at the end of September, begged to be explained.
“PawPaw, I saw all these activities you have going on. What’s this here about a wet t-shirt contest?”
“You know, son, they all the time trying to get us up and goin’. Some people it just takes more than others.”
(We later learned that the activity staff nails a shirt on the wall and the residents throw water balloons at it.)
He stopped and scowled, looking out his door into the hallway. He leaned toward us and whispered, “There she goes. Forty times. It’s ridiculous”
I turned and saw a rather large, ancient woman, whose skin had turned s deep shade of purple from vasculitis. She was pushing herself around in a wheelchair, go slowly by the door.
“Don’t make eye contact!!” He rasped, “Ms Wheezy goes back and forth by my door all day.”
“Sounds like you have a stalker, PawPaw.”
The only response was another scowl and several long draws on the oxygen.
It’s closer to the truth, I found out later at the restaurant. My mother in law has to hide from this woman whenever she comes to the nursing home, because the woman will follow her around, too. PawPaw is a ladykiller, apparently, and this one just fell a little harder than he was expecting.
He drove trucks for a living, and can’t keep track of how many miles he logged over the years. Talk turned to when his wife decided to take one of the pills he and other truck drivers took to stay awake and alert when they drove long hours. What was it? Speed. The amount of stress they were under warranted some help, and apparently New York City was the worst. “That city just needs to be blown up,” he emphatically stated… The rest of the table got real quiet.
PawPaw is proof that once an extrovert, always an extrovert. He weighed 100 lbs when he moved in, and if it weren’t for the recent illness that he hasn’t been able to kick, he has thrived at the nursing home. He knows everyone that he lives with- and what’s medically wrong with them, too. He knows the nursing staff (and their personal lives, too, because he said that the nurse who gave him his insulin shot was an “old maid, but she’s good as gold”), greeting with them with a big smile and a cheerful question or comment about their day.
If you took a look into the trunk of my mother in law’s car, you’d find PawPaw’s MO. There were four, three-pound containers of peppermints. He goes around every morning and gives them to all of the residents. He told us that some of them can’t sit up on their own, and others who don’t have anyone to visit them. He said that that a simple peppermint and a hand squeeze is what keeps them going, and I believe him.
As simple as it seems, this is his purpose. Despite a “bucketful of medications”‘, as he calls it, he makes his rounds to his neighbors with the same dedication he gave to his truck driving. He doesn’t dwell on his illness- except when he apologizes to us because he’s not as strong as he used to be- instead, he either ignores it or makes light of it. We handed him his portable oxygen tank on the way out the door and he wrapped his arms around it saying, “Here she is, my love! I’ll hug and kiss you later!”
Nursing homes have been called “Heaven’s Waiting Room”. PawPaw is ready for his name to be called, but he’s not sitting in a chair reading a magazine like many of his peers. He’s too busy to sit still, instead focusing on those around him. And I think he has alot more fun, too.