Last February, after a three-day stay at Cape Cod Hospital, Bea spent three weeks at Pleasant Bay in Brewster, a center that provides nursing care and rehabilitation. It does what it does well. I hate to think what life is like in less reputable nursing homes.
Pleasant Bay had a six-month waiting list. I took home the application form and talked it over with Sven. My daughters wanted me to “get my life back.” I wanted what was best for my mom.
While at Pleasant Bay, I used to take Bea for walks. I remember being shocked at the crush of wheelchairs hovering near the entrance, residents desperate for a taste of the outside world, which they were a viable part of until only recently. When people are institutionalized, they lose their sense of self-worth. It is the skilled and compassionate health aide who manages to make the individual resident feel special in a nursing home situation. I don’t know how they would have reacted to Bea’s loquaciousness … and I imagine she would have simply suppressed her visitors.
Bea is talkative again today, so I sit by her bedside and keep her company. Of course, she doesn’t talk all the time. Sometimes when I think she is napping, Bea will suddenly burst into bits of conversation. Here are some of the things she has to say:
“Remember: it’s very important to use lemon on the chicken. Not everybody likes it that way, but I do.”
“Our children are being brought up in the Episcopal Church.”
“We chose our house with the public school system in mind.”
“Did Father take the suitcases upstairs?”
“We couldn’t get a second watch for you if you have one already, of course!”
“How about having a dog?” (I intervene here and explain Sven is allergic to dogs.)
“We have to be sure Grandpa approves. We do have the money. Grandpa has worked a while at that shop that he runs. Then he’ll be able to buy more things in his shop.” (Neither my father nor my grandfathers ever ran any shop that I know of. Perhaps Bea was referring to her own grandfather?)
“I want to warn everybody that on Sunday we go to church, the Episcopal Church.”
Bea has her eyes closed. Her mind seems to be jumping through the various periods of her life. These statements occur every five minutes or so.
When I change Bea, she looks up and addresses me. I find her words incredibly moving: “I am so grateful to you because you make me feel human.”