On the Merry-go-round
I bring half a sliced turkey sandwich with mayo and cranberry sauce, made just the way she likes it, except without iceberg lettuce, too chunky to handle. Bea reaches out with both hands and actually grabs the sandwich. I watch as she aims it at her mouth.
Praise pops out of me: “You’re doing so well on that sandwich!”
Bea smiles like a schoolgirl who has just brought home her first report card – straight As!
“Do you think they’re going to start it again?” she says very clearly, between small, unhurried bites.
Bea's request for a sandwich has lulled me into regression to another time, or perhaps I am simply in denial. Her starting a conversation before my return from the kitchen jolts me back into the present.
“What?” I repeat.
“This is a school for nurses, isn’t it? I just wanted you to know that this room could be used. I could get up and go. Get my bags and go. Then they could use it.”
I start to explain about hospice care, but Bea interrupts. A worried expression clouds her face.
“Oh, no. I don’t want our father to have that expense.”
“Our father? You mean, Harry?”
Here we go, off on a tangent. My elbows swing out to maintain balance. I’ve noticed they do that a lot. I tell her Medicare pays for hospice. Bea doesn’t look like she believes me.
Our conversations seem to take place in an episode of “The Twilight Zone.” You never know what is real or what period of Bea’s life her mind will occupy next, a disconcerting experience that feels like a journey through a region known for quicksand.
“Can’t I go home?” she pleads. "I'm okay ..."
Bea is trying to make sense of her situation. She occupies a hospital bed. Lisa comes five days a week, but there are other young health aides present on weekends: Carmen, Alison, Tammy, Ruthie, Florence, Janice, Barbara… No wonder Bea thinks she is in some kind of training hospital for nurses!
I explain that the noises she hears on the stairs are not doctors with patients, but bed and breakfast guests. This makes her laugh. I do so love it when she laughs, a sound that floats up from deep within her wasted body, incongruous in its sparkle.
“You are so sensible, and accurate. I’m going to miss you.”
This unexpected statement makes me choke up. Is she talking about death?
“I’ll miss you, too.”
“But I’m going to bring you a little present …”
Right! After she leaves our “school for nurses.” And so the merry-go-round of our day continues … I run to catch up, jump on my horse, and we turn round and round, my mother and I.