(Caution: Not a happy tale)
"People don't go into nursing homes to get better," I thought as Hoop and I walked the corridor to AG's room. Hoop's Grandfather, AG (Alzheimer Grandpa), was struck down with Pneumonia a month ago. The hospital transferred him to a nursing home barely two weeks later with promises that they'd release him once he was better. I don't know what I'd expected. But whatever it had been, it wasn't the dank and dreary building we were passing through. There were people in the halls, wheelchair bound and moaning for help. The nurses gossiped nearby with one another, unaffected by their cries. There was dirt in the corners and a stench so foul I gagged just to breathe.
Hoop counted the rooms as we walked. I counted footsteps. One, two, three- a gentleman dragging a colonoscopy bag behind him. Eight, nine, ten- someone screaming like they'd just been burned. I was terrified. But not of them. I'd always imagined the end of life's road being more... dignified. There was no dignity in this. The staff was practically digging the graves beneath the beds. As we came around the corner to AG's room, I clutched at Hoop's arm. I expected the worst. What we found instead was AG, grumbling that he wanted to go home, and George. "Hi!" AG's roommate called out cheerfully as we entered the room. "My name is George. I've been looking after your Grandfather."
Unlike most of the patients, George is mobile and relatively fit. He talks a lot and seems to have no problems following conversations. I've been told since meeting him that he has Alzheimers too. But at the time I couldn't help but wonder why he was there. "I used to be a soccer player." He said, flashing us his smile and his class ring. "My sons came by to see me today. They say my wife is in the hospital." The next time we came to visit there were signs leading us down the hall that said, "George's Room." We found both he and AG fast asleep. I wandered around the room admiring George's pictures and a glittery paper crown on top of the TV. "Is it your birthday?" I asked George, once he'd woken from his nap. "I don't know," he mumbled. "What day is it?"
I laughed and pointed at the crown. "There were signs all over the building leading us to your room." His eyes lit up. "Oh, THAT! We had a party the other day and I was nominated King. A lady down the hall was named Queen and they made us dance. I told her my wife would be angry if she found out." Twenty minutes later George asked, "Did I tell you about the dance?" I nodded, feeling the frown creep into my eyebrows. "I was nominated King and my wife was here. She was the Queen. I wish I knew what was wrong with her. My boys came to visit today. They said she's in the hospital. But they won't tell me why." I stared at him for a moment as he looked into his lap. His hands folded and unfolded.
I remember choking back a sob, some raw bit of emotion that had jiggled loose. It startled me. I looked up at Hoop, who promptly got up from his chair to say good-bye. "We'll be back soon AG!" He called hurriedly from the door. I looked at my feet as we walked out and then sadly leaned my head against Hoop's shoulder. Neither of us spoke for awhile. In the stillness of my own thoughts, pieces of the puzzle were snapping together. Why was he there? Why was he in that room, on that hall? "She's dead, isn't she?" I whispered. Hoop nodded slowly. "She's dead and he doesn't even remember it."