We took a dialysis patient back to his nursing home. I was surprised when my partner told me the guy was only 55. He seemed much older. He’d had a stroke and couldn’t communicate. His body was all contracted and he seemed in pain, whenever we moved him like he may have had bed sores. I don’t know whether he was with it in his mind, but just couldn’t communicate, or whether his mind was also flawed. I was just thinking, man, I hope I don’t end up like that.
Who knows what lies ahead for each of us. A week or so ago a guy who rode with me several times as a medic student and also briefly as a EMT, went down to Florida to see a girl. Hadn’t been there long enough to get a sun tan when they went out on a watercraft. Reports were they were in a no wake zone watching dolphins or manatees when they got creamed by a catamaran. Didn’t even see it coming. Dead. Twenty-three years old. The girl, also dead, was 19.
I think about myself these days. Here I am working everyday so I can own my house, and put enough money in my 401K so I won’t eat catfood when I’m old. I didn’t use any vacation time last year. At least I work out so my stroke risk is low. I hope so.
Anyway, I was walking out of the nursing home, making certain like I always do to say hello to all the old people sitting lost there in there wheelchairs. They always look suprised when you say hello. It seems to startle there, jarrs them out of their funk and they brighten up for a moment and give you a smile and say their best hello back. I’m saying my hellos, but I’m thinking stroked out in middle age or wacked by a catamaran in your youth. What kind of choice is that? How about dying in your gentle sleep on a stately ranch, surrounded by gennerations of your progeny?
My mother had multiple sclerosis. She got it when she was thirty. She used to beat me in tennis, then she stopped playing. I guess I was ten then. She had trouble walking, had to balance against the furniture. A lady down the street broke her pelvis skining and was back on the slopes the next winter. I didn’t understand why my mother could’t get back on the tennis court. The disease stayed mainly in her legs for the next twenty years. She’d have attacks, then remissions. She was always going for new experimental treatments, none of which panned out. She used a cane, a walker, sometimes a wheelchair.
Then the disease got into her brain. It was so slow, we didn’t see it coming, didn’t even recognize it for a long time when it was there. She was a bright woman, but she seemed to loose her sharpness. She’d say the same things over and over. Just enough to frustrate you because you were too busy to pay attention to her decline. “I just told you that,” I’d snap when she’d ask me about my day after just having asked me about shortyly before.
And she was all the time using the same stupid phrase. She’d say, “Well, que sera, sera.” What will be, will be.
She’d say that constantly, sometimes two, three, times in five minutes. It drove me nuts.
She used to sit on the couch and read. She was a voracious reader. Then we discovered she hadn’t just been reading the same book for three weeks, she was on the same page. She’d sit there reading for hours, never turning the page. Shows how well we were paying attention.
Anyway, long story short, her decline was quick. She couldn’t be left alone. My father would tell her not to move while he ran out to the store, she’d get up and fall. I was away living in a distant state so I didn’t have to deal with it. She ended up in a nursing home. My father visited her everyday. It was a good home — one of the best — and they took good care of her. When I visited, I wasn’t certain sometimes if she knew who I was. She got a UTI, one of many, and she passed away. She was a DNR by then. That was fourteen years ago.
So today as I’m walking out of the nursing home, saying my hellos, and thinking about the nasty ends many of us have coming at us, I go by the community room where a guy in a Hawaiian shirt, accompanied by another guy in a Hawaiian shirt on piano, is singing “Que Sera Sera,” to a packed room. I go past the room, then the song sinks in and thinking of my mother, I stop and go back and stand in the doorway, and watch. I am hoping for some revelation, some sweeping emotion or meaning. I look about the room. Some people are smiling and nodding along to the song, some are asleep, some are drooling, some don’t even seem to know they are there. The guy singing seems like a nice man, and he is working the room hard, focusing in on the few alert ones. He’s touching hands and making eye contact where he can.
“Que sera, sera, Whatever will be, will be,” he sings, as he smiles endearingly at an old woman, who blushes like it is some lost idol from her youth serenading her.
But there is no meaning for me, no deep message, no answers to my questions. It’s just a bunch of old people in wheelchairs — all with their own stories, their own heartaches, and their own joys, their own harsh and varying declines.
I don’t know if there is ever meaning just handed to you when you want it.
I leave the singing behind and continue on out of the home, and out to the ambulance, get behind the wheel, and head out for the next call.