The Edge of the World

It’s a cold rainy evening. We’ve been doing nothing but soaking wet drunks and third floor carry downs of heavy women. Dispatch pages us with a transfer from a local hospital to a town about thirty minutes away. I don’t like transfers except on cold rainy days. They beat doing MVAs in the rain, they beat picking drunks out of lake-size puddles, and they beat third floor carry downs.

I look in the map book to see where we will be going, but the town isn’t in the book. It’s just off the edge of our world. I figure once we get up to the hospital floor, I can call the facility for directions.

Our patient in an old woman in her seventies, who is recovering from a subdural bleed following a fall in which she also sustained a broken arm and several broken ribs. We meet her husband, an old man wearing an overcoat and a bowler hat. Before I introduce myself, I overhear him telling a nurse that he has spent the last two days looking for an acceptable nursing home for his wife. He says he found a lovely one just six minutes from his home, but he found an even better one farther away and it is this home we are taking her too. “The people seemed engaged there,” he says, “They were all out in the halls and in the common rooms. There was a sense of community – a warm place that I believe will help Ethel recover, so that’s why I chose it.”

I ask the man for directions and I scribble furiously as he describes the way. “Get off the exit, go right, and then just keep going, follow the road – it will wind and turn, and then when you come to a light, cross the road – straight across, up the hill, and then take a quick right or you’ll miss it – it’ll be right there.”

The wife is unresponsive. She lies on the bed, all bruised and curled up. We lift her over gently under her husband’s watchful eyes. The nurse hugs the husband and wishes him well. He thanks her for the wonderful care they have given his wife. He then kisses his wife and says he’ll see her shortly.

It is pouring rain and after I’ve gotten off the highway and am on the just keep going – it will wind and turn part of the directions, I hope I am not lost – it seems I am going away from civilization. A foggy mist hangs over the meadows, not beaten in by the rain. And then ahead there is an intersection. I cross, go up the hill, and then there on the right – is the Manor. We made it.

How can I describe the feeling upon entering the facility. I feel like a traveler who has hiked for weeks over mountains and through forests, and who comes upon a warm hunting lodge. There is a fire in the fireplace, the carpet has the grandeur of Persia. People sit lined in wheel chairs, laughing and talking or just sitting serenely. Frank Sinatra plays in the background. A smiling woman greets us, and leads us to the patient’s room. We pass common areas – a room full of books where people sit reading, a pool table, a man sits at a piano and seems to be happily playing soundless air piano.

The patient’s room is clean and warm with a colorful flowered beadspread. The smiling woman helps us move the patient into her bed, and talks pleasantly to the woman, who for the first time seems to respond, her face softening. It looks like she is trying to smile.

While my partner remakes the stretcher, I look for a bathroom. It seems I am headed toward the kitchen. The air smells like homemade chicken soup. I see a man with a big mustache in a chef’s hat humming as he stirs a large steel pot with a giant wooden spoon. I am tempted to ask for a bowl to go. I see a woman taking loaves of bread out of a big oven.

There on my left is the bathroom. I enter, and it smells like a pine forest. Instead of bare walls, there are photos of old people chopping wood in the snow.

When I go back out to the main lobby, I find myself mesmerized by the scene. The music again is Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin or Tony Bennet — one of those cool guys from my father’s generation, who wore suits, smoked cigarettes and wooed the prettiest women as they sang of love, broken hearts, tattling towns, and doing it their way. An old man in a robin’s egg colored suit sits forward leaning on his cane, his eyes closed, swaying to the music. All around him are old women in wheel chairs, but they all look quite pretty. Some have lively eyes and are smiling. Others, with eyes shut, seem also to be dreaming along with the music. Behind the man is a giant grandfather clock. The biggest one I have ever seen. Its pendulum swings back and forth.

Outside the rain pours down.


  • Anonymous says:

    That’s a far cry from most nursing homes I see: fragrant perfume of urine and boiled meat. An AM radio blaring a static-filled Paul Harvey. Old men with their penises hanging out of the boxers creeping along in a wheel chair and sexually harassing the angry CNAs. Scared and confused people staring down the hall looking not at you, but through you.

  • PC says:

    I agree. That was what was so amazing — other worldly — about this home. No smell of shit, no gorked out people with their tongues hanging out, etc.

  • F says:

    I’ve seen this place before I think, and I remember a similar awe when I visited it for the first time. In retrospect though I think the experience actually made me feel worse for those placed elsewhere, rather than happy for the people I saw at this place. Made me wonder if such striking differences in quality were completely necessary. Why do these people deserve to have it so good, while at the same time others suffer through so much worse. A deserved end to a lifetime of work and planning, or an unfair delegation of life and death?

  • Steve says:

    That sounds like an absolutely Gucci Nursing Home…absolutely nothing like the ones I see over here in England. The last one I attended a couple of mights ago didn’t have a single member of staff who could speak English, and all of the residents looked like they were praying for an early death.Is it just money? Or just lucky if you get into a ‘good’ home?

  • PC says:

    This home was extremely unusual. While most homes smell like shit, there are a good number of high end homes that have very nice furniture and paintings and cost a great deal of money, but are still depressing in their own way. The warmth of this home was unreal and truly one of a kind.

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