by Jeanette Hollman
He sits in his Cadillac wheelchair, not really sleeping, but not awake either. His frail 91-year-old body leans to one side, then suddenly pitches forward in a jerky motion as if startled from a bad dream. The seat buckle around his waist keeps him from falling out of the chair. He settles back down once again in his semi-conscious state, his mouth wide open, eyes shut.
His right arm comes up to his face in a sweeping gesture, his long bony fingers holding an imaginary fork as he opens his mouth to taste what isnít there. He mumbles something incoherent and then his arm relaxes again and settles back down to his lap.
Sometimes his hand is holding an imaginary shaver as he habitually tries to rid the stubble from his wrinkled face. There are fresh scars on his arm from when he fought the IVs that were keeping him nourished through a recent bout of pneumonia. An elbow patch is his souvenir from the fall he took attempting to get out of bed on his own.
One of the aides gently nudges him awake and tells him itís time to eat his lunch. Fully awake now, he opens his eyes, but Macular Degeneration has robbed him of most of his vision. He can only see blurred figures--kind of like looking through a funnel, he once said.
A terry-cloth bib is hung from his neck, but not quite covering the food stains on his pants. The aide scoops a spoonful of pureed beef up to his mouth. He opens his chapped, dry lips and his taste buds immediately react. He spits the unwanted slop back at the aide and raises his hand to his mouth as if to signal ďstop.Ē He sweeps a dab of food from his mouth only to have it land on his upper-lip, with some covering the gray hairs protruding from his nostrils. The aide takes the edge of the bib and wipes his mouth and the end of his nose. She does not see the food still clinging to his fingers. He does not like the sticky feeling of food on his hands, so he wipes them on his pants.
The aide tries once more to get him to eat the pureed beef, but he refuses to open his mouth. Then she scoops up something else from the plateósomething resembling mashed sweet potatoes. She tells him to try it; that is not the beef this time; that he needs to eat something. His pursed lips open slightly and he allows her to put the spoon close enough to get a small taste and then he opens wider and accepts the offering.
As his mouth opens again, the aide misses and some dribbles onto his chin. The aide dabs his chin with the edge of the bib. This ritual continues until he has had his fill and asks for something to drink. He is not allowed liquids without their being thickened with a powdery substance. The thick liquid sticks to the roof of his mouth and he coughs to clear his throat. He asked for water, but the aide tells him he canít have plain water because he might aspirate it into his lungs and get pneumonia again. He slumps in his chair and mumbles under his breath. The aide apologizes and clears away the food tray. Then he is stationed in front of the television next to the nursesí station. Once again, he enters that semi-conscious state, not really sleeping, yet not really awake either.
Jeanette Hollman, of Hazelwood, is a member of Saturday Writers.
Copyright © 2006. Do not reproduce without permission.