Contrary to popular belief, I actually have quite a few friends.
True, most of them don’t remember my name five minutes after I talk (loudly and repeatedly) to them. They often can’t fend for themselves in basic ways — food, drinks, the bathroom — and concern about personal appearance (and unfortunately in some cases, personal hygiene) is virtually non-existent.
While I realize this could probably describe a majority of people I went to college with, I am actually referring to the senior citizens under 24-hour medical care at my grandma’s senior community/residential/hospital facility. That sounds formal, so we’ll just go with old people.
They don’t mind when I say that, and if they do, they’ll forget five minutes later anyway.
I’ve talked about the relationship between my mom, my grandma and me before, so we won’t bring that back up. But if you’re just joining us, we’re pretty close—three generations of Polish snark not lacking authenticity or attitude—for better or for worse. My mom goes to see her every day and I generally go around her suppertime a few times a week.
The dining room is where our adventures will take us today.
Fill a dining room with 25 old people, dementia, 20 wheelchairs, chair alarms, oxygen tanks, “clothing protectors (bibs), dietary restrictions and no verbal filter within a 50-foot radius and you have yourself a reality show that will never be made, although perhaps it should.
So until I figure out how to add a few midgets, a cake competition or a rehabbing D-list celebrity to the mix to entice TLC to pick it up, I thought I would share a few observations and snippets of conversation from the last week alone.
*There’s no way I could ever touch on the genius that is my grandma, so she is mostly excluded from these examples. However, she makes an appearance. In fact, she always makes an appearance.
In reference to his hot dog dinner, 85-year old Leon will proclaim that his “wiener is limp.” His wife will reply with, “It has been for years, but I stuck around anyway.” True love.
*Every time Leon asks to be wheeled back to his room before anyone else, Gram interjects (from her wheelchair) with “There goes the president. Big Shit McGee.”
At the same table, Richard took a moment to educate us on the fact that the president has decided to let everyone smoke marijuana legally now. This is not really groundbreaking news for Richard though, as apparently he has been smoking marijuana since the war and shared that it tends to make him paranoid.
*At which point Gram looked at me and said, “He’s not paranoid. We do all want him to shut his goddamn mouth.”
There was a minor incident when Richard “allegedly” left the table without properly saying goodbye to Chet. Chet announced he would not be talking to Richard tomorrow and proceeded to steal a tater tot from Richard’s plate.
*A tater tot was later thrown across the room in a rather impressive arc given the waning athletic abilities of the elderly. I am not accusing anyone…Chet.
Carrots were the topic of ridicule and disgust one evening, as they were proclaimed to be “disgusting rabbit food,” “orange crap” and “shit I wouldn’t feed a dead dog” by three separate women.
*Keep in mind that at least one of these women is still of the mind that if meat is cooked, it no longer has to be refrigerated. Ever. In fact, it can be left out directly in the sun.
Mashed up pills are mixed in with pudding. Mashed up pills mixed in with pudding are spit out, most likely by the same resident(s) that will wait with bated breath for the metal dessert cart to be wheeled into the dining room. If there is no pudding, chaos may ensue.
Back at Gram’s table, Margarite will eat four bites of her dinner before dozing off and knocking her oxygen tube out of her nose, waking her up just in time for dessert. She never misses dessert. She also doesn’t say much, but this could be because Gram—with a mouthful of food herself— is usually harping on her to eat more than four bites of her dinner.
*This is purely a formality, as Gram will wait until Margarite dozes off to tell me to take the extra packages of unopened crackers and French Vanilla coffee creamer from her spot. Like a chipmunk, Gram will store these supplies in case of a club cracker famine in the coming months.
Like clockwork, Julia at the table behind us will get up five minutes into the meal and set off her chair alarm. Every night she’s told to wait, but every night she stands up and complains about the noisy beeps that follow.
*At this point, I have to give Gram a “look” and make sure she doesn’t offer helpful advice to Julia about “sitting her ass down for cripe’s sake” or shaking the ants out of her pants. I am usually unsuccessful.
This same (ever-so shy) woman will loudly proclaim that new male nurse passing out drugs in the pudding is actually a woman. How does she know this? Because there was a bowling tournament and when he had to use the bathroom, they had to change the sign on the door to accommodate his “condition.” Plus, “he talks like a queer.”
*He/she will not overhear this, although the other aides will and will find this highly amusing. Apparently “Bruce” and his aloof attitude are not well-liked in the senior community, whereas this very shy and quiet woman is basically a rock star in the eyes of the staff.
An unintentional game of geriatric Marco Polo will be played across the room, while behind us the gossipy table of women will complain about the food being too hot or too cold, the horrible hair style Agnus is sporting (the one in the deluxe wheelchair being fed through a straw) and how they just don’t understand why so-and-so couldn’t meet them for that game of cards today.
“Dialysis is no excuse. She’s just being rude.”
A priest will clutch his nightly bottle of root beer like a Budweiser and refuse to let go until the last drop is gone, even if it requires a straw, which it usually does. Requests will be made on the sly for me to add a secret shot of vodka to their cranberry juice refills.
*If they tipped, I might consider it.
Once the last crumb of “crap cakes” has been consumed and the “clothing protector” has been removed, I then have to attempt to maneuver Gram’s horrifically awkward wheelchair out of the dining hall and down to her room before her “dupa” explodes. This activity is about as complicated as a secret ops mission involving a tank and hidden landmines.
And I always make sure to say good-bye to Chet, as we wouldn’t want to incite another tater tot torpedo.
Gram can—and most likely will—do that on her own.
So, this was simply the past week or so and fails to include the time the fire alarm went off and diners complained about the loud “music,” any references to bodily functions (and oh yes, they are rampant) or other conspiracy theories that reside in a pile of peas.
There are many, many senior moments.
And please keep in mind that I love these people, as (most of them) have good hearts (emotionally, not necessarily physically) and good intentions. They make me laugh, they get me out of my head and if nothing else, they make me feel better about going to bed by 10 pm and actually liking prunes.
Prunes are highly underrated.
So are old people.
I will never forget my senior moments.