Another Thanksgiving as an assisted living resident! My eleventh to be exact. I navigate my wheelchair through the dining room’s maze of glass-topped tables with festive centerpieces, courtesy of our own octogenarian artisans and park my chair in front of the “Martin Bayne” name card on the table. Locking my wheels, I reach over and move the table display of paper flowers, carefully setting it on the floor. “Now I can see your face, Tom”
Tom is an 86-year-old retired CPA. His wife of 57-years died last year from a rare form of bone cancer, and after surviving a dozen skirmishes with Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) himself, his children — much to his protestations — convinced him to become an assisted living resident.
At first, Tom found the experience almost unbearable. He desperately missed his wife, and the first time an aide (Brenda, 22) young enough to be his great grandchild showed up to give him a shower, it took the Admissions Director and two nurses half the night to convince him not to pack up and walk out that very next morning. But, truth be told, it was the Director who put Tom’s \dilemma in perspective without saying a word. When she walked in that morning, carrying coffee and donuts for the staff, she noted the discussion and listened in for just a few seconds. Then she casually walked into her office, withdrew a business card from her desk and walked out to where Tom was sitting and handed him the card.
Tom took one look at the card, placed it in his pocket, and said, “I’m sorry for any time of yours I may have wasted. If there’s nothing else, I’ll excuse myself and have breakfast.”
Now I’ve seen the Director (Marsha) use what I call “the magic business card trick” on more than one occasion. It’s not pretty and I don’t recommend it, but as a last-ditch effort to get to residents to focus, really focus, on the problem at hand, it’s quite effective. The business card is actually from a local homeless shelter. It usually takes a resident about 20 seconds to connect the dots. Like I said, it’s quite effective.
Today, Tom has an easy smile and offers a generous “Good Morning,”which is returned in kind. He waves a server to the table and seconds later wraps his hands around a steaming cup of coffee. “Just a bowl of bran flakes,” he says to the server, “have to save plenty of room for the turkey.”
I turn to Tom, “They’ve got a big bird this year. Three of them actually . . . “
The server arrives at the table with a pot of coffee.
“I’ll have a cup, and you, Tom? The waiter, seemingly confused, looks straight ahead, avoiding my eyes. “I’m sorry, Martin, but who’s Tom? There’s no one but you at this table.
I look away. Emotions jostle for position: embarrassment, anger, confusion, and sadness. I finish my coffee and slowly make my way out of the room.
“This, too, shall pass, Marty” I tell myself. This, too, shall pass.”