Saturday, June 16, 2007

On the Cheetos lady...

I visit a convalescent home on a frequent basis. It's an interesting place, but not exactly in the good way that adjective is often used. It's not necessarily bad either, but it definitely takes some time getting used to. And then there are things I don't think I'll ever get used to.

The old folks home is split up into two sections, the sub-acute ward and everything else. The sub-acute ward houses people who are stable enough to be released from hospitals but still require a good amount of attention. The people in this part of the home are in various degrees of comas.

The rest of the home is made up of shared rooms. People there are a lot more diverse. Well, actually, they're pretty much all Vietnamese, so maybe diverse is the wrong word to use. I could go back and just simply change that word instead of writing all of this, but here we are. In any case, many of the people here are old. Like, really really old. Case in point: the Cheetos lady* in that picture up there. She's 98. More on her in a bit.

These are a few of the other residents: A 60-something year old man who's at high risk of having +1 heart attack on top of his current 4. A cranky old lady. 20 or so other cranky old ladies. Tony, A paraplegic who was a former gang member, shot through the spine; he's a mouth painter now and takes good care of his fish tank. An avid reader who is unable to speak but I slap him an air five whenever I pass by. More cranky old ladies. My mom. A thief on wheels. And Mexican man sporting a unibrow.

For those who are able, the game of choice is bingo and the stakes... are dimes; painting is frequent and Paris by Night seems to be playing all the freaking time. The thief on wheels stocks up on towels and water pitchers and Tony's watching an action flick. And for any passer-bys (ie. me), the Cheetos lady is talking up a storm.

Mostly about her life. Or how tall I am. Or that someone's out to get her, especially that suspicious mustacheod man. It's funny because she's all smiles until he has his back towards her and her face scrunches up and makes that "he's out to get me" expression. Now I definitely don't buy into the whole treating old people like fucking children, but she reinforces the stereotype, everyone loves her and she definitely knows it.

She's a tiny lady for sure. Her screechy voice is far from grating and her eyes have grayed from something medical students would be able to explain. She's warm and has no teeth, which unfortunately makes it really hard to understand especially because I want to. Oddly enough, I never see her sleeping, so instead, she's always parked in her chair at some high-foot-traffic intersection in which she can hail down any passersby (ie. me). Or maybe she's looking out for that mustacheod guy. She's mysterious like that. Oh, and she doesn't eat Cheetos anymore because the give her coughing fits, but she doesn't let that get her down.

She also talks about death and how she's ready for it. A bit ad nauseum at times, but the poignancy in her demeanor is never absent from her sincerity. Her children visit as often as they can and she always has pictures to let any passersby (ie. me) know how proud she is of them. As a Catholic, she prays for the life she's lived, for the time she has left, and for any passersby (ie. me). She's at peace and she's happy.

So I wonder to myself, if I ever get to that age, if I'd be as dignified in old age as her. No, I could never go without Cheetos. Never.

*I'm using the alias "Cheetos lady" to protect her identity from internet stalkers.


Tran said...

very nicely written, Will! i liked reading it. :) although correct grammar would say passersby, not passerbys. even though i like saying passerbys better anyway.

Liem said...

Thanks and thanks, Miss Tran. Good luck with the boards!

Thuong said...

I've volunteered at a convalescent home once in high school. It's definitely a different atmosphere and requires time to get used to. You're a good man, Will! Good!