Monday, April 25, 2011

Chinchillas and centenarians

I had a refreshingly fun visit last week with my sometimes-bellligerent 103-year-old Hospice patient, Midge. This was a relief on a number of levels, including:

1) The guilt I was starting to feel because every time I arrived and checked the nameplate on her door and it was still there (read: she's still alive), I felt a little bit disappointed.

2) She was clearly once a kind, caring woman and loving mother, as evidenced by the frequent visits from her children (now nearing their eightees!), grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. It's nice to know that that is still inside her, somewhere.

3) I'm not in denial, and know that one day it'll be me being passive-aggressive with the nurses and aids. And that's if I'm lucky and don't die in my late middles ages from a slow, painful disease. I'd like to think it's not all misery.

So anyway, Midge was in a very good mood when I got there. I could catch a little glimpse of what Celine, my former wonderful Hospice patient, saw in her, and why they were best friends. In fact, I felt so comfortable that I pulled out my ponytail and let my hair hang down, for once confident that she wouldn't reach out one of her hands and grab ahold of my hair and pull with what little strength she has left in her.

Midge generally has a theme or two that she focuses her conversation around. Often, this involves some branch of the military, and last week was no exception. In addition, she also asked me a lot of love-and-marriage type questions. Here's a snippet of our conversation:

Midge: So, you're in the Navy? (This first question was in sharp contrast to our last encounter, when she made it clear that I am not fit to be in the Navy, Army or anything remotely related to the military.)
Me: Yes. Yes, I am.
Midge: I like your uniform. Do you have a hat to match?
Me: I do. (I keep my answers short because she's deaf and blind.)
Midge: Tell me about your boyfriend. How old is he?
Me: He's 32.
Midge: Oh, 38. That's a good age. What does he do?
Me: He teaches.
Midge: He's a waiter. That's nice. Everyone's getting married these days.
Me: Not me.
Midge: When are you going to get married?
Me: I don't know.
Midge: Well, you should. I got married when I was 26. I loved to dance with my husband. You could do that, too.

Just then, a 50-something-year-old man came along carrying a chinchilla, bringing it around for some animal therapy with the patients. I tried not to flinch. I don't know if you're familiar with chinchillas, but they're basically very large, gray rats with round ears, and they're disgusting. Kind of like a cross between a rat and a squirrel, two of my least favorite animals.

Midge gave a cursory glance toward the chinchilla and patted it absently on its hindquarters, then focused in on the man. "Is this your boyfriend?" she asked me, in what she probably thought was a subtle whisper but was actually more of a loud bray. "No," I said, trying to be both emphatic and quiet at the same time and failing at both.

As if the embarrassing conversation weren't already painfully obvious, Midge decided to be perfectly clear. "I asked her if you were her boyfriend," she said to the man. "She said no."

After a few more questions about his marital history (divorced, single), Chinchilla-man thankfully moved on. Midge, however, did not: "Why don't you want to date him?" she queried. "Too busy? Works too much? That's the way they earn the money, you know."

Thanks for the advice and the attempt at setting me up, Midge. No offense, but I think I'll pass on Chinchilla-man.

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