Sunset Manor - Assisted Living Facility
“You gotta take me to the bank,” Nathan said. “I can take out ten thousand dollars and we can go rent a limousine and me and you and Don and Joe can all go out to dinner. And then we can go pick up Lori and go to the park…”
“Listen Nathan, I’m your friend. I’m here to help, but I can’t take you to the bank,” I said. “There are limits to what I can do. I can bring you some art supplies. I can bring you a snack. We can hang out and draw and I can be your best friend, but that’s about all I can do,” I said, putting my arm around him.
Nathan lives in an assisted living facility. He’s in his late 60’s but is intellectually about 6 or 7 years old. He has some difficulty walking. Sometimes he has little mini seizures and falls down. He likes to tell stories. He constantly tells one about how he just won the lottery and he needs me to pick up the money for him at the bank. One time he even got out a dusty old leather satchel he wanted me to fill with all the cash. He’s also constantly getting married. Last week he told us he got married in the Bahamas.
Nathan is probably the sweetest human I’ve ever met. He laughs easily. I have to be careful or he’ll laugh so hard I worry he’ll fall or have an episode. He hugs me several times whenever I leave.
When I started doing hospice visits I told myself I could handle it. I’d been to dozens of funerals and I wasn’t afraid of death. I’d tried to help foster kids and orphans, but that was too much for me. I guess it brought up my own issues about being a foster kid and courtrooms, and adoption and being unadopted, being made a ward of the state, homeless.
Hospice would be easier for me. These folks were terminal. Given three months or less to live. Plus, they were being taken care of by a slew of nurses, doctors and their own families. I’d just be spending an hour or two a week with them. Just visiting. Just being there for them. Maybe I could give them a little comfort. I could talk to them or read or just listen. Maybe I could hold their hand as they approached the great unknown. Maybe I could sit with an ailing husband while a wife got out of the house for an hour or two. How hard could it be?
In our training they said, if the patient dies, don’t call 911. Call the nurse or your contact number. I found that reassuring. I wouldn’t have to worry about fucking it all up. Even if something went horribly wrong I could just be there for them til the end.
So now I’m in over my head. I have a patient I’ve had for over a year. Don lives at Sunset Manor and is dying of cancer. He’s mentally handicapped and been in various facilities his whole life. They’ve decided not to tell him he is dying. He actually gets around pretty good, so much so he gets into trouble because sometimes he escapes. So I take him out of the home once a week to help ease his wanderlust. We usually go get some ice cream. Sometimes we wander around the mall or visit a pet shelter if we have time between nurse appointments. One week he wanted to stop at the store for some activity books. He likes word find puzzles and coloring books. The next week he wanted some coloring pencils. The week after he wanted more coloring pencils.
“What happened to the coloring pencils we bought last week Don?”
“Oh nothing,” he says, averting my gaze.
“Did you lose them?” I ask
“No,” he says, “they’re for Nathan.”
“Oh, does Nathan live at the house with you?”
“Yeah,” he said. “He wants some batteries too for his radio.”
“What kind of batteries?” I say, shaking my head.
When we get back to the home Nathan is nervously waiting like a prisoner planning an escape. “Did you get the stuff?!” he whispers loudly, blinking his hands with anticipation.
“Hi Nathan,” I say introducing myself. He smiles a big shy rotten toothed smile and nods excitedly. He pulls out a shopping list.
Color pencils, Cracker Jack, Babe Ruth, batteries, headphones, sketch paper, People’s Sexist People Magazine. Also a list of numbers.
Nathan explains that he won the lottery and these are the winning numbers. I just need to pick up the money and a few other things. He’ll give me and Don a million dollars each.
I hand Nathan his colored pencils and explain to him that he is supposed to give me the money first and I’ll go get him all the items he needs. This turns into a long running joke where every time I see Nathan the first thing he says to me is “Did you get the money?!”
I say, “No, I thought you had the money! You’re supposed to give me the money and I’ll bring it to the bank!”
Then he laughs and laughs. Then we get down to the serious business of what he drew for me that week and if I brought him anything. Nathan and I have a working agreement. I’ll buy him art supplies as long as he makes me a drawing. I’ll also bring him one snack, but that’ll cost another drawing or a story or poem.
Lately, he’s been trying to weasel a radio & headphones out of me. I explain to him that these are expensive and my resources are limited to art supplies, snacks and books. Last week I got him a big Ripley’s Believe It or Not book from a thrift store. A Guinness Book of World records and People’s Sexist People is on the list too, but I try to dole things out slowly. I got three guys I’m buying stuff for and, sadly, anything of value gets stolen from these guys.
Joe is Don’s roommate. He draws all the time and brags that he taught Nathan how. He’s a former sign maker. I saw him drawing a horse one day with an old nub of a pencil. He had a ruler he’d fashioned out of a restroom sign, but he was having trouble because he didn’t have an eraser. When I bought him some pencils and erasers, he said that God had sent me. That he’d been praying to find an eraser. I made the same deal. He’d make me art and I get him supplies. Joe draws 20-30 drawings for me a week! Most are Merry Christmas cards to my wife and I. Some are pictures of politicians. (He hates Trump!) He also draws sailboats and his dog that he had to leave when he came to the home. A story for another time.
Every week I spend an extra hour with these guys after taking Don out for ice cream. The four of us hang out in Don & Joe’s room. We sit on twin beds and look at art and pictures and tell stories and laugh like little boys. They are all so sweet and thankful and say it’s their favorite thing all week.
I’ve been having a hard time with it though. I tried to avoid this. I just wanted to help someone through a dark moment in a dark hallway. Now I’m neck deep with the lost little boys (one of whom is me) trying to live in a world of loneliness and pain.
Plus, I can’t shake the feeling that I could help a hundred poor lost souls if I had my shit together. I break down and cry when I’m alone, thinking of how happy I make them with just a few pencils and paper and an hour or two of my time.
I look at the world and I’d hate it if hate wasn’t a waste of time. I guess I got things to do, art to work on, friends to help.
Banks to rob.