Monday, December 03, 2007C
Here’s another imagination exercise for you (you want to get the full benefit of my stay here, right?). This interactive moment is called “Dining Room Dilemma” or, “The Clash of the Wheel Chairs.” As this facility filled back up again after Thanksgiving, it accumulated a about ten wheelchair users—or about 50% of the residents in this wing. Now a couple of the residents steadfastly refuse to go to the dining room: Al loves his hospital gown and refuses to part with wearing it (which makes for interesting physical therapy sessions and disgusting dinners, so he eats in his room); Chuck just likes to laze about on his bed in his sweatpants and throw stuff on the floor; and Mr. I-don’t-know-his-name has very nasty bruises all over his face and head and a broken arm and really doesn’t like to be seen in public (the story I heard was he fell while bird watching. I wonder if he was up IN the tree with the birds….)
But the rest of us congregate in the dining room three times a day: 8 AM, Noon sharp, and 5 PM. And I mean, we are PROMPT—this is our social calendar as well as our nourishment-taking. So at 10 minutes before the hour, the vehicle parade begins…walkers and wheelchairs mostly, some handicapped by an oxygen tank dragging along behind. Some need to be pushed: it’s hard to propel a wheel chair when you have a broken arm. It’s quite a sight—reminds me of Traverse City’s traffic ‘jam’ which last for 15 minutes every day as the commuters from the urban sprawl ‘burbs make it to work and home again.
The real interesting part of the meal occurs when you try and put ten wheelchairs at 6 tables located in a small room. Add to those logistics the fact that most of us sit at the exact same place every day, facing the same direction, and saying the same things to the same meal companions (whether or not we can hear over the blaring tv).
“Good morning, Elizabeth”, sings out the ‘dietician assistant’. “Good morning, Gene.”
“I sit over here, you know.”
“You’ll have to move this chair. My wheelchair goes right there.”
“Did I just run over your foot?”
“I’ll have to back Elizabeth out of her place to get you to that corner table. I’ll put you right BACK, Elizabeth.”
“Wait, Gene. Your right leg rest is caught on Clarence’s left wheel. Gene! Wait!”
“Judith, hang on. I know where Marian goes, you don’t have to organize everything.”
“You’re having HOW MANY guests for lunch, Trudi?”
Finally, we are all in there, with only one person pouting because she didn’t get a table by the window. It is an amazing Chinese fire drill of wheel chairs, assorted chair parts, walkers, and discarded dining room chairs. Our eyes eagerly turn to the menu whiteboard, filled out by the dietary assistant in blissful and optimistic ignorance of what is actually on the cart sent up from the kitchen. The nurse moves among us with our bouquets of pills and our juices—cranberry, prune, apple.
And at last we eat, silent birds in a junkyard of metal parts, savoring the few minutes before we disentangle ourselves and begin the exodus back to our solitary rooms.