These days Orchard Creek is alive with the sound of …..patients! Some come in chariots: white ambulances with orange stripes and light bars. Others slip quietly through the door and announce themselves. New patients are a good thing: staff here has been bored, and income is down, and it’s been way too quiet.
But rapidly over the last three days, new ones are coming. The dining room is beginning to fill up and wheelchair congestion is a matter of course. I try to get the dining room early so I have a clear shot at my table without any spoke-to-spoke face offs with someone as wheelchair bound as but with considerably less navigational dexterity.
I am self-sufficient enough that increased demand on the nursing staff doesn’t affect me much, though I still can’t figure out how to make a bed with only one leg to stand on. I am much more interested in figuring out who the newcomers are and what their story is, as much as I can know. Everyone here is very respecting of privacy, so many of my encounters are very surface—it’s like an AA meeting without dependency on alcohol.
“Hi. I’m Roseanne.” The lovely older woman introduces herself, and I am immediately captivated by her upswept hairdo, and her low, cultured voice. We become friends: I discover that she is a watercolorist who lives in an artsy little town not far from here. She is also a retired teacher, single now, and happily living alone in her renovated older home with a new studio room with skylights. But she falls—often and sometimes quite disastrously. Her children have put her at Orchard Creek because they are concerned about her and she fears they will not let her return to her beloved home and studio.
Roseanne and I are seated at the same table in the dining room, and have good conversations during our meals. But we are not alone for many meals: here comes Ed! Ed is another matter altogether—where Roseanne is quiet and dignified, Ed is robust, energetic, and a talker. And Ed has plenty to talk about—his store of facts and stories seems endless and I, somewhat a doubter when anyone talks that much and seems to know that much, reserve judgment until I realize that Ed really does know all he is talking about.
Our dinner table is more animated and fun now. Ed has had heart surgery, and is at OC to gain strength and take advantage of the excellent physical therapy offered here. His politics are quite liberal, and he makes no effort to suppress his thoughts—Roseanne and I decide that if the other residents in the dining hall could hear better, they would probably be most offended!
Ed and Roseanne are the same age, and grew up in farming communities not far from each other. As they discover these areas of like experiences, I am treated to some interesting and colorful memories of the world as it was in a Michigan farm town some 70+ years ago. We talk about cows (Roseanne’s job was to bring them in for milking), and transportation (Ed thunders, “They had better public transportation systems back then than they do now!”). I learn about entertainment (5 cent movies, says Ed, the film buff) and recipes (“There’s nothing better than a loaf of homemade bread and a bowl of soup from the week’s leftovers”, says Roseanne.)
A day or so later, Irene joins us, adding another layer to the conversation. Irene watches educational TV, reads a lot of books, and knows in detail the history of Benzie County, where she was born and raised. She too is an expert on long ago—food, child raising, education: nothing much escapes her. Though she is quiet, when she speaks, we all listen. She was quite depressed when we first met: she didn’t have the strength she felt she should have, after her stroke.
It feels like our dining table is a shelter in the storm. The three others boost my mood by their understanding of my plight, trapped here and getting most anxious for the surgery that is coming. Ed has found some listeners for his monologues, and Roseanne says, “Oh, Ed, you know so MUCH.” Ed puffs up a little, and launches into a new story. Roseanne is anxious about her future and fears it, and Irene is uncertain about her recovery and we all discuss and support her physical therapy progress.
It took Ed a couple of days to find us. He stayed in his room at the other end of the hall, figuring he was in a place with some real loonies. He ate alone and quietly read his magazines, until the staff convinced him to meet Roseanne and me. He checked us out first before committing to sit at our table, but now I notice he’s in the dining hall early, and stays late.
Granted, Ed had a few things to worry about. Down at his end of the hall are some unique characters: one who spends the night yelling “Nurse! Nurse!” loudly, and then asking the respondent to scratch his back or adjust the pillows. He’s a pretty high maintenance guy, so you can hear his commands almost without ceasing all night and all through the meals.
His grumpy and demanding presence is offset by Bob. Bob is a round, smiley-faced elf, with rosy cheeks and a shiny bald head. Now here’s Bob’s habit: he sings! Constantly. He doesn’t remember words very often, so he sings spirited melodies using ‘la la la laaaa’. Fortunately he has good rhythm and infallible pitch: he says he was a singer as a young man, and I believe it. One of his favorite things is to sing during physical therapy, tunes which complement the exercise he is doing. One other thing about Bob—he can sing in a normal male voice, or in a penetrating high falsetto. And he can switch between the two seamlessly.
Here we are, passengers in the same boat. Our future is uncertain—this is a facility for transients, people who are on their way to a daughter’s house, to a home, to a healthier life, or to a more devastating illness. It’s not easy for any of us. Perhaps we need to take a lesson from Bob—smile broadly and sing gloriously.