Never for a moment think staying in the hospital means you’ll get much rest. Casinos and hospitals are the two environments that never sleep. Lights are on, people are talking, machines are beeping, buzzing, and ringing - and they both take your money!
My room number at the hospital was 715D; the “D” is for door. 715W was my room, too; the “W” is for window; I had a roommate. Having a roommate made sleeping even more problematic. Two sets of doctors, nurses, and aides poking and prodding you for information. My second day in the hospital, the day with Dr. Evil, my roommate got discharged and I was left with most of the day having the room to myself (with Wes of course). I went to sleep that night so sure I was going to get more rest because I was by myself.
At 2:15 in the morning the door opened, light streamed in, and three caregivers talking in normal voices, wheeled in my next roommate. She was apparently very sensitive to being poked and prodded. Her name was Mary. I became fully awake with a scream, “OW, OW, OW! YOU’RE HURTING ME!!” as they tried to access her veins to put in an IV. She was not happy; and now, nor was I. “Are you kidding me??” I thought to myself, “Can’t they all try to be a little quieter? Can’t they see someone might be trying to sleep?” I was angry and feeling put upon. Because of the curtain between the beds I could not see anyone.
“What is your name?” I heard them ask her, apparently wanting to understand her mental capacity.
“WHAT?” I heard her respond loudly. “I DON’T HAVE MY HEARING AIDS IN.”
"OMG!" I thought to myself. "She is hard of hearing, too!?"
Another voice, whom I found out later belonged to her grandson, Chris, said to the caregivers, “She is hard of hearing,’” and to his grandmother, “THEY WANT TO KNOW YOUR NAME.”
“Oh" then, "ELLEN”, she responded. Understandably, there was a quiet pause from the caregivers because the white board at the end of her bed said Mary. Her grandson rescued them, “Her name is Mary Ellen, but she goes by Ellen.” I imagined a nod of their head and a look of relief.
“What is your birthday?”
“WHAT?’ she asked.
“WHAT IS YOUR BIRTHDAY?” They said more loudly, getting into the rhythm of what was going to be required to communicate with her.
“JULY 3RD, 1919,” She responded matter-of-factly. At that moment I found myself going from anger to intrigue as I did the math. "98 years old! Wow!"
“DO YOU KNOW WHO THE PRESIDENT IS?”
“YEAH,” After a long pause, “BUT I CAN’T REMEMBER HIS NAME,” she said dismissively. I smiled.
“WHAT MONTH IS IT?”
She quickly responded, “DECEMBER!!” as if to say, “Dumb Ass.” My smile got wider. Sometime later, the caregivers left, leaving her and her grandson alone.
‘WHY AM I HERE?” I would hear her ask.
“YOU PASSED OUT AT DINNER LAST NIGHT GRANDMA,” he would say loudly, but lovingly.
“OH.” she responded. “I DON’T REMEMBER THAT.” Then, “YOU SHOULD GO HOME AND GET SOME SLEEP, I’LL BE OK.”
“THAT'S OK GRANDMA, I’M GOING TO BE HERE ALL NIGHT.”
“OH….ALRIGHT THEN.”…”BUT IT CAN’T BE COMFORTABLE.”
“I’M GOOD GRANDMA.”
A few hours later the same exchange would take place. ‘WHY AM I HERE?” “YOU FAINTED AT DINNER GRANDMA.” “OH”…I lay in my bed smiling, soaking up her grandson’s kindness, and the love I could feel between the two of them.
In the morning the doctor came by to chat with Ellen and her grandson.
He said, “Good morning! Your test results indicate your heart is beating too slowly and…”
“WHAT? I CAN’T HEAR YOU. I DON’T HAVE MY HEARING AIDS IN?”
He tried again, “YOUR TEST RESULTS INDICATE YOUR HEART IS BEATING TOO SLOWLY CAUSING YOU TO FAINT. WE THINK YOU SHOULD HAVE A PACE MAKER PUT IN.” He then preceded to explain what the pacemaker would do and how the procedure worked ending with the gory details of wires threading down into her heart.
Ellen responded, “I DON’T THINK I WANT THAT.”
Her grandson, Chris, tried to clarify, “GRANDMA, A PACE MAKER WILL HELP. THIS TIME YOU HAPPENED TO BE AT A TABLE. WE ARE CONCERNED THAT NEXT TIME YOU COULD FALL IF YOU ARE STANDING UP.”
“THAT’S WHY I HAVE A WALKER!” she confidently and proudly responded.
“YOUR HEART IS BEATING TOO SLOWLY GRANDMA; THAT'S WHY YOU FAINTED AT DINNER; AND THAT'S WHY THEY WANT TO PUT THE PACEMAKER IN.” He, too, reiterated what a pacemaker does.
“OH, I DON’T WANT THAT… BUT YOU WANT ME TO HAVE IT DON’T YOU?”
I heard him sigh, as if to gather his thoughts so he could most lovingly yet accurately share his honest feelings. “WE’RE CONCERNED ABOUT YOU FALLING AND THIS WOULD HELP GRANDMA, BUT I JUST WANT TO SUPPORT YOU IN WHAT YOU THINK IS BEST.” There was a pause as if she were giving it some more thought.
“NO, I DON’T WANT THAT. MAYBE NEXT TIME...IF I FALL.”
Her grandson eventually, and maybe a bit reluctantly, supported her in her decision. The doctor left to write up the discharge papers and it was the first moment I had with just the three of us. I said to myself. “Renee, say something now or you never will.”
“Chris, I just want to say what an amazing man you are in how you are with your grandma.” He emerged from behind the curtain.
Well, thanks,” he said with some hesitation, “I just wish I were more patient with her sometimes.”
“You were SO patient with her, and what I got to witness, the love between the two of you, was a real gift for me, so thank you.” We chatted a bit longer while Ellen got dressed and he told me her story. When she was six years old her mother died and her father’s new wife didn’t like her causing Ellen to move in with an aunt. Ellen married at sixteen to a man she later called, “A drinker and a stinker!” Sometime in the 1940s, rid of him, through divorce or death I don’t know, she ended up marrying Chris’s grandfather. They never had children but her new husband had a son which was Chris’s father. She now lives with Chris and his wife, and as he said, “It took us three years to convince her to move in and we had to make her believe it was her idea. She’s fiercely independent and strong!”
At that moment Ellen emerged from behind the curtain with her walker. She was clad in her gray, stretch, baggy elastic waist pants, a white turtle neck and her red felt Christmas vest with the green felt Christmas tree on the front - all 4’8” of her. She was probably taller at one point, but she’s a bit hunched over the walker now. Her head rests on her shoulders. Somewhere in those 98 years her neck got swallowed up. She has a head of white hair on her that, had a granddaughter been with her rather than a grandson , it might not have been sticking out in so many directions. Her nose and ears have had 98 years to continue to grow and they have taken advantage of everyone of them. She was beautiful! As she walked past the end of my bed she paused, turned her head slightly and said, “I HOPE YOU FEEL BETTER,” in a voice that might indicate she had smoked for a few decades. I smiled and thanked her. She turned her head forward again, and confidently, but slowly walked her way out the door and out of my life.
Had I chosen to stay self-absorbed the night Ellen began her short stay as my roommate, I would have missed out on the love, the extraordinary beauty, that was being played out a few feet away from me. I feel so fortunate to have been able to experience the two of them together and still think of them today. A smile always comes to my face. At the time, I was able to see the gift that they were. Later in the week, I would come to see a far larger role they were to play in my life. But that’s another story.
Yes, as I reflect on that night it is obvious I was in the hospital…but it became obvious I must have been in a casino, too, because I feel like the luckiest person in the world to have hit the jackpot when Mary Ellen briefly became my roommate. Abundance and love take many forms.