Housebloggers, countrymen, lend me your ears. If ever you find yourself edging toward despair over matters mechanical, architectural, or financial--from leaking roofs to cracking grout to flooding basements--restore your perspective by paying a visit to a nursing home. Make sure you go to a floor for "low-functioning" or cognitively impaired patients, the ones not likely to raise a credible ruckus over rough treatment, sensory deprivation, or vile food...a floor like the one where my almost-94-year-old Uncle Don is in "rehab" after suffering a small heart attack a week after joining us for a CrazyStable Thanksgiving.
Here are some of the liberties you will learn to savor anew, however unfinished or imperfect your domicile:
...Choosing the time of your waking and retiring.
...Preparing your own meals, smelling them while they cook, eating them with your family (or alone, without the proximate company of disruptive strangers), and consuming them at a time of your own choosing.
...Walking to the bathroom, using it, and walking out again...alone.
...Seeing interiors lit after dark by the glow of tungsten light bulbs instead of fluourescent tubes.
...Piling your stuff up, knowing that no one will disturb it.
...Dressing yourself in the clothes of your choice.
...Walking out your own front door.
Until Don collapsed on the floor of his apartment almost a fortnight ago, he took these pleasures for granted, as we all do. His life--in his own grubby and threadbare CrazyStable in an apartment in upper Manhattan--was high-risk for someone as frail as he, and he'd already been mugged, hit by a car while crossing Broadway, and brought home by kindly strangers after becoming disoriented or behaving inappropriately in various restaurants, bus stops, and stores. They would call me, his Next of Kin, with obvious Samaritan concern; should someone in his state be living alone?
Of course not...but the alternatives are few and fearsome. This widowed and childless gentleman, whose Dickensian cheer is so radiant that he posed several times as a beaming Ebenezer Scrooge for magazine ads, is now "safe" and "clean." He is also agitated, baffled, and despondent, trying night and day to struggle to his feet and walk to the bathroom...only to be wrestled back into bed by bawling nurses well-drilled in the avoidance of lawsuits. They don't believe him that he is able to walk, albeit unsteadily, with his beloved crutch (Scrooge morphs into Tiny Tim!); hell, they don't believe me, and when I matter-of-factly got him to his feet for a demonstration, hysterics ensued and a Supervisor was called. Only in physical therapy could such daring maneuvers be attempted, she insisted! I take full responsibility, I told her, as I held his hand. (He did fine.)
And so it is that the Christmas decorating around here is barely begun...as I ready Don's stable for his imminent return. He'll need an attendant round the clock, and the attendant will need a place to sit and rest and watch TV, and that means renovating at least a corner of his bare and squalid "bat cave" of an apartment. Spouse has already let off bug bombs, a painter has been hired, adaptive devices will be bought, and -- the crucial link -- a Wondrous Helper is being sought who can assist him without sore oppressing him.
"All I want is to be fully active," he told me. "Why won't these women let me have any peace?" I have no good answer, except that Very Good $400-a-day Nursing Homes Don't Want You to Fall Down and Sue Their Lazy Asses. And so Don is going to go home--by Christmas, if possible. The best idea? Probably not. I take full responsibility.
And though home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit answered to, in strongest conjuration.
Charles Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit