Friday, November 12, 2010


With multiple sclerosis, a colostomy and a knee-replacement-gone-wrong that resulted in an amputation (and you thought you had troubles!), my mother-in-law must live in a nursing home. Despite every effort to keep the place clean, cheerful and sanitary, the air has a whiff of feces and urine, and the ambiance stinks of sadness. Hoists and wheelchairs transport aged bodies to bed, bathroom and beyond.

It’s like a sick science experiment, where nutrients are spooned into one end of an alimentary canal and caught with diapers and pans from the other end. There are a few working brains among the dozens of bodies that exist there in suspended animation. And those brains exude a mist of wistfulness and longing—for some dimly recalled self, for the grandchildren and great grands whose photographs beam from bedroom walls, for a phone call from an adult child and, above all, for a visit from anyone at all. 

Sometimes the ones with brains vie among themselves for the status of most beloved. One will introduce her adult daughter to everyone she passes, flaunting that she has a relative who loves her enough to visit. Another will announce loudly that her son arrives in a few days for a weeklong stay. Another will brag—and this boast trumps all others—that when her relatives come, they pay their own way.

I used to long for longevity and feel cheated by my cancer history. Now I wonder if I am not one of the lucky ones, whose body and brain will die in synchrony.

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