I have had my share of interesting roommates and other temporary companions since I started my medical roller-coaster. There was the delirious preacher who spoke in tongues and would attempt to get out of bed at 4 in the morning, explaining to the nurses that he was going fishing. There was the guy who ate like The Fly. Up until now, my favorite was The Mysterious Howling Woman Across the Hall (The nurses said that she never spoke- just periodic horrifying screams, all day and all night). At dialysis, there’s the bitchy Rabbi who tries to haggle with the staff, as if he can get his own blood back at a profit, and threatens to sue daily.(I am not making this up.) There are dozens of shapeless little old orthodox women in Moe Howard wigs, and the batty old lady who sings gospel, nonstop (You can hear her cracked, wavering voice coming up in the elevator, and going back down four hours later, without a stop to the rapture for a moment in between.) But recently I met two new ones who I found inspiring, both on the same day.
Entertainment is hard to come by at dialysis. It’s four long hours, with very little diversion… So when I heard this one coming down the hall, I knew I was in for a treat.
“Noooo!” (An old, childish, cranky and petulant voice)
Murmurs in the hall.
More murmurs, louder- and getting closer. This was getting good.
“I don’ like it here!”
A traffic jam was starting in the hall as a tiny, cherub faced Russian lady fought gamely with her aide, trying to turn her wheelchair around and flee, childishly keening “Nooo!” I don’ like it here! Take me hooome!”
Nurses clustered around, her west indian aide cooing “Be a good lady! You bein’ bad! Don’ be bad!”, and Russian nurses clustering around her, trying to be rational in the face of this tantrum. They negotiated getting out of the wheelchair. They negotiated getting her into the chair. They negotiated every tiny step– and her contributions never varied. “Take me hoooome! Don’ like it here!”
“Be good lady! You bein’ bad! You promised you’d be good!”
”Don’ wanna be good! Why be good?”
Why be good, indeed?
This does suck! There are lots of things which I’d rather be doing, lots of places I’d rather be… but I go along with it quietly, docile, just because it’s keeping me alive. When she made a fuss, she got all kinds of attention. When she threatened to pull out the tubing and needles, they gave her candy. Nobody gives me candy. That’s when I realized that right here was a really, really good reason to get old. When you are old and difficult, they give you candy. I want to get that old so I can be that unreasonable- like a giant, wrinkled toddler- and get away with it.
On the way home, I was shown an equally good alternative. It was bright and sunny out, and when I climbed into the ambulette van my eyes had not adjusted- so I was not aware, initially, that I was not alone. Suddenly the argument I had climbed into the middle of abruptly resumed- the driver (in front of me) and an old man (behind me) arguing loudly in Russian over the sibilant, steady voice of the radio- a female voice quietly whispering a steady counterpoint to the angry yelling going on around me.
Every time there was a break in the yelling, the woman’s voice became clearer- a velvety, intimate voice, ceaselessly whispering, indecipherable. That’s when my skin started to crawl. That voice was creepy- and seemed closer than it should be. Much closer. Steady, ceaseless- and much too close. I risked a look around, and ended up staring into the sunken pit eyes of Sister Mary Im-Ho-Tep. Shrouded in ancient black from head to toe, eyes fixed on something far away that mortal eyes were not meant to see, she sat and whispered. I assume it was prayer, but to what dark and hungry god I know not. I don’t know if she was speaking in Yiddish or Russian or what, but I suspect it was the tongue of Dagon, older than man, approximating sounds and blasphemous names human tongue was never meant to utter. And she was right behind me, whispering right in my ear. As old as she was, her voice was disturbingly sensual, which only made the whole thing worse. I sat there, staring straight ahead, with this honeyed voice steadily, ceaselessly whispering. It was wrong, wrong like grandpa’s tongue in my ear. Wrong.
And inspirational. Because if I can’t be as cranky as the first lady, I want to be as creepy as the second one. Maybe both, but that might be setting my sights too high. This lady was Halloween, and that is, in fact, what I’ve always wanted – ‘cause Halloween is scary, and they give you candy.
So- now I have something to shoot for.