Ralph and Isabelle are now under hospice care. At eighty-nine and eighty-seven, respectively, they each have an array of health issues, and many of the things they used to easily do for themselves are now very, very difficult if not beyond them altogether. For several decades they have been paying premiums on an insurance policy that was supposed to help them pay, when the time came, for assistance in doing the things they once did for themselves. But now that the time has come, the insurance company has told Ralph and Isabelle that they don’t need any assistance and has refused to pay their claims. If I correctly understand Isabelle, the people who steered them to hospice did so in large part to ease their financial burden.
The decision to go on hospice has been particularly hard on Isabelle.
“At my age, I could go any time, I realize that,” she said. “I’ve got health problems, but they’re not so bad that I want to go just now.”
Monday, the hospice people spent several hours in Ralph and Isabelle’s apartment getting them setup with their drugs and moving in a hospital bed for Ralph.
“I was able to keep it together as long as they were there,” Isabelle said. “But the minute they left, I cried.”
Al, who like Ralph is eighty-nine, has opinions on everything, including death. But sometimes his views are contradictory, and Isabelle sometimes finds comfort in that.
“Al says he just wants to die and get it over with,” Isabelle said last night. “I’m not sure I believe him, though. He says that one day, and the next day he’s talking about some miracle food that will keep him going forever. He read somewhere that a scientist said, ‘if the sun touches it, eat it.’ So, now he’s eating the skin of all the vegetables and fruit that he can get a hold of. I don’t think he’s really in a hurry to die.”
While circling the grounds one morning, I was overtaken by a short, spunky, plump and perky Hispanic woman.
“Mind if I walk with you a while?” she asked.
“Not at all,” I said.
She said she is a private care giver for three Covenant Woods’ residents. She helps Bobby get a shower every morning, and there are two women whom she helps on alternate days. When she is done here, she goes to her real job at the Regional Rehabilitation Hospital in Phenix City. If she has enough time, she likes to take a brisk walk around Covenant Woods before she heads to Alabama.
“I’m trying to lose weight. See, I’ve gone point-six miles so far,” she said, holding up a pedometer. “I go to Cooper Creek Park whenever I can. The path over there is level, and I’ll walk a while then run about a quarter of a mile and then walk some and then run a little more. My goal is to run a 5K.”
She and her husband, who is retired military, have two sons in college and are always looking for ways to improve their cash flow.
“They wanted me to come to work here,” she said. “I asked them what the job paid. When they told me, I said, ‘No way.’”
Mae is tall, thin, always impeccably dressed and partial to wide-brim hats. She often looks as if she is on her way to sip mint juleps with the fine ladies of Louisville on Derby day. She would not, in the manner of Eliza Doolittle, yell, “Come on, Dover! Move your bloomin’ arse!” She might, however, say it in a conversational tone, just to see how the people nearby react. Mae is unflappable, although she would have made a great flapper, and she needed every ounce of her unflappability the other day.
Al and I were standing near the elevator talking about nothing much when Mae came along. She joined the conversation, which soon turned to the topic of Al’s diapers. Al, who experiences leaking fore and aft, has worn diapers for some time, but his doctor recently recommended a different type of diaper and gave Al a few samples. The transition was not easy.
“Every time I do this,” Al said as he reached for something on an imaginary shelf and twisted at the waist, “they ride up and dig into my crotch. It hurts. And the worst part is they’re lacy.”
And with that, Al undid his belt and let his trousers fall.
“See,” he said, pointing to the diaper’s waist band, a strip of plastic mesh.
Mae was unfazed. But Marvin, who stepped out of the elevator and saw Al with his pants down to his ankles, stretching and gyrating to illustrate his difficulties with the diapers, was taken aback and went hurriedly on his way without uttering a word.