Isabelle smiled proudly as she sat in the lobby early Wednesday afternoon.
“I went to the doctor by myself; it’s the first time,” she said.
Ralph, her husband, recently hung up the car keys for good. Linda, one of the caregivers, has been able drive Isabelle and Ralph to their more distant appointments. But this one was in town, and Linda wasn’t available, so Isabelle took the Covenant Woods’ bus to and from her appointment. She hadn’t used the bus for her medical commutes before and was relieved that it went smoothly. And further relieved by what the doctor said.
“It was my heart doctor, my cardiologist. It’s been a long time – too long – since I’ve seen him,” she said. “But he said nothing has changed. He looked at the medications I’m taking and said they look fine. The only thing he said was I should start taking baby aspirin. I still have blockages, but they haven’t gotten any worse, and otherwise he said everything looks good.”
Al had his own medical adventures that day.
“I got my hearing checked,” he said. “They said I have a fifty-percent loss in my left ear and forty percent in my right ear. I asked them what I should do about it. They said hearing aids run from about nineteen hundred dollars to sixty-seven hundred. I told them I could live with my hearing the way it is.
“Then I went to see Zhen, my Chinese doctor. He gave me new prescriptions for Marinol and Hydrocodone. I’ve still got most of the pills left from the last prescriptions. People are going to start thinking I’m selling the stuff.
“But I can’t even give it away,” he told Marvin. “I keep trying to give some to Tom, but he won’t take it.”
Ralph and Isabelle have been married sixty-six years. If there are matches made in heaven, theirs is surely one. Whatever disagreements they had along the way have been forgotten, and each day their appreciation for each other seems to deepen. Lately, Ralph has been having difficulty getting his hands and arms to do what he wants them to do, and at dinner one night, Isabelle helped him cut his chicken.
“It’s funny,” she said. “It used to be Ralph had to help me all the time, now I have to help him. I had five cancer surgeries. They cut me from my navel all the way down. I should have had a zipper. Ralph learned to clean the incisions; he took care of me and took care of the things I couldn’t take care of when I was sick.
“Our daughter started going to the orthodontist when we were at Fort Leonard Wood. Then Ralph’s unit was sent to Okinawa, and we went with him. The Army didn’t have an orthodontist on Okinawa, and every week my daughter and I had to fly to Taiwan to see the orthodontist there. That was hard on me, and several times Ralph arranged his schedule so he could take Jean.
“When Ralph retired from the Army, I went to school to become a nurse. I stopped when I became an LPN. I could have gone on, but I wasn’t sure I could handle the classes. Pharmacology almost killed me. We had to learn to spell the names of all those drugs. I asked Ralph to help me. He said he couldn’t even pronounce the names of the drugs. But he helped me get through it.”
Ralph didn’t come down to dinner last night. Isabelle said he had been very tired and hadn’t gotten out of bed until early afternoon. He seemed to feel a little better as the day went on, she said, but didn’t want to get dressed and come to dinner.
“Years ago I made Ralph promise he’d let me die before he did,” Isabelle said. “I reminded him of that this morning.”
Roz stopped me one morning as I wended my way through the Covenant Woods’ parking lots.
“Catherine is here today, and you were the first person she asked about,” Roz said.
Catherine used to live here, but she found more affordable digs last fall and moved out. I used to eat dinner with her, Sue and Corrine. Roz is a private caregiver who works with Corrine, and who did and may still work with Catherine. At least, she still has Catherine’s cell phone number. I know that, because Roz immediately called Catherine to tell her she was talking to me.
“She’s in the beauty shop,” Roz told me, while keeping the phone line open. “You go on in and go right back there and say, ‘hello.’” Then Roz put to her ear and said to Catherine, “Tom is on his way back there to see you. And remember, when you get ready to leave, you call me.”
“Geez, you bark orders to everyone, don’t you?” I said to Roz.
“It comes from twenty-seven years of marriage. I figure if I can tell my husband what to do, I can tell everybody what to do.”
In the early, not-yet-bright hours of the morning, when the sun is still well east of Columbus, I am an ace meteorologist. Without the aid of a thermometer, barometer, weather vane, anemometer, radar – Doppler, or otherwise – and without so much as a peek at the Weather Channel, I predict west Georgia’s weather. Today we will be in the path of a high-pressure system, the sun will rise in a cloudless sky, and though the thermometer will push towards ninety this afternoon – this is Georgia in September, after all – the humidity will remain comfortably low. These predictions are based on the relative ease with which I dressed myself this morning. My methods won’t get me the American Meteorological Society Seal of Approval, but it you’re a betting man, you’d be wise not to bet against me.