Al has not had dinner in the dining room for three weeks, maybe a month. The problem is his legs. He is retaining liquids; his feet are beginning to look like the Goodyear Blimp and his legs resemble huge over-stuffed sausages. The last time he came down to dinner, he struggled, often unsuccessfully, to stay awake. During those few moments when he was awake and aware, he told us his knees were killing him.
I followed him to his apartment that night. Fortunately, he made it without incident; I wouldn’t have been much help had he fallen. “I think I’m going to have a movement,” he said, as he went in the bathroom. Jim came by a few minutes later to drop off two elastic sleeves. He said there was copper in the material, and Al should pull them up over his knees, and the sleeves would ease the pain. When Al came out of the bathroom, he went directly to bed. I put the sleeves on the table, and once Al got covered up and comfortable, I went to my apartment and watched Jeopardy.
The next morning, as I wheeled my way into Al’s apartment, he waved the sleeves at me and asked, “What the hell are these goddamn things?” I told him what Jim had told me. “Do they work?” “Well, Jim said they do?” “What do you want me to do?” I told him to stick his foot through the sleeve and pull it up so it covered the knee. For the next ten minutes, Al repeatedly asked those questions, and I kept giving him the same answers. Eventually, he slipped his bare right foot through one of the sleeves. He managed to get it halfway up his swollen lower leg before it would go no further. He looked at me as if he was about to say, “This is another fine mess you’ve gotten us into, Ollie.” Instead he said, “What the fuck do I do now? Shit.” I suggested he take it off. He did.
A few minutes passed before I got Al’s oxygen tube and told him he ought to put it on. He stared at it for a while, located the part that fits in his nostrils, stared at that a few more minutes and said, “Am I supposed to stick this up my nose? Or do I stick it up my ass? Tom, I ought to shove this fucking thing up your ass.” He stared at the “fucking thing” for a minute or two, and then slipped it on. Not having to fight quite so hard to breath didn’t greatly improve his mood, but it did help.
Al has had some better days, too. Some days he almost seems like his old self. Other days, though, he says he doesn’t know where he is, or what’s going on, or why he’s still here. This morning, he came very close to crying. “Tom, I can’t even think anymore. What’s happening to me?” he asked several times.
There are times I when wonder if I’m cut out to be Al’s confidant. Many of his struggles are also my struggles. “I can’t hardly move my legs anymore,” he’ll say. “Neither can I,” I say to myself.
“My balance is so damn bad, every time I stand up I’m sure I’m going to fall flat on my fucking face,” he says. And I think, “I’ve felt that way for almost ten years.”
“I’m so damn tired. All I want to do is crawl back in bed and sleep,” he’ll say. “I’m twenty-four years younger than you, and there are way, way too many days when all I want to do is crawl back in bed,” I mumble. “What did you say?” Al asks. “Nothing. Just clearing my throat.”
“All I do is rot away in this fucking chair the whole damn day,” he says. “Me, too.” “What do we do now?” Al asks. “I don’t know.”
Many times I have left Al’s apartment feeling down about my situation. It is hard to believe I’ve boosted Al’s mood, when mine will require some heavy lifting to get it back where it should be. Then I wonder if I’m being whiney, or am I just being honest.
Hell if I know.