On Life

On Life (A Small Topic)

Life is very interesting. The options are, at best, unclear. They may, or may not, be as interesting, but we will surely not know for certain until there is no recouping what we have today. Quite possibly, we may not be even aware of whether the option exists.

Therein lies a mystery.

How this all fits with my current life in the old folks home is confusing. On the one hand, it surely makes the day go more quickly. And more pleasantly. On the other, how often I may be relying on what is surely a philosophical crutch is a bit scary.

Take an incident that took place this morning. A fellow inmate here, Roland, and I shared a table for breakfast. Roland is blind, and he usually has an attendant helping him eat. The attendant was missing when I entered the room, so I rolled my chair up next to Roland, thinking I could somehow help. Later, I struck up an interesting conversation with her, Dayna–she was the caregiver. She had quickly materialized and was replaced by Evelyn, who is also a caregiver. The circumstances of the exchange of duties is not important here. Suffice it to say that I was unaware of the switch. One moment I was looking at and talking to Dayna, the next to Evelyn. Needless to say, the transition was startling. My initial response was to notice the change by commenting, “You’ve changed.” Evelyn apparently appreciated my situation, and responded in kind.

From there my mind went to one of the most intriguing characteristics of this, and quite possibly all, old folk’s homes, the apparent unpredictability of virtually everything here-abouts. Take breakfast, for instance: when you will get two pieces of toast when you expected only one, or bacon that has been highly overcooked, is totally unpredictable. So is the time that lapses between ordering and being served the meal. The latter seems typical of all meals. Whether the orange juice is small or large is also anyone’s guess. The food is usually good, though

I, at first, thought the inconsistency might be a consequence of a characteristic I do like–the absence of tipping–but now I think it is more planned than that. It would surely take great attention to detail to produce intentionally anything like the appearance of randomness that pervades almost everything I encounter here. Time has done nothing to allay the effect, by the way.

Anyway, a consequence of such random behavior on the institution’s part is a mistrust on the reliability of one’s own memory on the part of the residents (or, as I prefer to call us, the inmates). That has the obvious, if conceivably paranoid, perception by the inmates of the institution being in total control. Maybe it only seems I ordered my dinner a long time ago. Maybe there really was evidence of the change in Roland’s caregiver.

I began to laugh uncontrollably at the absurdity of it all. Then I began to cough, which I often do in such circumstances. An odd thing frequently occurs just here. The caregiver becomes distressed by the apparent distress of the cougher. Coughing may lead to vomiting, which can lead to aspiration, which can lead to death. Which results in unbelievable paperwork for all concerned.

In this case, the caregiver’s response was to suggest I take a drink of water. Her intent was to help, but there was virtually nothing she could do which would help at that time. Similarly, we all want reassurance that the cougher is going to get through the coughing fit alive. But the most unhelpful thing a caregiver can do at moments like these is ask, “Are you alright?” The temptation to ask is overwhelming, and almost never avoided. The cougher is not alright. But the last thing he needs to be doing is to reassure the caregiver. Or to think about taking a drink of water. He apparently needs to cough. Coughing is good that way. You almost never do it unless you need to, and vice versa.

At any rate, I obviously got through the fit alive. But it’s interesting here, being alive and living in an old folks home. Next time I hope to tell you about some of the more interesting people I have met here. Until then, via con Dios.

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