I sat in the waiting-for-meds room next to Patty. She’s a very old lady, but not exactly frail. And although she can’t hear unless you shout in her right ear, and she has watery blue eyes, that look like they have a film over them, and as she told me, she’s 95 going on 96, and she has, as far as I can tell (maybe not the right judge) most of her marbles, and she backs into the seat next to mine and I guide her gently by touching her left hip, and she says, “Oh thank you” the way non-New Yorkers say it, and moves to her right until she’s centered with the red chair behind her, and I say, G’head.
It’s right behind you.
And she plops her keister down and says, O thank you again.
And her table mate who usually guides her around, chops her food for her and explains things to her with a godly patience that I never had, says: Oh. David is guiding you in for a landing.
She has a good memory and sits down.
Across from her a row of chairs, some empty, some with people waiting to get into the Wellness Center (the modern euphemism for a dispensary) and I shout in her left ear, how much can you see over there? Pointing across the way.
Mostly shadows, she says. But if someone is sitting there, I can see their head. Their head fills the entire chair.
What do they call that, I ask.
Big head syndrome, she says and laughs. No, I don’t remember anymore. I have always had a good memory, but it’s going.
At this point the two seats that had been occupied across the way are empty.
“What do you see now,” I ask.
Her head shakes as she looks down the row of empty chairs.
Just shadows, she says. I don’t think anyone is there. Am I right?
Yes, Patty. All empty. Just shadows of chairs.
In the middle of this, the blue shirts are starting their shift. Everyone is talking about the fall I had last night.
I ask them how everyone knows about it.
It’s in you chart.
Oh, man. I was hoping they wouldn’t report the fall I took in my room. These falls are not as dangerous as some of the real falls around here.
They’re pretty unusual for me, and the hard part isn’t the fall, but trying to get up off the floor after the fall.
So last night, the Mets game was rained out (that usually keeps me up a couple hours) and I closed my eyes and went into a very dark, dreamless, sleep with my headphones on listening to Beethoven.
“Mr Beckerman! Get up Mr. Beckerman!” One of the blue shirts is yelling at the top of her lungs that the Wellness Center is calling for me.
My night medicine is a bit of Valium (to sleep), some Statin to clean my blood, and a BP medicine, that will cause me to pass out if I take it as prescribed. I usually take the second one and hide it under my tongue, and break it in half when I get to my room after checking my vitals.
So I get woken up at 9 p.m. Get dressed in a rush. And half-asleep get down to the Wellness Center.
“You know you woke me up to give me this pill to help me sleep?”
And no answer is heard.
Still in a fog, I swallow all the pills. Make it back to my apartment. Which is still dark. My Rollator hits something on the floor, and it and me are soon lying on the floor.
I’m not hurt, but when you have a fall, you have to sit with the doctor, and answer questions for about an hour.
So I’m on the floor. Can’t crawl onto the bed where the phone and the buzzer for calling for help her still lying. After about a half hour, I get the idea of pulling the blanket which has the alert button and my cell off the bed and onto the floor.
I call the operator and tell her to connect me with the night nurse. I tell her I’m on the floor but can’t get up. All of a sudden the room is filled with blue shirts including the one who woke me.
“Oh my God!” seems to be the general reaction.
“Not good training,” I think.
I say: I’m okay. I’m not hurt. I just can’t stand up. That’s the main reason I’m in this place. I landed on my butt. No bruises. Just can’t stand without help.
The nurse arrives. She knows me. Has already been through one fall with me.
She doesn’t need any instructions. She grabs me under the arms and yanks me to my feet. You just need a strong woman.
And she takes my vitals, and drops me on the bed.
“How’d this happen?”
You woke me from a deep sleep, and made it sound like an emergency, and when I got back, the Rollator must’v hit something in the dark, and we both went down together.
One of my favorite blue shirts walks by while I’m sitting next to Patty and grabs my arm, whispering: you thought you were so rough and tough. Last night you fell on your butt.
And I grabbed her tattooed arm and said: just remember, we all go down the same path eventually. Even you!
Patty turns to me and says, was that somebody? Or just a shadow?
I think about it for a while: just another shadow in a House of Dark Shadows.