Imagine yourself in a multiplex movie theater. Curiously, no walls separate the half-dozen theaters that form the multiplex. Miraculously, you are watching six different screens all at once, thoroughly understanding and enjoying every scene, word, character.
Welcome to ADHD.
[You in the Real World, be sure to click on the red underlined hyperlinks!]
When I arrive at the quiet room of the hospice patient, he is fast asleep. I carefully, stealthily pull a heavy chair closer to the bed and sit beside Quinton McHale for a bit –
Seriously, Black, says Screen Four, you couldn’t have sat five minutes. And that’s not his name!
– studying his aged but strong face. Then ADHD takes over –
You were expecting something else? asks One.
– and I pop to my feet to view the arrangement of memorabilia his family has placed about the spacious room.
Screen Six whistles. His wife is a beauty! This painting captures her perfectly!
“Yes,” I acknowledge with a bit of sadness. “Her passing took a great deal out of him at the time.”
But now, laughs Three, kindly, Quinton believes she is out shopping and will be home any minute.
True, adds Five. That’s why Mr. McHale keeps saying, “Glad I’ve got the checkbook!”
I step to a second wall and study a marvelous three-generation photo of the patient’s family. Intent on figuring out which person is directly related and which has married into the clan, I nearly miss hearing the soft voice from behind that calls out to me. Surprised, I turn and quickly step to Quinton’s bed, lean partway down and identify myself as “Blackie Blackwell, with hospice. I’m a volunteer.”
“You’re an officer?” he says, half-closed eyes blinking quickly in an effort to overcome his peaceful sleep.
An officer? asks Two. Where was I while you were serving?
“Not an officer, sir.” Louder still. “A volunteer. I’m Blackie.”
“You’re Officer Blackie?”
Seeing he has a heralded veteran’s history and I’m having little luck in conveying my role, I change tactics. “Do you know why I’m here, sir?”
His gentle eyes look into my face and he asks, “Why, dear?”
Caught offguard, breath escapes me. I’ve never had an old man, especially a proud military fellow, speak so tenderly.
“To, uh, to keep you company, sir.”
“Oh, I’ve had plenty today,” he says in a good-natured dismissal. But after a quick discussion at high volume, he says he’d welcome more and asks that I stay.
Then falls fast asleep, notes One.
Ten minutes later, the extended care facility’s doctor walks in to check his condition and awakens the old man. The effort is lengthy, perhaps because the sleep is too seductive and perhaps because Quinton sees the visitor is just another doctor.
Moments after the old man clearly awakens, a beautiful woman, young and blonde, walks in and joins the doctor, who in turn politely introduces Quinton to the just-arrived resident intern.
Another beauty! marvels Six. And not in a painting, either!
She, attired in crisp white clothing, gives a cheery “Hello, Mr. McHale!” and puts forth a hand of greeting. The long-retired naval officer gently takes her hand between his two and stares, wide-eyed and awestruck, into her lovely face.
Our man’s awake now! cheers Three.
When a socially proper amount of time has elapsed in the silence, the intern slowly tries to withdraw her hand but the old man holds it tightly. Rather than resist, the intern leans in even more closely still and smiles more warmly yet again.
In hushed tones, Five says, People mistakenly think hospice is for those without hope and joy. This old man beams with intensity.
The doctor laughs kindly, taps the bent shoulder of his assistant and remarks, “You’ve made quite a friend, Elizabeth.”
Intern Elizabeth nods but keeps Quinton’s face before her as she softly asks him, “Anything we can do for you, sir?”
His aged, cloudy eyes fastened upon hers, he – almost imperceptibly – shakes his head no.
“Well, then, is there something you’d like to tell us?”
The man’s face softens into an expression so childlike I wonder whether he might hesitantly ask, “Are you the angel who’s come to take me Home?” Ask he does not, but I bite my lip, anyway, lest I ruin the moment with tears I cannot stop.
That lovable old man inches up on his pillow, takes the best breath his failing lungs muster and answers the intern, “Yes.”
“Then tell me, sir,” she lovingly encourages.
“I’m close, very close, to a BM.”
Bowel movement? asks shocked Two.
Wild laughter bounces off the walls, swells throughout the room. The mirth-filled doctors assure our hero a caretaker soon will attend him. They shake their patient’s hand (the intern giving an extra squeeze) and leave chuckling.
My aged friend rolls over, gazes at me and, face yet radiant, says again, “Very close now, really.”
Then falls fast asleep, notes One in a déjà vu moment.
An astoundingly heavy rainstorm arrives on the heels of the man’s sleepy departure. I, having already put in a long day at my regular job, pull my chair even closer to this man and curl up to rest a few minutes.
Wonderful night, I tell you.
Full of love, says Three. Love, laughter and, in a curious way, life.
Postscript: Seated beside me during dinner at the extended care facility,“Quinton McHale” tells the dozen staffers, patients and hospice volunteers that he traveled the world many years as an officer in the U.S. Navy.
“Seen lots, I have,” he assures his gathered admirers as we soak up the images he provides in a free-flowing style. “Craziest thing was the servicemen swimming with crocodiles. I never could do that. They even grabbed a croc one time and tied him to a big board so they could swim in peace.”
Our kind of men, beams Screen Six.
“At one swimming hole – maybe in Panama – a croc slipped in among ’em and grabbed a little native girl. Swallowed her whole, she was so tiny. Men raced for guns and started firing everywhere. Shot the croc, hauled him on land, split him open.”
“And the child?” we ask, horrified at the answer we predict.
“She was a bit shaken, but very much alive.”
The dinner table bursts into exclamations of amazement and demands for details. Quinton taps my elbow, whispers for me to wheel him to bed. We leave a humming crowd behind us.
“Want more stories?” he asks from his comforting bed. Two big yawns, and a very sleepy military man smiles. “Guess you’ll have to come back and see me.”
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