I've been visiting Claudina in the evenings. She doesn't like to go to bed before 11 these days. Won't stay in the bed. So sometimes I go alone and sit with her for a while, and sometimes I bring the dog. From the parking lot when I arrive, I can see into some of the rooms of residents in the other wards. I see TVs playing colorful shows. It looks like a motel. There was a patient standing by the after-hours entry, on the inside holding on to his walker, gazing outside. There's almost always one resident standing by the exit but not trying to leave when someone from the outside opens the door to enter. They know there's no getting out.
She passes the evening in what the nursing home calls "the lounge," a stark room with tables and chairs, and a TV that plays I Love Lucy DVDs or, at night, a music channel that funnels old songs into the room. There are items on some of the tables to keep the residents occupied. Dominoes, jumbo plastic Lego-like toys, wrinkled magazines. Sometimes there's no music and there may be only the sound of someone mumbling absently or a nurse wearily cajoling. It feels like a nursery. I look around and think about these people's lives before they became ill, about when they were vital, about their families and what they experienced as they realized they would need to bring their loved one here.
A nurse comes around to give Claudina a strawberry yogurt and a strawberry "shake," a thick drink that my grandmother, who's diabetic, needs to have so her blood sugar doesn't drop while she's asleep. She refuses the drink and the yogurt at first. The nurse has to feed her, making each spoonful an inevitability. Claudina complies and accepts each mouthful. But the drink remains untouched.
The institutional setting, the toys, the cheap plastic cup, the stains on the table that sees so much use. I am usually so grateful for the nursing home, as it keeps Claudina safe and takes care of her in a way that none of us could. But tonight I hate that she's here. There's no beauty here. There's only waiting.