Times are when out of sunshine and good cheer comes an unexpected slam of day-changing ugliness, when we stand shocked, feeling impotent and wondering what just happened. The confusion is even greater when it comes not long after a hand has been extended in help. So let me tell the story and maybe shake some of the clouds off.
A couple of times each week I spend time with an elderly friend. Angela is confined to a wheelchair and because she is unable to care for herself completely, and at times requires care, she lives in a nursing home. Finances dictate that she share a room there, meaning that in a shallow sense she has a roommate. At least the room is large and divided so that each of the two occupants has their own private space.
I don’t really know Angela’s roommate except that her name is Elizabeth and according to Angela, is often snappish and irritable. I also know that she is very shaky on her feet and moves haltingly with a walker. This Monday past I was sitting with Angela when I heard from across the room a sound of falling. Turning to look, I saw Elizabeth sprawled on the floor unmoving, and knowing that I shouldn’t touch or move her, I ran to get help. Nurses came quickly and took the situation in hand.
On Wednesday morning I was again visiting with Angela, and not giving it much thought I assumed Elizabeth was there somewhere across the room, napping perhaps. After a while I began to read a travel article to Angela, and since we were sitting face to face, I read in a reasonably quiet voice. Suddenly, in a shock of sound Elizabeth’s television came to life with a roar of studio laughter and applause. Bells rang, people screamed and someone was the hysterical owner of a new car. I didn’t know televisions were capable of such decibels, or that remote controls allowed that level of noise. Unable to read my lips, Angela sat with fingers pressed against her temples.
I leaned over and whispered in my friend’s ear that I would ask Elizabeth to turn the sound down. She shook her head, warning me that saying anything could be dangerous. But still, I crossed over to Elizabeth’s side of the room, smiled, and hoping to be heard over the television said as politely as possible, “I’m sorry to bother you, but do think you could lower the volume a little?”
Looking back at me as I imagine a rattlesnake looks at a mouse, the woman snapped, “You get the hell out of here and take that crap you’re reading with you!”
Stunned, frozen and completely flummoxed I gaped at her, looking into cold, flinty eyes. In a moment I caught my breath and backed away, then suggested to Angela that we get out of Dodge.
We found a quiet corner to finish our visit and then Angela reported her roommate’s behavior to the administrator. Hard to imagine that a bad behavior report will do much to change the ways of the eighty-five year-old sourpuss who wished me the hell out of her sight. But what are you gonna do?