Never Enough Ice Cream

I lean back against the wall, welcoming contact with the cold concrete. I find the heat stifling in the hallway but then, I am not one of the frail residents confined to a bed or wheelchair. They are swaddled in blankets to ward off a chill that may take to their aged limbs.

As I briefly close my eyes to the sights around me, I hear a voice. It is persistent, commanding attention. I walk toward it. I find myself face to face with one of the residents. He is probably nearing his 90th year or better. I approach with a smile and offer a cheery hello despite his obvious angst.

He does not know me, nor do I know him. However, he responds with the same question I’ve heard him ask many times before. “What time is lunch? Is it at 8?”

On this particular day, the time is 7 p.m. and the resident just recently finished his dinner but he doesn’t remember. As he stands in the doorway, steadying himself on the metal walker, he tells me he wants some ice cream. Chocolate, in fact.

Soon an aide on the floor walks toward us. She is smiling. She tells me the man has had several cups of ice cream already this day and she will provide graham crackers instead. The aide humors him and ushers him back toward his room, all the while offering a soothing tone. The scene will be repeated many more times. The aides and nursing staff are used to the man’s request for ice cream. I, however, could only think how much I take for granted a stop at the local Dairy Queen.

Gazing out the window, I notice a few people sitting outside as the remnants of a summer’s day fade into evening. They watch the birds enjoying the food placed in the many feeders along the property. Easy entertainment.

I head back down the hallway only to run into an acquaintance who is visiting his wife. He is retired and spends every waking moment at his wife’s bedside. He bears her illness as his own, for she is the love of his life. I see it in his eyes.

The staff knows him well, and there is admiration for his dedication to the woman confined by her physical limitations. He leaves only long enough for a night’s rest in the home they have shared more years than not. He will be back in the morning and remain with her until well after sunset.

There are signs of love such as this throughout the facility: a stuffed teddy bear tucked under the arm of a comatose patient and an oversized vase of flowers left in the day room for all to enjoy. Handmade cards from small, young hands paper the bulletin boards in rooms. They are all pieces of lives outside these walls, brought in to remind those here that they are not forgotten in their convalescing days.

When my visit is over for another day, I walk the now-familiar path to the elevator. I step aside as a new resident is brought off the elevator. I wonder if she has anyone to visit her. And I hope she likes chocolate ice cream.

Heather Ziegler can be reached via email at: hziegler@theintelligencer.net.

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