Friday, July 11, 2008

Captain Ahab

The antiseptic floors smell like and remind me of a hospital every time I walk in, but it is not a hospital. The tile floors echo the footsteps of the scrubs-clad employees as they push wheelchairs or simply walk with the residents of the nursing home. Every time I come here I feel humbled and receive a quick, fresh breeze of gratitude when I think that many here are younger than my own parents who still play golf and travel to visit their grandchildren.

Margaret is bitter. The bitterness comes from doctors who ignore her aches and pains, nurses and attendants who ignore her needs and wants, and, especially, children and grandchildren who simply ignore everything. Margaret navigated her electric wheelchair through the nursing home as if it was a throne. She dispensed orders to the vassals and serfs with a short temper and a long, piercing, still-strong voice. Crowds literally part in front of her, partly because she is an erratic driver but mostly because of who she is.

I had a chance to sit and talk with Margaret this week. She is losing her mind and she knows it, Alzheimer’s is taking it a piece at a time and the pieces left are not pleasant. In a focused and lucid period we talked and she confessed that the care really wasn’t doing that bad, she had been in worse places. She also confessed that her children were a few states away and it was hard for them to get to Las Vegas to see her. And she confessed that it was her that demanded they take her to Las Vegas for her care almost DARING her family to show her that they love her by having to travel so far to see her. So I asked the difficult question: “Why all the bitterness and anger?” This very sharp, former professional accountant, simply said, “I can’t help it. I have been angry so long I cannot stop it any more. I feel like Captain Ahab who just HAS TO slay that white whale. And I see it everyday and everyday I pull out my harpoons and attack.”

I was taken aback by her candor and her knowledge. It wasn’t long after she said this that she slipped back into Ahab mode and said, “I have to go, they probably screwed up making my bed again!” and she turned her throne around and headed off. I was reminded of a quote from Moby Dick. Melville said “As if his chest had been a mortar he burst his hot, heart’s shell upon it.” Speaking of Ahab’s self-destructive battle with the whale, Melville could have said the same of Margaret.

Let it go. Pull in your anger and bitterness harpoons because when you loose them they only injure you and your white whale floats oblivious of your battle. Call me Ishmael.

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