Caged Souls


"oh, i want to go home!"

she's a tiny, old white woman lying in a bed in
a room with a lady who gasps for every breath
of air in the next bed.

"my mother is waiting for me," she moans. "i
know she is."

"how old are you, darlin'?" i ask her, bending over the
bed and taking her tiny hand in mine.

"i'm 94."

"and your mother is still alive?"  i know she's not.

"yes, and my grandma is, too."  she says this with a great deal
of pride. "we live a long time in my family."

there's a tube in her stomach which is connected to a machine
that pumps liquid food round the clock to keep her body and 
soul together.  i don't know if she just stopped eating on her
own. old people do that sometimes. or maybe she's had a 
stroke and can't swallow, though she's able to turn herself 
in bed with little assistance, just a hand on her back and one 
under her legs to help her, and she speaks clearly
and well.

"oh, get me out of this pickup truck and let me go home!" she's 
starting to get very agitated. i tell her she's not in a truck, 
she's in her bed in the nursing home and i'm taking care of her. 
this does not help, so i tell her it's late and we shouldn't wake 
her family right now, we should let them sleep.

"my people," she says sternly, "will still be awake at midnight. 
why, they work till midnight!"

i say something else, trying to distract her. i pat her hand 
and speak softly.

"oh! let me kiss you just one more time." she says this with such 
sadness that i feel tears start in my eyes. my back aching 
from the 5 hours of bending over beds already and another 7 hours 
of more bending to get through before my shift is done, i bend 
over and put my cheek next to hers, murmuring something like, 
"it's ok, i'll be here a while longer yet." she turns her head 
and places a soft, sweet kiss on my cheek.

"oh," she sighs, "i love you."

i stand up and look her wasted, tiny body in the bed and let myself 
cry one or two tears before quickly wiping them away and offering 
her a back rub.

i get the lotion and pour some into my hands, rubbing them together 
to warm it, then bend over once again and lay my hands on her. i rub 
slowly, up and down the curved spine. she sighs and whispers something. 
"what was that?"  i ask her.

"oh, that feels so good."

i rub for a while longer until i feel the pressure of things still undone. 
tube feedings to start, flushes to do, meds to give, treatments 
to perform. i adjust her gown to cover her back and go around the 
bed to face her.

"you try and rest now," i tell her. "i'll be back in a while."

her confusion comes roaring back and her voice starts to crack. 
"when are you going to take me home?"

"soon," i tell her. i give her back one last circular rub then 
pull her covers back up and walk out the door.

she was quiet the rest of the night.


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