A week or two ago I described how my father made sure nurses and aides checked on my mom frequently. He did it by placing a huge sack of candy in her room, free to anyone who wandered by, somewhat like corn scattered at a deer stand. It worked as if her room had been enchanted by elves.
When I spoke to my mom last night, she told me that the latest bag of chocolate bars had been depleted, and that my father had decided against bringing another giant candy lure. She also reported that almost no one came by the room anymore unless they needed to shove something down her throat, stick something into her arm, or wake her up in the early hours to take her vitals and generally fiddle around with stuff. The courtesy calls have ended.
For someone whose leg bone resembles a sock full of toothpicks, my mom smiled a lot this morning. She splintered that femur a couple of months ago. Officially, she’s hanging out in the hospital rehabilitating. To me it looks like she’s working hard and then negating her hard work by lying in the bed a lot, complaining about meaningless bullshit, and keeping quiet when she needs real help. At least she’s eating more. Yesterday she ate nine grapes, three bites of chicken, and a Dorito.
This morning she complained from within the embrace of her bed, maligning the bacon (not crisp enough), the toast (not thick enough), and the eggs (not made of real baby chickens). I leaned back in the stiff hospital armchair and listened as she savored her frustration and disdain. I only needed to grunt a few times and nod occasionally to keep things going. She was like a barnyard goose, for which honking and biting are the signs of contentment. All she needed was something to honk at and bite.
She spent a few minutes complaining about Jay, the aide she had called 10 minutes before. Then Jay arrived. Rather than pouring displeasure upon Jay, she smiled and laughed to see him, and she greeted him like another son. As he helped her from the magnificent bed to the torturous wheelchair, my mom told him how much she appreciated his help, and how well he did his job, and how much she’d miss him when he went on vacation next week. Jay smiled in return and prepared her for her day.
As Jay left, my mom said, “Don’t forget to get your candy!” She pointed to a narrow table that held a bag of candy as big as a cement sack. Jay nodded and reached into the bag, pulling a tiny Milky Way from all the infant chocolate bars in the bag. Jay left with a wave.
I didn’t think that odd. My mom feels that the Apocalypse is near if everyone around her isn’t eating. I’ve seen her weep when someone left her house without taking the entire pizza she pressed him to accept. I am not kidding. So the world would actually seem stranger if she didn’t have a giant horde of food to force on people while she starved herself.
My mom explained how the hospital was a place of horrors, and she revealed that the people who worked there were coming into her room and stealing her things. Nurses had stolen all of her uncle’s things when he’d been in a home, and they were doing the same thing here. After some concerned questioning, I determined that the extent of her loss was one diaper that had disappeared four nights ago. I suggested that this wasn’t exactly the Brinks Job, but she clutched tight her fury towards the thieving staff.
At that moment the nurse, Nesi, walked in with my mom’s morning medication. She grinned at him like he was Santa Claus, and she gushed her joy at seeing him. That joy faded when she saw the two pills as big as cockroaches he wanted her to swallow, but she choked them down and instantly forgave him. As he left to take his insanely huge pills to the next patient, my mom said, “Don’t leave without taking some of your candy!” Nesi grinned, grabbed two Snickers, and left.
After my mom had spent several minutes bitching about her leg brace, which an aide had slapped on like she was making a burrito at Taco Bell, the physical therapist, Ann, popped in. My mom greeted her as if they’d stolen apples and skinny dipped together as girls. It wasn’t yet time for therapy, but Ann was just passing by and thought she’d check on my mom. My mom chatted with her for a minute, insisted that she take candy, and nodded approval as Ann left with a Snickers of her own.
My mom was only able to complain about her wheelchair for a minute before the doctor entered. My mom did not offer her a cheerful welcome. In fact, she looked as if a bad smell had walked into the room. The doctor listened to my mom’s heart with fierce efficiency, bragged about how cool her kickboxing lessons were, and swept out of the room without being offered candy. My mom considers the doctor to be some kind of management, whereas the nurses and aides are working people who deserve chocolate.
Five minutes later another aide, Olivia, joined us for no particular purpose that I could determine. My mom effused about how pretty Olivia was, and how good she was, and how smart she was to have just passed her entrance exam for grad school. Olivia held my mom’s hand and beamed at her for a minute before leaving with two Milky Ways and a Three Musketeers.
A few minutes later an aide poked his head to ask how my mom was doing, to bask in her adoring thanks, and to nick a little chocolate. Ten minutes later it happened again with a different aide. During these visits, my mom lavished sincere praise and affection on them. Between visits she explained to me the awful, crushing oppression of this institution and the callous contempt that the staff cherished in their hearts.
Perhaps an hour into my visit the nurse, Nesi, stepped back in, looked uncertain for a moment, and asked my mom how she was doing. She assured him all was well, and Nesi snagged another Snickers. Then he asked my mom to tell my father not to buy any more candy. It wasn’t good for the staff. My mom said she’d ask, but she didn’t have any control over what my father did or didn’t buy. Nesi sighed and grabbed another Snickers for the road.
I finally asked my mom about the candy, and she told me that my father had brought it in before Halloween, three weeks earlier. I observed that the bag was close to empty, so it shouldn’t be a problem for Nesi and his staff much longer. She looked surprised and explained that this was the third bag my father had brought. They only cost seven dollars a bag, so that wasn’t too expensive.
As I was contemplating that, my father arrived. After a round of greetings, my mom told him that Nesi had asked for a moratorium on the Milky Ways and such. My father shrugged and said, “They don’t cost much, and everybody seems to like them. I’ll just keep bringing them.”
My mom exclaimed over what a nice man my father is, and he continued, “Hell, seven dollars is buying you more service than any other money we’ve ever spent. Everybody on the floor’s coming by to get some of that candy. They can’t just walk in and ask for it. They’ve got to ask whether you need something.”
Then I realized what I was seeing, and why it looked familiar. You can be nice to people, and you can be a calculating son of a bitch, all at the same time. I’ve done it myself a thousand times. I must get it from my father.