Essay from Michael Robinson

Michael Robinson (right) and fellow contributor Joan Beebe

There’s a feeling in the nursing home unlike being on a mental ward; however, the feeling of being alone is present. My one friend can speak very clearly when her daughters come to visit. The rest of the time she sits there crying and her words are unintelligible. If you pass by her she will reach out to you. It’s easy to become indifferent to her. Sitting there with her as she cries and reaches out after her daughter leaves. I had that same kind of feeling on the many mental wards I have been in from 1985 thru 2015. You have lost all the routines of having your family and friends as  they visit and leaves you in the presence of strangers. Strangers that come in all different mindsets and compassion for those they watch.

The day begins with maybe someone washing and dressing you. Some like my friend eats in her room for breakfast she is then put in front of the nurses station. She fiddles with her foot rest trying to free herself. She continues to cry and make this anxious murmur. Sometimes a staff member will come by and hug her for a brief moment or ask her whats wrong? I suppose that feel that they have to do that because  of my presence. She looks at me with wet eyes and runny nose which no one seems notice. I get something for her to wipe her nose. She had pulled her shirt up exposing her breast to wipe her nose. Before I came and sat with her they ignored her, not even asking her if she wanted to be changed. So, she sat there for hours in wet undergarments. Tonight I move my wheelchair on the other-side of her. There was a puddle of urine. This night it was clear to me that she is suffering and stuck in a world that she does not belong.

It was like that for me in those mental wards. The saddest memories   I have is being locked in the bed to restraints and wetting myself when no one came to assist me. Sitting watching her daughters leave say ” I have to go grocery shopping.” Sometimes it’s better to not come and leave and come and leave. I’m sensitive to the coming and goings of those that cared for me doing those times on the psych unit. They had no idea of the kind of day I was having. Someone watching me from six to eight feet away. I was on one on one which is suicide watch because I was remembering all the tragic experiences in my life. Now my friend may be remembering all the good things that she had experienced with her family. You have nothing but time to recall you entire life. “The good, the bad, and the ugly.” Living long enough to understand that this place and these people will be the last relationship, Sleeping in a shared room with a television as you friend. If you don’t watch television then you watch the movies in your mind and people continue to come and go. Now I’m one that come in her life and now is leaving. She told me she would miss me with tears in her eyes, a runny nose and urine on the floor from the thoughts of being left alone in this place. I can envision her sitting in the hall eating her dinner alone with tears and runny nose and nothing but her shirt  to wipe her nose.

She has become my mother in the nearly three weeks. Three walks of roaming the halls and watching everyone from nurses, administers, cleaners and other patients. It occur es to me that many of the patients will will pass away in this place with hospice waiting in the wings. Another stranger as they leave this mortal coil to say goodbye to you. No, I don’t want to say good bye to her. I will think of her for a long time and then she will become a sad memory  but I will always remember those eyes with the tears saying “I love you and thank you!”