Lunchtime Madness

It’s 12:30pm. Lunchtime. My brother is camping out on the couch watching football highlights. It appears he has just consumed an entire bag of fancy nuts.

“What? It’s my lunch,” he explains and crumples the plastic bag in his hand.

He leans back and closes his eyes, “I’m on break now.”

It seems that he will be on break for the rest of the day.

As for me, it’s a peanut butter and honey sandwich kind of day, a variation from the normal PB and J. Maybe I will add in a apple and a cookie for good measure.

12:30 means the oldies are sipping their soup, taking their afternoon pills, and preparing for a nap. They might answer the phone but they won’t be happy at the interruption in their schedule.

It means the rest of the world is taking a break to woof down whatever they packed or grabbed from a nearby restaurant, catch up on banking or read a few pages from a book, walk around the block, and get back to work, that is what 12:30pm means.

A computer screen with names and numbers, diagnoses and concerns stares at me while a phone buzzes on the desk. There are notes scattered about, a coffee cup with old tea, and a stack of books. This is life now as a working adult.

I remember waiting for lunch in grade school. My stomach rumbling and gurgling as I stood in line. The lunch ladies really cooked then, patties and veggies, brownies and rolls.

There were so many options. White or chocolate milk. One slice of pizza or two.

The future was wide open then and it still is, sort of.

The chances of becoming a professional athlete or brain surgeon have narrowed at this point, but I can still have a different sandwich for lunch everyday if I want.

How is that for keeping the spice of life? 


She found one.

The day started with a light drizzle of rain and progressed into a full-on deluge by the time I arrived at my first appointment of the day.  A streak of yellow lightening split the sky in front of me as I popped my umbrella into shape.  Fortunately, when it rains like the world is coming to a certain end, the punks of the street take cover.  Plus, it was too early in the day for most of them to be up.

So I sloshed happily down the cracked sidewalk into the front yard of my client’s ramshackle house, unmolested by the usual people of the street.

My client sat at the table picking at a microwaveable meal of gelatinous meat with a side of green mush that was representative of vegetables.

We went through the usual list of questions and finished pretty quickly.  As I stashed the paperwork into my bag, I asked, “Anything else going on?”

She slyly looked at me and confirmed that my pen and paperwork were safely tucked away.

“Don’t write this down, but the prostitutes have taken over this block.”

I egged her on, “Oh yeah?”

Nodding with a grim expression, she said, “I don’t even go out to my back porch anymore.  I’m afraid of what I’ll see now that it’s covered with condoms.”

She was stone-cold serious while I tried to figure out if this was a dementia thing or a little joke to get a reaction from me.

Not waiting for my comment, she continued, “In fact, my granddaughter took the trash out there last week and found one.”

I asked, “A condom?”

Disgusted that I wasn’t following the story, she shook her head, “No, a prostitute.”

“My granddaughter screamed at her because she’s got a real nasty attitude, she always has. I heard her in here and thought something happened.  She came back in here and told me, the prostitutes thought this was an empty house.”

“But your lights are always on and the grass is mowed and your front door is open and…” I tried to make sense of how the prostitutes could have made this mistake.

“Don’t worry.  My granddaughter set them straight, but I’m still not going out there.”

She shrugged her shoulders and returned to her meal, now cold, and started picking at it again.

“That’s just how it is,” she said, as though to comfort me.

I left certain that it might be that way today, but it doesn’t have to be that way tomorrow.   Yet, I was uncertain as to what should change: the neighborhood, her living situation, or my attitude towards the whole thing.

Without discretion

The old brown woman
Grows curly white hairs
On the end of her chin
She pretends to see with foggy eyes
Better than she possibly can
Even with the thick glasses
Forgotten on her bedside table
Names and faces now escape her
So familiar and so distant
Her memory is useless
Yet, she laughs
She giggles and chortles
Snickers and snorts
She is free now but can’t remember why

Just act demented.

At the end of the visit with “Mama C”, her daughter insisted that we test her Life Alert system.  It’s the grey box with a button that hangs around the neck of fragile white-hairs.  Sometimes, it’s white and strapped onto a person’s wrist.  It’s all the same thing, a personal response system.  However, most often it’s found hung on a hook in a closet, left on kitchen sink or with a dead battery when a granny falls in the bathroom and really needs it.  On the commercial an older woman falls and says the famous line, “Help!  I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”

On the same page, now? Ok, good.

Mama C’s daughter said, “Hit the button, mom. We need to test it.”  She put the box into Mama C’s hands and encouraged her, “Hit the emergency button, Mom.”

She held it in both hands and looked at it as though it was the first time she had seen the device, even though it had hung around her neck for the last six months.  After being quite unsure of what to do with it, she dropped it back onto her chest and began to watch the muted television.

After impatiently waiting a few seconds of Mama C vacantly watching Ellen dance with her audience on the small television, Mama C’s daughter sighed and reached over to hit the button on the box.  She was as gentle as she could be after two hours of this type of interaction but was losing patience quickly.

“Alert! Alert! Alert!” sounded throughout the wooden paneled walls and over the nubby pink carpet.  An unfriendly female robotic voice came over the speaker, “C, an alert has been triggered in your home.  Can you hear me, C?”

Mama C sat on the couch and continued to watch Ellen who had moved onto a game with a tricycle, a baby pool of pudding and several audience members.  However loud the robot woman yelled, Mama C remained oblivious to the demanding and was struggling to keep her eyes’ open.

“Mom,” Mama C’s daughter said, and patted her mother’s arm.  “She needs to hear you,” she continued to pat her mother’s arm to wake her up.

“What?” Mama C asked, as her eyes flew open.

“C, can you hear me?  Are you ok?” the robot woman continued.

Mama C’s daughter explained, “It’s just a test.  Tell her it’s just a test, Mom.”

“It’s ok,” Mama C smiled and said obediently. “It was just a test, honey.”

“Ok,” the robot woman acquiesced, “I’ll hang up now.  Please remember we are available 24/7 should you need us again in the future.”

Mama C nodded, “That’s just fine, honey.  I love you,” she said to the robot woman.  “Bye now.”

Such a sweet and unassuming person, Mama C was so accustomed to practicing kindness and love that these things have become parts of her very essence.  While not everyone is as lucky with illness and aging, these elements are somehow deeper than the dementia that had caused her to nearly burn her home down a few months earlier when trying to fry an egg and to drive her car while sleeping (unsuccessfully, I might add).

Taking a lesson from Mama C, let’s put emotional unavailability and reserve on hold and replace them with genuine warmth and a desire for real connection with others.

Let’s pretend to be demented in our dealings with strangers, friends and family.  If it means forgetting about past misgivings and grudges, loving unconditionally, removing the filter and saying the truth, what’s the worst that could happen?