Strokes and vending machines and death

I found out yesterday a friend had had a few strokes this summer and never told me. She was also diagnosed with lung disease and heart disease and, again, she never told me. Sometime in the last month she was on life support and almost didn’t make it. Again…

I only know now because she’s in a nursing home and tried to call me yesterday, but for some reason had trouble getting through on my home phone. Without knowing for sure, her phone trouble could have had something to do with the dementia she is now experiencing from the lack of oxygen getting to her brain since this whole thing started.

I visited her in the nursing home today. Neither one of us recognized each other at first. To be fair, I’ve lost 30 pounds since she had last seen me, and I had my hair pulled back in a pony tail, which I didn’t used to do much. But she’d also lost weight, somewhere around 40 pounds, apparently. The hair and makeup she always kept just so, wasn’t.

She told me a little about the other woman in the room with her. How she had a large wound on her leg that needed to be redressed periodically throughout the day. Turns out it was gangrene. When I walked in the room, I had to pass the other bed first to get to my friend’s side of the room, and I made a brief mental note that the lady in the other bed must be a vegetable. It was just the way she was lying there and the expression on her face. I walked by and tried to pay her respect by not staring.

I had only been in the room for about 20 minutes or so when nursing home workers came in and asked the two of us to go for a walk. My friend assumed they needed to change the dressing again and made a comment something about how it wouldn’t be long. The worker said that, no, this was “different.”

We got my friend in the wheelchair and wandered the halls for a while before we found a lounge with a vending machine and made ourselves at home. She told me that three people had passed away there over the weekend, but they wouldn’t tell her who they were, so she kept watching and reading names on rooms to see who was missing. After a while I decided I wanted something from the vending machine, but my money was in my friend’s room where I had left it and where we weren’t really supposed to be. I thought maybe someone at the nurses’ station would loan me a couple of dollars until I could get my money out of the room, so I took a walk back up the hallway to ask.

I told them that I was visiting the lady in Room 110, but they were having issues with the other lady in the room, and we were asked to leave, and when would I be able to get back in? That’s when the nurse told me that my friend’s roommate had passed away. I thought about how I kind of knew that already, about how three other people had passed away just last weekend, about how if I hadn’t been there my friend would have been left wheeling herself around the halls not knowing when she would be able to get back in her room. And I wondered how soon—or if at all—they would have told her it had happened.

I’ve been in a bad way since I left; a little teary, a little distraught. But I’m also finding myself loving things more today, appreciating the littler things more, finding myself a little less ready to change the radio station when they aren’t playing the perfect song for my personal moment.

Thinking about the last time I would speak to or touch the people I love.

Knowing that both are going to happen no matter what.