When I visited Mrs. Z. in the hospital on Saturday afternoon I purposefully parked in a spot designated as one-hour parking—that way I would have a reason to leave. With Mrs. Irene Z., I usually need a concrete reason to leave. The need to make supper for the family is a concrete reason, but probably won’t be as efficient as the need not to pay a ticket, I reason.
I decide to pull up onto the gravelly spot off the road beside the one-hour parking sign and next to another vehicle.
I find Mrs. Z. sitting in her chair beside her bed. She is surprised to see me. I had been rather vague on the phone when she asked if I could come to see her on the week-end, “possibly Saturday afternoon, or maybe Sunday afternoon.”
She wants me to help her walk up and down the corridors. On the weekend there isn’t a therapist available to do this. Mr. Irene Z. knows her body (which she tells everyone is 96 years old) must be exercised. We know her body is actually 97 because Nora has seen the official paper. Nora and I know a lot about Mrs. Z. Basically we know she is old, determined, bossy and stingy. Nora (who does much more for her than I do) charges her for everything—parking, mileage, time. Nora reasons this keeps the demands in check. I don’t charge. I reason this keeps me unbeholden.
Mrs. Z. knows a lot about her body. She knows she has to eat the four lemons she asked me to bring. She also knows how circulation works. She knows she has to move her legs up and down (as if she is pedaling a tricycle), before she can attempt to stand up to use the wheeled walker. She knows a ten-minute rest between two 20-minute walks is ideal—that’s what the doctor told her. She knows I have to grip onto her nightgown and the waistband of her pants in the small of her back as she walks: “No, not there, here you have to grab the pants...here.”
She knows she has to concentrate on standing straight as she walks. She also knows I must remind her of this as we hustle up and down the corridors at an even clip, “Tell me, bellybutton in.”
One of Mrs. Z.’s roommates observes from her wheelchair in the corridor, “She walks very well. Oh, she is doing so well.”
“One more round, Irene, then I have to go, or I might get a parking ticket,” I tell Mrs. Z.
Once back in the chair, she isn’t quite ready to let me go. I sit on the foot of the bed opposite her chair. She has to tell me something important. She has to tell me that she might be moving to a new location soon, first a temporary location and then a permanent place.
The roommate, who has wheeled herself back into the room, interrupts, “She is talking about going to a retirement home.”
“You be quiet,” Mrs. Z. snaps sharply. “I have to think. This is important to say.”
I find out the roommate’s name is Nan.
Irene says she wants to go to a place close to Nora’s house on Rice Avenue.
“I used to live on Rice Avenue,” says Nan.
“Did you?” I ask.
“Yes, right on the corner by the hospital…”
Irene grabs my knee, “Don’t talk to her.”
“You don’t talk. I have company now,” she shoots at Nan.
Turns out, Nan wouldn’t tell Mrs. Z. what time it was last evening when she asked while Nan had visitors. Also Nan had told Irene to be quiet at bedtime, “You sometimes keep talking too long,” explains Nan.
I glance at my watch, “I have to go. I might get a parking ticket.”
Mrs. Z. grabs my knee again. She spends the next several minutes figuring out where I’ll be when, where she’ll be when, and how she is going to tell me where she is when she is there.
“I really have to go now, Irene.” I say as I stand to leave. “Just phone me.”
“Please, just pray for me, before you go,” she pleads looking at me with worried eyes.
I always melt when she gets to this part. She knows her body needs God.
I place my hand on her shoulder, “Lord, I pray that you will give Irene peace.”
“And, for my son,” she interjects.
“Lord I pray you will be with Irene’s son and give him motivation.” I also pray for the doctors and the move and I tack on a line about getting along with roommates.
“Now I really have to go. My hour is up,” I announce.
“Will you get a parking ticket?”
“If I do I’ll give it to you,” I joke.
As I approach my van, I immediately notice what I had been hoping not to see: the white piece of paper flapping under my wiper. I wasn’t that late. I check the charge…$26 for parking on a Boulevard.