“I need you to see Eddie,” the social worker told me. “He keeps throwing himself out of bed and you know how the administration is about falls.”
Falls were bad. They get reported to the State.
“You hear that moaning down the hall?” she asked. “That’s him. He’s driving all the other residents crazy.”
She escorted me to his room, introduced us and then left me alone with 50-year old Eddie, who could barely move or speak, but had stopped moaning long enough for me try to talk with him. He was lying in his bed, which had been lowered almost to the floor. Blue foam mats were on either side of the bed, presumably to buffer his “falls.”
“It’s going to take me some time to figure out what you’re saying,” I told him, “but I’m going to try really hard, so I hope you’ll give me a chance.”
He stared at me, then muttered something unintelligible.
“I’m sorry. Can you say that again?”
He muttered louder.
There was a knock at the door and Dr. Waldren walked in. Eddie’s eyes opened wide and a smile slowly spread across his face. An excellent sign, I thought to myself. He can connect.
Several weeks later, Eddie and I could hold a conversation, though it usually took several repeats for me to understand him. He was remarkably patient. We talked about music and sometimes sang Smokey Robinson tunes together.
“There was something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about,” I said to him one day. Our eyes met.
“What’s with all the moaning you’ve been doing? I could hear you from the third floor as I was coming up the stairwell. Do the nurses come when you moan like that?”
He fixed his eyes on me and I repeated the question, “Do they?”
“No,” he said sullenly.
“So why do you do it? It seems to me like you’re only teaching them not to pay attention to you. You’d be better off just calling them when you need them.”
Our eyes met again.
“Well, think about it,” I suggested.