Mr. FF. Amos Bailey, MD Aug 16, 2022
by Laura Kasischke
The truck that swerved to miss the stroller in which I slept.
My mother turning from the laundry basket just in time to see me open the third-story window to call to the cat.
In the car, on ice, something spinning and made of history snatched me back from the guardrail and set me down between two gentle trees. And that time I thought to look both ways on the one-way street.
And when the doorbell rang, and I didn’t answer, and just before I slipped one night into a drunken dream, I remembered to blow out the candle burning on the table beside me.
It's a miracle, I tell you, this middle-aged woman scanning the cans on the grocery store shelf. Hidden in the works of a mysterious clock are her many deaths, and yet the whole world is piled up before her on a banquet table again today. The timer, broken. The sunset smeared across the horizon in the girlish cursive of the ocean, Forever, For You
And still she can offer only her body as proof:
The way it moves a little slower every day. And the cells, ticking away. A crow pecking at a sweater. The last hour waiting patiently on a tray for her somewhere in the future. The spoon slipping quietly into the beautiful soup.
It could have been very different. There have certainly been hundreds of near misses. Any one of these could have ended the story of Mr. and Mrs. F but instead, we now have these two octogenarians sharing a room in the Safe Harbor unit.
Mr. F is stoic. He sits quietly, peacefully, Buddha-like. He has intrinsic dignity, and his wife is intent on preserving this. She has so few gray strands in her hair that it is hard to believe that she is 89. I will have a family meeting next week with this family. I will not win; this pleases me because I do not want to win this argument.
Mr. F has come to Safe Harbor because he may have had a new stroke. Mrs. F admits that he is steadily declining, eating less, saying less, and in general diminished from the last time I saw him. The daughter is here, as well. There is a plan to have Mr. F go into a nursing home, the family understandable is worried that the burden of taking care of her husband also has taken a toll on their mother. She also has lost weight but she clearly is still in control.
Mrs. F tells me she has always worked hard, that she never had much of a chance for education but that she is smart; she has promised Mr. F never to let him go to a nursing home and so she will not. The part of the story that I hear and convinces me is when this 89-year-old beautiful black woman reminds me that she never had the opportunity for formal education but that her family taught her to read from the Bible, with the, thee and thou, not a modern version. I can hear the cadence and vocabulary now that I know what to listen for.
Monday I will meet with her and her family and we will make a plan for them to go home, perhaps with some more help, such as home hospice.
Then on Tuesday Mrs. F will go to the poll to vote for Barak Obama. Not only did she not get to go to school but she did not get to vote till at least 1968. She would have been 45 that year.
The final stanza of Near Misses reminds me of the nursing home. Mr. F will always live in his home but Mrs. F is likely to spend “the last hour[s of her life] waiting patiently on a tray for her somewhere in the future:
"And still she can offer only her body as proof:
The way it moves a little slower every day. And the cells, ticking away. A crow pecking at a sweater. The last hour waiting patiently on a tray for her somewhere in the future. The spoon slipping quietly into the beautiful soup."