Sunday, August 12, 2007

Eating Disorders and the Other Shoe Dropping

When I got to the convalescent home, John was asleep. It was 85 degrees outside but he's always cold, so a nurse had tucked a blanket tightly around his body. He was listing to one side and breathing quietly through his mouth, which was hanging open. I noticed he doesn't snore anymore. Once in a while his feet jerked, but he didn't wake up.

"Dad? ... Dad? I'm here." He opened one eye and raised a bushy eyebrow. "What time is it?" "About one." I filled him in on what day of the week it was, the month and date, and how long he’d been in the hospital. "Jesus Christ. Gimme some juice, will ya?" He meant Ensure, the vitamin-laced meal replacement, which is just about all he’ll eat these days. I stopped bringing him food from the outside world a couple of weeks ago. He used to love beef tamales, (which is what he was about to order at La Hacienda when he fell down in their parking lot) so one day I brought him one. I was feeding it to him absentmindedly while watching a soap opera, when I looked down and saw a big, gooey, beige wad in the middle of the plate. "Dad, did you just spit that out?" "Yeah." "Why?" "I dunno." "Doesn't it taste good?" "I dunno."......"What is this you're eating?" "I dunno."

An untouched tray of food sat next to the bed, drying out. "Do you want some lunch?" "No. Just gimme a juice." "Come on. It's...I think it's...chicken. It looks good." "No." "One bite." "No, no, no, no, no, no, no." "Just have some mashed potatoes. I'm having some. Mmmm, they're good." For this transgression I am delivered a deservedly icy and incredulous stare. "Dad. You have to eat a few bites of real food if you are going to get stronger and walk." “How do you know?” "How about some fruit cup?" "Leave me alone, will ya? How many times do I have to say no?" "Once more." "Just give me the goddamn juice." "Chocolate or Strawberry?" "Whatever." I grabbed a strawberry Ensure out of stockpile Karla left in the closet, shook it, opened it, and inserted a bendy straw someone left in an empty bottle on his bedside table. I wasn’t moving fast enough, so he started waving me in. I put the Ensure in his good hand. He took the straw into his mouth and started sipping, tilted the bottle too far, and spilled the majority of the pink drink down the front his hospital gown.

I cleaned him up and observed that while he won’t eat, Trudy won’t stop eating, and it’s not good for her because she has diabetes now. Confused, John stopped sucking on his straw and asked what happens when you have diabetes. I told him if that if Mom doesn’t start taking better care of herself, soon she will go blind and they will have to cut her feet off. John rolled his eyes and warned me not to tell my mother that. Then, he chuckled to himself and in a high-pitched girly voice he whined, “My doctor says they’re gonna have to cut off my feeeeet.”

I set up my computer and put in yet another tedious western. John seemed to be enjoying it, recalling scenes and some of the dialogue. I thought he was following along until the dramatic conclusion of the film when the hero rides into town, shoots up the bad guys and rescues the golden-hearted prostitutes. At that point he got a puzzled look on his face and turned to me. "Who the hell is that guy?" That guy was Clint Eastwood.

After the movie ended, I packed up my computer, cut his fingernails, cracked open a chocolate Ensure, made sure his remote control and telephone were within reach, and announced I had to go.

"Oh, you're leaving? "

"Yes, but I'll be back later in the week."

"OK. Keep in touch. When's Mary getting here?"

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