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G r u m p y   O l d   M a n

Location: State Hospital
Job: Rehabilitation Assistant
Who: Me

When I got to the state (mental) hospital, I spotted one of the patients, an old man, sitting in his wheelchair. He's scrawny with thinning white hair and buggy eyes, wearing a blue sweatshirt, dark pants, and black tennis shoes. I took one of the plastic chairs near him and sat down. He looked at me and smiled and I smiled back. He started making noises: "Oh-ee-oh-ee-oh-hum" (He doesn't speak, or, I should say, form understandable words). I listened to him. He laughed and laughed as if he'd just recalled something funny (Perhaps he remembered the day before when I gave him five the normal way--palm to palm--and he'd turned his hand over, knuckle up, and wanted me to give him five that way too. So I did and he laughed very loudly, and for a long time, like an excited kid).

The old man rolled himself closer to me, until our knees were almost touching, and just stared at me for the longest time. I looked back at him but tried not to stare. His eyes got heavy. He dropped his head and fell to sleep. He woke up a few times, briefly, looked at me. There was no expression on his face; it was blank. He put his head back down, chin to chest, and dozed some more. When he woke up again, he woke suddenly, turned his wheelchair around, and wheeled himself all the way across the room. He seemed agitated and for no apparent reason. He just sat there, all by his lonesome, back turned on everyone and everything (I've been told he just does that sometimes. He'd apparently been grumpy all morning).

Several minutes passed in silence. Then someone yelled: "SNACK TIME!" Everyone moved--except the old man in the wheelchair. He was still sitting across the room by himself. I walked over to him. "Hey," I said. He barely acknowledged me. His face was wrinkled but tight. It was easy to tell he was not in the best mood. "Just leave him," E, the guy in charge, said (He was busy wheeling one of the other patients to the kitchen). "Just leave him," I repeated, almost questioningly. "Yeah, he doesn't want to eat, that's his problem." E went on by.

I wasn't ready to give up on the old man yet. I touched him lightly on the shoulder. "Eh," he said. "Snack time," I said calmly. "Come on...." He looked at me rather grumpily (I thought to myself I'll try one more time and that will be it. I've seen him in his moods. I've seen him lash out and hit people before. I wasn't scared or worried or anything but I really didn't want to get hit). "Don't you want snacks? Come on...." Surprisingly, the old guy reached down, turned himself around, and started wheeling himself rapidly toward the kitchen. I gave him a wide berth and headed that way myself. E looked surprised when we got there. "He followed you," he asked me. I said yes.

-- W i l l

Copyright © October 2001 W i l l