Having finally put the flu behind me, and having finished all that had to be done concerning the passing of My Grandma, I finally had time (and good enough health, myself) to pay a visit to Dorothy.
(For those who have no clue what I'm yammering on about, please see THIS.)
I planned my visit for Tuesday evening. Shortly before the visit, I was serendipitously reminded (thank you, Mimi!) that the date of my visit, October 4th, was the feast day, in the Catholic Church, for Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. Since Dorothy so loves the friendless of the animal world, it seemed a nice coincidence.
I drove to Milford, where Dorothy is receiving treatment, after work. It is about an hour outside of Boston, perhaps a forty-five minute drive from my place of employment. It is two or three miles from Dorothy's apartment complex and the colony of feral cats she took care of for so many years.
When I arrived at the facility, no one was at the reception desk to point me to Dorothy's room, so I just sort of felt my way along the corridors. It's fairly nice as places of this sort go. Cheerfully appointed, nice dining facilities, no odd smells (as is sometimes the case in lesser homes of the sort, not as well maintained), and every worker I encountered (at least on this evening) seemed to have a smile to offer. Most of the residents are either in wheelchairs or in bed, and I offered a smile to some who looked (and smiled) at me as I walked by. I finally found Dorothy's room, 103, and went inside.
She was asleep.
I didn't know what to do, really. I didn't want to disturb a peaceful nap, but I also didn't want to leave without a visit and some conversation. I stood there a minute, hoping she'd wake up and see me, but no go.
I left the room and went back to the nurses station down the hall. I explained my dilemma to a cheerful nurse. She said, "Oh, don't worry! You can wake her up. I'm sure she'd love to see you! Just give her a little shake."
Having received permission and been absolved of responsibility, I went back to the room and gave a gentle tap to Dorothy's shoulder. She awoke immediately. I asked her if she knew who I was (her vision isn't spectacular, and she had just woken up.) When she said, "No, who is it?", I said, "It's Jimmy Shawn".
("Jimmy Shawn", or just "Shawn", is what my father's side of the family called me for many years. This is because I had a Granduncle Jim, and had [still do] an Uncle Jim, so it avoided confusion in conversations.)
When she realized who it was - or, more likely, when she found out it was anyone she knew, come for a visit, and not necessarily me - her face lit up. She broke out a big smile, and from there it was a non-stop 90-minute conversation without any lulls, gaps, awkward silences, or anything else that would have given a listening stranger the idea that we were in a hospital setting and not just chatting at someone's kitchen table. It was wonderful.
The first thing I noticed was Dorothy's weight. She has never been anything other than petite, but she is now extremely thin. During our conversation, she mentioned that the staff had weighed her recently. They told her she was a few ounces above 80 pounds (that would be about 36 kilo, or a bit less than 6 stone, for her friends in Canada and Europe.) Even at that, I think they may have had a foot on the scale. I would have judged her as weighing less. She stands about five-foot-seven, I believe, so perhaps it is just my perception considering her relatively tall frame.
Having said that, she does not look as ill as one might expect of a person with so little weight. She is bedridden, but appears to move with no pain. There are no tubes in her arms, no IV, no oxygen, nothing taking away from an otherwise nice appearance of a delicately-built older woman sitting up in bed. Here eyes are a bit sunken, due to the lack of weight, and all of her veins can be clearly seen through the thinness of her arms, but her voice is strong, her eyes move quickly, and she is as sharp as she ever was (no small compliment, that, as Dorothy was a schoolteacher, and has always been an erudite woman, quick with her wits, and nobody's fool.)
She appeared to be in no pain, or at least she never gave any indication that she was. For those unfamiliar with Dorothy's many maladies, here's what she has:
And, from the look of her hands, I'd say she has more than a touch of arthritis, too.
Now, you might expect a person with a laundry list like that to be less than cheerful. I think I might be, given the same. However, Dorothy smiles often, is still intrigued by all that life has to offer, and she does not appear at all ready to toss in her hand. In the great poker game of life, it's obvious at this point that she's holding garbage, but she either still believes she has a winner or she's playing a bluff for all it's worth. Either way, it's to be admired.
There were a couple of very lovely prayer books, many scriptural quotations, even some old beautiful prayer cards from unknown funerals (one of which we found more interesting than the others, as it was for a deceased Sullivan, but, after some careful thought and deliberation, we concluded it wasn't one of ours.)
I also noticed a couple of toy stuffed cats. Dorothy was particularly fond of them.
(She said that one of the nurses brought her a couple of real kittens one day, no more than a couple of weeks old, and she let them roam around on her bed for a few minutes. I think that may have delighted her more than anything else.)
When Dorothy first came to the facility, she was in the process of being checked in when someone saw her, pointed, and said, "Isn't that The Cat Lady?"
A few minutes later, another person came up to her, and said, "Aren't you The Cat Lady?"
Well, she had been on television, and featured in a couple of newspaper stories, so it wasn't a total shock for her to be recognized. This had happened to her before, but usually in a store or supermarket; mainly when she was doing something that might trigger the thought, such as buying 150 cans of cat food. She wasn't much in the mood for that sort of notoriety as she was being checked into a health care facility, but she took it with good grace and in the spirit intended.
She was given a dual occupancy room, same as she has now, but this first room had her positioned by the window. She says that, every so often, people would come up to the window, tap on it to draw her attention, and wave to her, making it known via signs or whatnot that they knew she was "The Cat Lady" and that they liked her. She knows the folks meant well, but she's a bit happier now that she's away from the window and in another room.
(This reminded her of another story, older in vintage. It seems she was on her way to feed the cats, a few years back, when two boys, perhaps five or six years of age, stopped her and asked if she was The Cat Lady. Dorothy said that she was.
The younger of the boys stared at her for a minute. He then turned to his friend, and said, "You lied! She doesn't look like a cat at all!")
What would Dorothy especially like you to know? That her colony of feral cats is being cared for in her absence. Another loving resident of the apartment complex has taken over the feedings. The colony is, of course, getting smaller, due to the planned capture and spaying of the animals, as well as the placing of found kittens in real homes. Dorothy's great and good work will be completed.
I'll be visiting Dorothy again next week, God willing.
Then, with more better stuff.