It seems I’m the de facto default go-to guy for the graveyard shift in room 25. This responsibility is thrust on me by priorities of a convalescent care business, rather than by my choosing it or because those who run this place aim to deprive me of sleep. I’d call it fate were it not for thoughtlessness, which is often a result of business priorities, i.e., the place isn’t staffed very well to care for cases like Magoo’s.
If Mr. Magoo wasn’t encouraged by staff (abetted by his dear wife, who visits him daily) to sleep through each day, my nighttime duties might be lighter. Perhaps, after habituating myself to the rambling discourse of his unconscious mind, I’d sleep through the remonstrations, regrets, admonitions and desires that bubble up through parts of his oxygen-deprived brain and I’d awaken only when I recognize, by the tone of his cries and pleas for a bedpan, that they are motivated by real rather than imagined need.
As you might infer, I share a room with Mr. Magoo in a hospital-like rehabilitation facility and Mr. Magoo’s condition prevents him from remembering how to use the cord attached to the guard rails of his bed that, when pulled, flips a switch to turn on a call light and a chime that is supposed to summon the nursing staff. Nor does he remember how to use the urine bottle that sits on the table beside his bed, although he recognizes it when I hear that one of the nurses has placed it between his legs and put his penis into it. The incapacitation of call button and urine bottle, lead to most disturbances of my sleep through each night since it is his bladder cues, whether real or not, that lead to a crescendo of whimpers, requests, shouts, threats and ultimately, pitiable pleading that eventually awakens me. Depending on when in his cycle of complaint I awaken (and I admit, albeit with shame, that the time since the last time I was so awakened is a factor), to pull the nurse’s chain and, speaking through the faded plum polyester curtain that separates us in our beds, I attempt to reassure Magoo that help is on the way, thereby reducing the shouting back down the scale to whimpering complaint.
His name isn’t really Magoo. I made that up because both his voice and mental state remind me of the character portrayed in films by Jim Bacchus. It’s amusing to hear Jim Bacchus in the tragicomic voice of Magoo, pleading, “Help! Help me! Won’t somebody, please, help me!” Even if it is 3:00 AM, it makes me laugh at the absurdity of being in a convalescent facility where I am awakened for the 9th time since eleven that evening.
And there is value in my role as an adjunct “volunteer” caregiver and ersatz night watchman: It gives me a sense of purpose so that I feel more worthy as a peer of the team of young, mostly Philippine and Sri Lankan women in flowered smocks and their green-scrub clad male associates that negotiate the vinyl-floored halls of this demi-institution that is part hospice, part dumping ground for the elderly, whose families take the easy way out, part half-way house for survivors of Marian Medical Center, the house of horrors down the road. If only I could get some sleep in the mornings when, after a fitful night fighting intangible demons from his past, Magoo falls asleep but, alas, at 6:30 AM, Santa’s errant helpers arrive and all hell breaks loose, resounding down the long corridor outside room 25. This cacophony is reputedly an unavoidable consequence of serving breakfast to 59 people notwithstanding that most of the noise consists of exuberant shouts and laughter—the banter of mindless elves, joyful to be alive among the comatose, as if raging in defiance against the patient onslaught of decrepitude surrounding us, attending the inevitable ending of life in America.
*Part Two – “Tony” coming to a theatre near you, soon.