Saturday, December 30, 2006

Saturday Bingo

I am late getting to Ann's room, so she is getting ready for Bingo on her own. Slumped forward in her wheelchair, she is trying to attach the footrests.
"I didn't think you were coming," she says.

"I'm sorry I'm late." I attach the footrests and then ask if she needs anything else before going downstairs to the common room where Bingo is held each Saturday at 2:00.

"I think I should use the washroom," she whispers. Ann, who is in her 90s, has Parkinson's and in addition to robbing her of most of her mobility and sight, this disease is taking away her voice. I have to lean in very close to hear her words. Her hearing is also failing, so conversation is limited.

I wheel her into the washroom and pull down her pants and underwear so she can use the toilet. As she has grown increasingly weak in the last year she has become almost indifferent to the assistance she needs in performing what most of us take for granted as a very private task. I have become accustomed to, but never unaware of, the pale flesh hanging in loose, wrinkled folds on bone-thin legs, the monstrous plastic underpants, the way her legs dangle when she sits on the seat...

After this task is finished, I fix her sparse but silky-soft grey hair into a thin clip at the back of her head, fetch her small purse and we are ready to go down for Bingo.

It is busy today; over a dozen residents, many accompanied by family. I take Ann to her regular place and greet the others at the table - the sharp-witted German lady who plays four cards and watches everyone else's to make sure they don't miss a number, and Mr. D, the other senior I visit on Sundays.

I search through the stack of Bingo cards for Ann's lucky numbers - 8 and 13 and in the upper left hand corner. (I'm not too fussy about the cards I take for myself, but I must have picked right today since I win the first game.)

The man who calls Bingo is a volunteer who has been spending his Saturdays here for years. He has a thick German accent, but enunciates clearly and speaks slowly into the microphone, so everyone hears him. Each game is played in the same order each week, but he never fails to remind us which game we are playing - one line any direction, full card, four corners, little fence around the house...

To play a card for an hour costs only 25 cents, so this is not expensive entertainment. Neither is it fast paced. I keep an eye on Ann's card and point out numbers she misses - but she usually doesn't need my help. As I wait for our numbers to be called, I look around the room.

...A man with and baseball cap on long, greying hair, thick sideburns and a burly chest holds his mother's hand and helps her cover the numbers on her card.

...A woman is sitting beside her elderly mother on the other side of the room. Several times during the hour mother leans toward her and says loudly, "I love you".

"I love you too," her daughter always replies and I always smile to hear them and watch the elderly woman lean toward her daughter with a full, childlike smile and the daughter place her arm around her mother's shoulders.

After the last game has been called, Ann agrees to stay for tea and crackers, so I fetch two cups and a plate of soda crackers and processed cheese from behind the bar. She forgot to put in her lower dentures, but still manages to eat a couple of crackers. She doesn't eat much these days and I don't know how she can afford to lose any more weight, so I am glad to see her eat even this much.

When she is done I take her back upstairs to her room and make sure she is comfortably in her reclining chair before leaving. So many times I have said good-bye to Ann at the end of a visit and wondered if I would ever see her again. She tells me often that she wants to die, and yet her disfigured body refuses to give up. All I can do, today as any other day, is to say good-bye, tell her I will be back next week. She thanks me for taking her to Bingo; I tell her it was my pleasure. It really was.

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