She was my roommate for most of the past two months -- a constant presence in my life – sometimes annoying (her TV stayed on day and night as did her lights) – sometimes endearing (she had a marvelous chuckling laugh and always said how nice John and Justin were because they would pass the time of day with her before coming over to my side of the curtain -- which I kept drawn so as not to be distracted by the flicker of the TV and the passing of people in the hallway.)
We were both caught up in our own problems and schedules and didn’t chat much but from the other side of the curtain I learned an awful lot.
She’d been a waitress for years at The Mediterranean – a popular Asheville restaurant/diner in the business district – and "had made good money too." I imagine her as one of those sassy, wise-cracking, no nonsense-taking gals who becomes an institution.
She’d "smoked like a freight train" for many years (part of her current health problems) and had a hysterectomy at an early age. No children, never married.
This was her third stay at this facility – recently she’d had a fall at home and had been sent to the hospital and then back here where she had many friends on the staff who gave her wonderful loving care and teased her out of her occasional grumpiness.
She had lived nearby in a trailer "full of knick-knacks," just down the road from one of her brothers. This brother seemed to be the one most involved in her care – he did her laundry and it was he that I could hear her fussing with from the other side of the curtain.
When he suggested that she would have to stay here longer, she bowed up like a mule. No, she would not. She’d made up her mind and she wouldn’t. She would go home and make it someways. (At this point, she could not walk or dress herself and needed help for her frequent trips to the bathroom.)
Then, a few days ago, when the doctor told her that she had congestive heart failure and was not going to be able to go home, she was distraught – I’ll kill myself, she said, before I stay here the rest of my life.
Saturday just after noon, I heard her cry out from the other side of the curtain, "Where am I? This isn’t my room." And then there was an aide calling her name over and over and someone shouting for the nurse and a great commotion as more and more people poured into the room.
One of the physical therapists came and took me away. The curtain was drawn around my roommate’s bed and frantic activity was going on behind that curtain. From the window of the therapy room, I could see the ambulance with flashing lights parked at the entrance.
The therapist took me for a long walk, then back to the therapy room for some practice with stairs and balance.
Outside the ambulance was still waiting.
We went for another long walk and when we returned, the ambulance was gone and I went back to the now silent room. Silent and cold. The air conditioning had been turned on and the window was open a few inches.
The atmosphere on the hall was subdued – several of the aides were fighting tears. She probably had a heart attack, one person told me but that was all.
The next morning, I learned that my roommate had died almost instantly, attempts at resuscitation had been futile.
When the aide who had loved her best came in to pack up her belongings, she told me that the window had been left open so the spirit could escape.
I'm glad she did.