Excerpt from Elmington
Gordon visits his doctor with his neighbour:
“Do you want me to go in with you?” Joanne ventured.
“Why? Do I need a chaperone?” Gordon shot back.
“No, Gordon, but it might help to have another pair of ears… to remember things the doctor says… just in case.”
“In case I come down with amnesia?”
“Fine. I’ll wait here.”
Joanne opened her magazine to an ad for herbal supplements. Gordon had expected her to push back against his resistance instead of pretending to read, and he felt adrift.
“Gray?” His name rang like a dinner bell across the crowded waiting room.
He struggled to his feet then looked back at Joanne. “Aren’t you coming?” he asked.
“Only if you think I’d be of help.” Joanne was already rolling up her magazine and stuffing it into her purse.
Dr. Southey didn’t keep them waiting long.
“Katherine, I’ve brought my neighbour, Joanne, with me, as another pair of ears. Please regard her as a human tape recorder. We may speak frankly in her presence,” Gordon wheezed.
“Joanne. Thanks for coming.” Katherine perched on the edge of her swivel chair, turned, and tapped on her keyboard. “If memory serves, we planned to discuss options for the future, in case
you get sicker,” she said to the monitor.
“That’s right. Euthanasia or suicide. Plan A or Plan B,” said Gordon.
Joanne stiffened in her chair.
Katherine spun around to face them again. “Aren’t we putting the cart before the horse, Gordon? Long-term care is also an option if you’re not managing in your home. Many people get
a new lease on life with more help… a chance to make new friends and join activities without the pressure of keeping a household.”
“Thanks, but no thanks, Katherine.” Gordon raised his hand from his knee, as if refusing a second helping of dessert. “I want to die in my own bed, when I’m good and ready, and not a moment later.”
“Let’s back up a bit and revisit your advance directives.”
“Okay,” agreed Gordon. She’d granted him twenty seconds of attention, and now he was staring at her posture-perfect back again.
“You’ve expressed a wish to not be resuscitated if your heart stops beating. No ICU, no tubes, no CPR, no defibrillation… anything changed there?”
“No. You can add ‘no feeding, no diapering, and no admission to hospital or institution’ to the list. I’ll be getting off the trolley soon, and I only want help disembarking. Failing that, I’ll throw myself off.”
Katherine’s slender fingers fluttered over the keyboard for a moment, then she turned and scrutinized Gordon as if she were appraising the value of an antique china cabinet. “Have you
discussed your wishes with anyone… besides me?” she asked.
Joanne shook her head.
“Obliquely, with my daughter Martha,” replied Gordon. “She’s my POA. I believe she understands my wishes.”
“I see,” said Katherine. “Gordon, before I’d even consider a referral for assisted dying, way down the road, I’d want assurance that you’re not harbouring a misplaced reluctance to contemplate alternatives. And that you’re not depressed or confused.”
“I’m neither,” squawked Gordon. “I’m joyfully compos mentis and I know what I want.”
“Still, I’d feel more comfortable advising you if we had a fuller picture of your mental state. Before we make big decisions. I’ll refer you to our nurse to test your cognition and screen you for depression.”
“And I’d like to give you some homework.”
Gordon stared flatly at nothing in particular, deigning to respond.
Joanne straightened in her chair. Like a keen A plus pupil puckering up to kiss the ass of her favourite teacher, thought Gordon.
“If there’s anything I can do…” Joanne said brightly.
“There is, thank-you…urr…” replied Katherine.
“Joanne. Joanne Kingsworth.”
“Joanne. Right. I’d like for Gordon to tour some long-term care homes… at least two or three… To help him understand that moving into a well-run facility can bring shine to the golden years. Sometimes we fear things out of ignorance.”
“Certainly. We can manage that, can’t we Gordon?” asked Joanne.
Gordon didn’t answer. Angry adrenaline surged through his vessels and he was already pushing his rollator toward the door.
Katherine spoke quietly to Joanne. “I’ll line up the tests with the nurse. Reception will give you the appointment as you leave.”
“Thank-you, Dr. Southey,” Joanne gushed.
“This isn’t our usual route home,” said Gordon as Joanne turned her Navigator onto Sheridan Street.
“No, you’re right. I have some time before my Mothers Against Sexting meeting, and you have plenty of oxygen in your tank because Dr. Southey saw us quickly. I thought we’d take a
little detour, past Valhalla Terrace.”
“For crying out loud.”
“There’s no harm in taking a peek.”
“Yes, there is. The place gives me the creeps. I visited Don Schwarz, my old fishing buddy, in the Terrace after his stroke. They had him tied up in a wheelchair, bib around his neck to catch the drool, plaid horse blanket over his lap. Place smelled like fecal matter with top notes of Lysol. Depressing.”
“Maybe you went on a bad day.” Joanne glanced in her mirrors and signalled to change lanes.
“Everyday is a bad day in a nursing home,” said Gordon.
They fell into silence as they sped down the left lane. Joanne steered through an advanced green, onto a secondary street.
“I’m not going in,” Gordon declared.
“Well I am,” said Joanne. “I’ll see for myself… and pick up information for you. Knowledge is the key to self-empowerment.” She parked in a space reserved for visitors, climbed out, and
called, “Last chance,” through the open door.
“I’m having terrifying flashbacks of poor Don,” said Gordon as he pointedly stared through the windshield at a cedar shrub.
“You create your reality.” Joanne slammed the driver’s door closed.
Gordon watched her stalk across the parking lot. He should’ve pleaded fatigue instead of revulsion. She would’ve sympathized.
A few minutes later, Joanne returned with a fan of brochures that she dropped onto Gordon’s lap.
“I spoke with the receptionist and she let me see the main living room, the dining room, and the chapel. They even have a library. You’d like that, Gordon.”
He imagined a stuffy room, chock-a-block with cast-off bodice rippers, spy novels, a long shelf of Louis L’Amour, perhaps some National Geographics from the 80s and 90s. He shivered.
“I should’ve left the engine running, to keep you warm,” said Joanne.
“Me and the atmosphere.” Gordon immediately regretted the comment. Joanne meant to reconcile, and he was behaving disgracefully. “Thanks for the brochures,” he said.
“You’re welcome,” said Joanne. “Shall we check out Oakview Lodge?”
“I decline. Thanks anyway,” answered Gordon. “Really and truly, thank-you,” he whispered.