There are such things as misperceptions.

I’m at the ‘nursing’ facility every other day now, visiting my mother. It’s boring and she’s unhappy. She’s been in for a while and she wants to get out of her room. So we walk the rectangular corridor together. Well, she rides. I walk. I’m getting to know the people. The more active elderly move slowly about in wheelchairs, though some seem to come into the hall just to sleep.

It’s very interesting society, like real life amplified. The people around in fact might be for only a few days, and certainly won’t be for long. They often die in the bed next to you. There are eighty or ninety residents, all old and suffering all sorts of things. There are many ‘staff,’ who are young and suffer only the frustrations of managing a bunch of old people. It’s not a highly paid job, but the staff are always friendly and positive to third parties. I am a third party.

Circumstances are peculiar. You and I expect, if we’re frustrated, aroused, or frightened – to be able to do something about it. The old folks can’t. They might have trouble simply expressing those emotions in believable ways. The staff are provided with charts and schedules, and literally compelled to administer their charges through minor gymnastics, mealtimes, and bathroom visits at any and all events. Inevitably, whether the residents are expressive or not – so what?

Whole vistas of human sociability are compressed between a few walls and regular deadlines. The luxury of working through issues is buried history. If it’s time for your routine administration, it’s time, and you’re in for it, squawking and flailing though you may be. Of course, neither residents nor staff enjoy unhappiness, so a set of rules have been devised. The residents are treated and spoken to like children. The staff are cheerfully helpful as can be under the circumstances. The residents hurl occasional ignored insults and nod off in the corners.

The people who live here are mostly quite old. A few, past one hundred. All the weeks I’ve been coming now, a skinny woman with straight, pure white hair has been in the same place, bent forward asleep in her wheelchair off to one side just beyond the front lobby’s double doors. My mother wants to get out of her room, so we travel the big rectangle together: turn left out of her doorway, left again up the corridor to where ‘Station A’ faces the lobby entrance. The skinny woman sleeps off to one side in her wheelchair.

Left again. Left again. Left again. We’re back where we started. We vary the trip by reversing direction and turning right, right. At the third right the skinny woman is still asleep. We do this a lot. My mother is friendly, and she’s getting to know some of the adventurous types who don’t spend the days in their rooms. She has some fun on these trips.

One day, making our third or fourth circuit, we found ‘Station A’ unstaffed. That is, there was no staff at Station A. I noticed this, since I had never seen it before (there’s quite a lot of staff, and always staff at Station A). Then I saw movement behind the wide service counter. There was a trash basket at the end of some filing cabinets and the skinny woman who always slept in her wheelchair had rolled herself to the basket and was rapidly digging through it. Even as I watched, she finished her sifting and scooted backwards into the hall.

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