Dash was sweet, but feisty. He was polite, but always refused to give up. He was eighty, but he was lean, full of strength. I sat by his bed and watched, letting my heart break with every word.
"Bbbbut...I...dooon't...understand!" We came back to this sentence over and over, as I tried to comprehend the anger, the vibrant possibility contained within this husk of an extensive left hemiparesis. Everything I took for granted was monumental to Dash, every day since his third stroke put him in a nursing home. Every word was a marathon, every shower a hike over Mount Everest.
"Ttthhey...leeefft...me...heere...to...die!" Dash shouted in heart-wrenching fragments, and all I could offer was a touch on his right arm. I had nothing better, and it was humiliating. Dash was moved to the long-term care unit when he could not make enough progress to go home. We took care of him, because his family would not. Dash would die here - I could not have put it better myself.
Dash was a fighter, and he was ready. He would concede anything to get better, to regain function, to go home. Everyday I saw him he would ask why the physical therapists no longer came by, why no one gave him a chance to leave. I would tell him that Medicare would not pay, because this husk, on this generic, impersonal hospital bed, was the new Dash, was all that Dash would ever be now. It was the truth, and the truth was awful. I had no answer for him, so I sat there, sad and defeated, holding his right hand. I tried to understand what it was like, to lie in this bed as a prisoner, to lose the basic independence of showering without someone staring at you, and I couldn't. I wish no human being had to, but here we are, Dash and I, holding each other's hands, a pair among millions of elderly residents in nursing homes and their doctors.
Dash looked away, a tear dropped on his pillow, and my heart broke. I wanted to help Dash, help him cope with this new life, but I had no right. Dash had to take this journey on his own, this path to acceptance, because no one should have the audacity to say this is OK, other than Dash. Until then, I held his right hand, and Dash squeezed back.