I walk into your hospital room and all is somber
But your aide with the quick smile and hearty laugh is there
And I can't stop myself from noticing a rope hanging outside your window.
You and the aide had not noticed it before.
The elf in me starts a running story about how you and I will escape down the rope to many floors below,
Where we will then start humming as if we are just out for a walk,
While the aide still up in the room cuts the rope, and brings it into your (now) former room,
To hide the evidence of our escape.
The aide is now doubled over with laughter,
And looks up and down out the window with me as we try to figure out who left us the rope to escape with,
And will we run into them once you and I start descending the rope?
We do have one obstacle: Hospital windows no longer open...
But for a few minutes there,
You, your caregiver, and I shared some levity,
And we can now address the seriousness of the hospitalization with renewed energy and fresh eyes.
This is dignity: To have people around you who see all of you, not just your health or disability symptoms, and offer you some relief and escape when needed.
The Piano Man
Back to the hospital
And repeat the care continuum again.
We are limited as to where you can be discharged;
We don't want you in just any rehab bed.
You need a bed with a piano nearby.
It is playing the piano that will heal you.
Not all rehab facilities have pianos.
What? He can't leave his room to play the piano
in your function room?
My piano man is heart-broken and frustrated
But undaunted. In lieu of the piano, he can use a small, moveable keyboard.
On goes the face mask and the disposable gloves.
He and the keyboard are united.
Patients, their caregivers, look in and listen:
In a rehab facility in Timbuktu,
Sits an elder wearing a johnny, a face mask, and nitrile gloves,
Playing the best music they will ever hear.
This is dignity: To use the gift God gave you,
No matter what your health is, no matter where you are.
We step outside together,
Not that easy for you to do these days with your health.
The sun hurts your eyes at first, like a prisoner emerging from solitary confinement.
You grip your walker more tightly.
We have gotten outside together this day
As we have loved to do for the decades past
And there is no turning back for us now either.
We walk the length of the facility's veranda to get your body moving.
Your walk is much slower and pained than before
We sit on the veranda bundled up in winter coats and hats.
The brisk air is clean and fresh on our faces
Unlike the stifling small room you have inside.
I so understand why you need outdoor air.
We watch some cars pull up to pick up and drop off passengers.
A whole world is outside your single room.
Please breathe that in, too.
This is dignity: To get out in the world and inhale the life beyond our walled-in structures.
Sandy Alissa Novack, MBA, MSW, is a geriatric social worker and disability advocate. She worked for nearly two decades in housing for independent elders and younger people with disabilities, and during the pandemic, Sandy became involved as a volunteer with newly formed Dignity Alliance Massachusetts, trying to better the safety and quality of life for residents of long-term care facilities as well as people who choose to live in the community with supports. This series of three poems moves from hospital to rehab to assisted living, and is dedicated to her precious friend and mentor, Rabbi and Cantor Theodore Schneider, who died during the first year of the pandemic while facilities were locked down.