She kept getting heavier. I grabbed the gait belt cinched around her mid-section and hefted, attempting to pull her more upright. The Occupational Therapist I was assisting asked 94-year-old Alma Wilson to pull her head up, but I kept thinking, the woman’s doing what she can. Alma kept bending at the waist, her C-shaped spine at odds with her will to stand. Though she was slight, it took the two of us a lot of effort to support her full weight.
Alma had extremely limited motor skills, macular degeneration, and 85 percent hearing loss, as well as pneumonia and a host of other ailments. The pneumonia was the reason for her first visit to the hospital in nearly 59 years. “The last time I was in a hospital is when I had my daughter,” she murmured earlier, bragging on her ability to remain healthy for all these years, before telling us she hadn’t been able to stand for almost five weeks.
“Let’s help you stand for a little while then,” said Deana, the evaluating OT. So, the two of us held Alma up on her feet for two minutes, then a short rest, and then two more. After that, the poor woman was spent.
“That just...took all my...energy.” Her voice but a whisper, eyes shut tight, body uncontrollably shuddering.
We moved her to her bed. I stood there, looking down on Alma as the OT went to talk to her family. Head craned back, eyes squeezed shut, mouth agape, she lay rigid as a board. Or a corpse, I thought.
I brought her head forward by placing another pillow under it. Her face seemed to soften at my touch, so I let my hand linger there, on top of her head. I rubbed my hand across the dry, tangled white hair of her scalp and the rigidity of her features dissolved.
Through a mere touch of my hand, I realized I was giving just a small bit of comfort to this frightened, dying woman.
I lingered a few minutes more, and rubbed her scalp gently.