Picture of the Day
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December 24, 1999


"Winter's pretty tough on floors," the custodian says, dustmopping the debris of holiday visitors into a pile near the nurses' station, the residents asleep in their wheelchairs as white-haired but vigorous Bob Barker calls the next contestant. Babi's stopped eating so there's to be a psych eval with a doctor who's 45 minutes late. When Dr. Chang arrives I serve as interpreter, asking in Czech, "Chces zivit?" Do you want to live?

"Oh, yes, yes. I vant to live," my grandmother affirms with a smile, but I know it's the face she saves for doctors and other officials, a pose which even through dementia and meds (hard to say which affects her worse) remains intact; 30 years of life in Soviet Czechoslovakia--one of them in prison--entrenched the nod and smile as a conditioned reflex. Then why won't you eat, the doctor asks. I'm not hungry, she says in Czech. I've eaten enough already, I can't eat any more. Conclusion: More pain killers, more mood elevators. But I know all that's missing is personal attention, someone to hold her hand and care. But who when everyone she's ever loved has either moved on or been left behind?