Fall Risk

Under-slept and disheveled, in between splashes through parking lot runoff, I found a FALL RISK hospital bracelet on the ground, floating next to McDonald’s wrappers in the rain. Immediately it transported me to my days of playing the same stupid song on the Q-chord to a dying man with half a skull and stage four bedsores, who was nonverbal but reportedly loved music. (Of course, he is now dead.) Not that the man was himself a FALL RISK, since he could not independently move out of his bed, but the world in which he existed was a FALL RISK world, a skilled nursing facility, whose acronym “SNF” is a homophonous pair with “sniff,” the nasal reflex of the crying and/or ill. I felt an overpowering futility in trying to lessen his overwhelming suffering and imminent death–how do you take care of a person who cannot communicate how much pain they are in, how do you deduce what their choices might be, how do you show up and do something you think they might like, based on nothing but casenotes, inference and instinct?  Yes or no questions: you like this, right? His roommate definitely did not, and every time I arrived, the TV volume from behind the dividing curtain  would get turned up as high as it could go on “Judge Judy,” in an apparent celebration of ordinary miseries and free floating aggression. One day as I arrived ready for our ritual of ambiguously consented-upon music playing, I found the bed stripped, the IV and heart monitors gone, the bedside table clear. So he’s dead then, I thought, and while I was happy for him, and relieved, as this was arguably a graduation into a less painful dimension, I was devastated. I flagged down a nurse, who told me he was alive but had been moved to ICU “temporarily,” per the ever-worsening bedsores. There really is no end to this story, or even a story to begin with, no narrative whatsoever, just a more-inevitable-and-impending-than-usual-finally-and-forever-death and the lingering, pungent, kicking memory of flesh that is rotting on a body which is still-alive, and all the associated mourning, before, during, and after.

Back to the parking lot and the rain. I went inside and spoke to the clerk about the drenched bracelet. “Is there a Silver Alert today?” I wondered aloud. He shrugged and said they’d keep an eye out for hospital escapees.

I passed the bracelet on my way back through the downpour. I paused at my car, then turned back to the middle of the street and fished it out of the puddle, held it in my hand. I wanted to keep it. But that is absurd. I dropped it back onto the ground and left it there, a risk too high to mitigate, an obsolete warning.