Friday, March 1, 2013


End of Day, Kiawah, SC

I just recently spent a couple of weeks in a reconditioning facility after total knee replacement. It was my second and thankfully my last, as I only have two legs. As you might expect, life in such a place is not real exciting with your days filled with post operative pain and the mind numbing effects of the necessary pain meds to enable you to work through the required physical therapy. One life lesson learned from the experience is that pain is weakness leaving the body. That’s a good mindset to keep in perspective so that you can keep pressing on with the therapy.

Your world is also compressed within the walls of the facility as you focus on the one goal of rehabbing the body so that you can return back into the world of active living. Any distraction is welcome so that you are not focusing on the temporary pain of regaining your strength. Enter Francine. I first encountered her while getting my tendons and muscles stretched back to normality in the therapy room. Francine is a permanent resident and has become a daily fixture in the room with the staff. She stealth’s into the room in her wheelchair by independently moving it with her feet. And she’s become quite proficient with this method as her hands are apparently wracked with arthritis. After all, I learned that Francine is in her late nineties these days. Her trademark attire is a different colored head scarf that she wears every day of the week. She can’t weigh over 80 pounds. My first impression of Francine was the old woman in the woods in the childhood fable, Hansel and Grettle.

Francine’s mind isn’t quite what it used to be and she can occasionally become irritated, but that hasn’t stopped her from endearing herself to the staff. I’m told that they have gathered on more than one occasion to pay their last respects, only to see her gliding down the halls the very next morning. She was apparently called the pie lady years ago. You can only assume that she sold pies to get by in life. That could explain her habit of carrying a small coin purse with a few dollar bills that she will pull out and methodically count each one and then return them to their resting place. It would seem that she is making change for the sale of another pie. She religiously joins a small cadre of patients and staff outside in the courtyard every day to have a smoke and social time. Then once the smokes are spent, she wheels her chair towards the door and leads a small convoy back inside. Who would possibly try to get her to quit smoking if she has made it this far?

Francine is one of the many folks that are hidden among us on the edge of survival. She obviously cannot take care of herself, so all of us contribute to her well being. We have a moral obligation to do so--especially when you come face to face with such a fellow human being in need. Francine entered the therapy room while I was there one morning in a very agitated state of mind. She was looking for her long dead son because she realized that she needed money to buy food. My therapist assured her that she didn’t need any money to receive food here, but she was inconsolable—as if old fearful memories of going hungry were forever scarred into her mind and had somehow resurfaced amid the fog. Finally, she was wheeled back to her area where familiar nurses could calm her down. On another occasion, she entered the room and demanded one of the therapists to open her mouth. After realizing there was no other choice but to acquiesce, the therapist opened her mouth. “Ah Ha”, shouted Francine. “You have my teeth”! Those false teeth of hers are quite probably part of only a handful of material possessions to her name.

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