Sometimes it’s the sounds.
Ticking from a clock is that much more pronounced . . . and profound as you wait for chewing to begin again . . . the resident having momentarily forgotten he was eating a tortilla for breakfast. I pick the half eaten food away from his pajamas, note the ticking and continue to wait.
Sometimes they startle. Sometimes they soothe. The whoosh of the industrial toilets as we complete the daily cleaning . . . water on tile in the walk-in shower, where my partner is assisting the newest woman resident with a shower. We’re told she just needs help getting to the hallway facility. My friend discovers her weakness is more defined and becomes intimately acquainted with her new friend . . . who, by the way, is from Africa.
Sometimes they're necessary, even critical. Though we're a hospice and tend not to have the life-saving bells and whistles of most hospitals. One resident has both AIDS and a pre-existing lung problem. So he getst oxygen. The steady sssssss is reassuring. Not so the clanging of the mop handle on the floor as I rush to catch the ringing phone, unanswered because the nurse is attending to the Spanish-speaking young man who understands nothing of what is being told him and little of anything else that’s happening. He’s got brain cancer.
Sometimes the randomness attracts my attention. Jean zippers and buckles toss and tumble in the massive dryers. Click . . . click . . . We’ll be doing laundry throughout the four hours we here.
A walk down the hall reminds me of channel surfing. TV programs -- continuous and loud -- come from every room, even empty ones or where someone is sleeping. The medium is the massage. One resident admits to a science fiction interest as though it were a confession, but it provides us a connect to discuss while I clean his room.
The minute I arrive as a volunteer, I stop breathing through my nose. Occasionally, I recognize that I'm going through the motions without really seeing what's going on around me. After more than a decade at this assignment, it's easy to do. So much of my work is manual labor, so I can go for more than an hour and not say much of anything, especially when most everyone is sleeping.
The sounds are different though. They're normal, but amplified, like much of life at an AIDS hospice.