In the bed next to Mr. Chapman was Mr. Taber. Quiet, still. You hardly knew he was there. Well, most of the time.
Three years younger than Mr. Chapman, Mr. Taber had the look of someone who had lived a hard life. A very hard life.
Thin, with long graying hair, teeth set like that of a bulldog's, but with a disposition that drew you to him instantly. A sweetheart is what you would call him. Just a very nice man.
The first of our daily visits to Dad in #161 found Mr. Taber sitting in a chair beside his bed. The hospital bed was raised up just a bit, as it had just been freshly made with crisp white sheets and a new thermal blanket.
With limited use of his arms, Mr. Taber fish-flopped himself back into bed. I think he was tired of sitting. Still keeping his arms beside him, he maneuvered himself around until he was straight as an arrow in the center. The nurse was having a fit.
"Mr. Taber. What are you doing?! You could have fallen! Do you see how high your bed is?"
A slight chuckle and a nod of his head came with the reply, "I just want to be back in bed."
Between Mr. Chapman and Mr. Taber, the nurses assigned to this room had their hands full. 24/7.
Next to my dad was Mr. Goode. Bless his heart, he just laid in his bed, staring straight ahead listening to any ball game that was on the television.
His niece, Inola, and her friend came on Saturday to sit with him. Her friend was one of those women who instantly saw a need and instead of waiting to be asked, jumped in and took care of it.
Mr. Taber had been in the bathroom, washing up and brushing his teeth and trying to get his hair cleaned. In a small sink, sitting in a wheelchair, it was no small feat.
Coming back to his bed, he sat quietly pulling his fingers through the tangles and knots, wincing in pain as he did so. Inola's friend asked if she could help. Donning a pair of gloves and taking the comb out of the drawer, she began slowly grooming this very grateful man.
We had joked that I had scissors in my knitting bag and we could give him a hair cut if he wanted.
"No. That's okay."
Within a few minutes, he was asleep. Soundly. She continued to comb his hair, gently and rhythmically. After she finished, she pulled it back and braided it so that it would not get in Mr. Taber's face while sleeping.
We sat in awe as he slept, carried away in a dream of kindness and compassion shown towards him, unaware that she had continued on even as he did so. Bliss. If he had never experienced it before, he had now.
Waking up about a half an hour later, the first thing he did was to feel his head.
"Where is my hair?!"
We all laughed and told him to feel in the back, where the braid lay hiding.
"Oh, thank goodness. I thought you all had cut it!"
I am not sure if Mr. Taber had family. If he did, they did not come to visit him.
He looked forward to our visits with Dad, because he knew that he would have company also. We included him as much as possible.
"Good morning, Mr. Taber."
"George, how are you?"
"Did you sleep well?"
"What's for lunch?"
One morning we came in to find that he had experienced grand mal seizures during the night, one lasting eight minutes. I know what those are like. I have a son with a seizure condition, and they suck all of your energy away from you, leaving you as exhausted as though you had just run a marathon. Uphill, all the way.
A seizure is what had brought him to the VA in the first place. And here he was going through it all again. They are tricky things. You never know when the medicine no longer works in your body or you become ill and change your chemistry just enough that the synapses in your brain overcharge and begin misfiring. You never know.
Weakened by his battle during the night, he lay in his bed looking like a little child. A smile on his face appeared nonetheless.
Machines kept watch on his vital statistics, the nurse sat at his bedside and we all worried over him as though he were one of us.
The next day it was as if nothing had happened. That is the way it is. Every time.
My dad had requested that two of his electric razors be brought when we came to see him. One for him, and one for Mr. Taber.
"George wants to shave. Bring him the gray one, please."
Ah, you would have thought he had been handed the moon on a silver platter. Mr. Taber began shaving and did so for thirty minutes. After a while the sound of clipping hair ceased and yet he carried on, enjoying every minute of being able to groom himself for a change.
While he shaved his face, my dad began shaving his own. Bees. That is what it sounded like in that room. A swarm of bees buzzing in the corners, busy at work. Happiness in the making for such a simple thing. I take too much for granted.
Mr. Taber was transferred to a rehabilitation facility a few days later.
I certainly hope that they take good care of him. I hope that his family, if he has one, finally comes to see him. I hope that he is surrounded by kindness and charity. I hope that he knows the effect he had on each of us. I hope he can go home.
Thank you, Mr. Taber, for teaching me about strength in adversity, for being grateful for the small blessings, for being kind and thoughful towards others.
You are a hero.