{ Incomplete Inventory of My Grandmother's Hospital Room, 16 June 2002 }
David C. Madden
photo by Lucy Kopp

handOne (1) maternal grandmother, age reaching ninety, with a short but rich history of falls and subsequent hospital stays that have lowered and darkened a face I had heretofore long known as brightly quiet, now sitting up in bed on the right half of room 417, surprised and happy to see me.

One (1) maternal grandfather, close in age to the above, who is the talker of the duo, always ready with oft-told jokes, stories about people you don't know, and recapped catalogues of past automobiles and riding lawn mowers in his ownership.

One (1) great aunt, only sister and youngest sibling of the above, who is sassy and likes to complain and laugh in disbelief, especially at my grandfather and his many stories.

One (1) grandson, the taker of this inventory, who has trouble in all forms of real, emotion-based interactions with others, and who contradictorily has found it in his best interests to become placidly left-brained and detached when called upon to take part in real, emotion-based interactions.

Two (2) Siemens-brand hearing aids that my grandmother has trouble fitting into her ear, requiring my thin, steady hands to push her white hair back and insert them before she can hear and understand the things I try to say to her.

Eight (8) flexor tendons running from my grandmother's wrists to her knuckles, sitting high above her hands' metacarpals—the thin cloth of her flesh falling through them so that these tendons look exposed, vulnerable, breakable, like tiny model bridges made of toothpicks.

One (1) too-thin throat, currently frogged and raspy, making it difficult for my grandmother to speak and even more difficult than usual for my grandfather to hear her.

Two (2) legs leisurely swaying back and forth under a blue blanket, which legs are currently inoperable due to certain fractures created by my grandmother's bedroom fall two days ago.

Unknown number (?) of bruises on my grandmother's body (tally unwanted), the nature and characteristics of which are as terrible and indescribable as their number.

Three (3) chairs in this half of the room, one for each visitor, the third of which brought in extra, by a kind nurse with a well lipsticked smile.

One (1) standard flirt session between my grandfather and the chair-delivering nurse.

Four (4) Dollars, U.S., per day, to cover the hospital's costs for the one (1) ceiling-mounted Philips television that my grandmother "won't touch."

One (1) stress-reduction television program, playing again and again on a loop on the $4/day television, comprising soft keyboard music behind a series of nature-scene dissolves, all reminding me of Angelo Badalamenti's Twin Peaks work.

One (1) Hill-Rom Centra™ bed with attached telephone and television controls, positionable and warm-looking, currently sloped for my grandmother to look her visitors in the eye.

One (1) interstate telephone call from my mother, the bulk of which my grandmother simply cannot hear.

Countless (?) stories between my grandfather and great aunt about unknown people either ailing or dead.

One (1) faux-impressionist painting on the wall.

Fifteen (15) minutes spent talking about automobiles and their various problems.

One (1) well needed lunch break, taken by myself, comprising one (1) chicken salad sandwich, one (1) bag of Baked Lays potato chips, one (1) large Cherry Coke, and more than five (>5) minutes spent wondering whether this hospital stay is my grandmother's last or whether it's the start of many, and not knowing which situation is more favorable, or, perhaps, less distressing.

One (1) Venetian blinded window looking out upon a sunny day above house-and tree-tops.

One (1) injection for my grandmother's neighbor, the residue of which we watch the nurse drop into 417's HazMat container, red.

Three (3) vowels in my grandmother's first name, posted on a strip of tape above her bed: DOROTHA, heretofore considered by me as the wrong vowels, having always thought my grandmother's full first name was Dorthea.

One (1) self-inflicted and long-lasting pang of guilt, resultant from above.

Sixteen (16) months since I was last in a hospital, then for my grandfather's open-heart surgery and long, difficult recovery therefrom.

Less than one (<1) month since my grandmother was last in a hospital, then—as now—as a patient.

One (1) joke told by my grandfather blaming my grandmother's fall on her "hitting the bottle."

Around ten (~10) genuine smiles from my grandmother throughout the visit, pointing not just to a present lucidity but also maybe to a permanent okayness, to an earlier time when I was a kid and when she was a kid, to an enduring health, to an end to weeks-long hospital stays.

One (1) Xeroxed dinner menu with my grandmother's food choice (chocolate cake, no entree) circled in shaky pencil.

One (1) Hill-Rom PatientMate™ rolling table tray, pushed away toward the window.

One (1) pink plastic water pitcher, on table tray.

One (1) white Styrofoam cup, half-filled with water from pink plastic water pitcher.

Not enough (< ?) sips of water taken from the white Styrofoam cup; not enough fluids to clear my grandmother's froggy throat, to get her out of here today, now, to get her home and sitting with my grandfather in front of the television watching Lawrence Welk; not enough doctors to take away these problems; not enough things to talk about; not enough to look forward to; not enough history known and retold; not enough pride; not enough apologies; not enough hospital visits to make me stop worrying; not enough things to count; not enough time left.

back home.