Ten days ago, the governor of Vermont lifted the restrictions on visits to residents of elder care facilities. The state Department of Health issued guidelines for visits and, based on that, Sky's facility issued their own -- outdoors only, six foot distance, everyone in masks, and the visitors questioned about possible symptoms of the virus and had their temperature taken. Visits must be scheduled, only two visitors per resident, only one visit per week, maximum 30-45 minutes. No exchange of gifts, obviously no touching.
I wasn't sure I wanted to visit Sky. I was concerned that it would upset him -- seeing me, and then having me leave him instead of bringing him home. That he would be agitated afterwards. That he wouldn't understand the masks and the no touching. That it would just be too hard on him.
I decided to wait, and get a report from the facility as to how other residents were handling these strange new visits.
The report came a few days ago -- people were enjoying them, and there didn't seem to be any fallout.
OK. I decided to give it a chance especially because our daughter, Dana, said she wanted to come, too. She thought it would be fun to sing with Sky -- something the two of them especially had done together over the years. She figured singing would help since Sky seems to not be able to have a conversation anymore.
I made the appointment, and Dana and I arrived the prescribed 10-minutes-early to be screened. We were ushered into the courtyard of the facility where three visiting "stations" were set up with chairs marked six feet apart, labeled for the resident and the visitors. The other two stations were occupied by visitor and resident. We were offered water, and Dana was allowed to bring her dog along. We waited for Sky.
And there he was, shuffling along, being held by the nurse to steady him. His head hung low, eyes facing the ground. He had a band-aid on his forehead -- he's been falling with increasing frequency these days. The nurse had to assist him to sit in the chair, and then she left.
Dana and I said hi. No response. I asked Sky to lift his head so he could see us. He tried briefly, gaining maybe a half-inch, and then he got agitated. "I can't. Don't make me." I said fine, just relax.
And then he launched into what can only be described as a Sky-monologue, a lecture even, talking about a variety of things that were happening in his current reality. A lot about energy, good energy, bad energy, people stealing energy, people giving energy. As he escalated through this topic, I wished I had a way to record what he was saying as much of it was really interesting, and I would have liked to listen to it again. I should have brought paper and pen to take notes.
After energy, he wandered into other topics -- lakes, outhouses, nature, and the protest march at which he was killed. Dana and I asked him questions -- what was the protest about? where did the protest take place? what lake are you talking about? tell me about the outhouse that was made out of a car. Sometimes he could answer us, and sometimes he couldn't. As the visit wound down, Dana sang him a James Taylor song. He had no reaction. I had thought he would sing along -- he still sings (so the staff tells me) and he still knows all the song lyrics. That's something he's always done -- he has a song for every occasion -- so I was surprised that he didn't really respond to Dana's song.
I cried through most of the visit.
When the visit was over, the nurse came to retrieve him. No good-bye from him, no acknowledgement that we were even there. He struggled to get out of the chair and start to walk. The nurse was patient with him as she guided him along the path. And then he was gone.
But one thing he said has stuck with me -- "I want to be sure to get the most out of this experience."
Once again, pure Sky. I hope he's getting what he wants.