”He has an appointment.” Two nurses are trying to convince Mr. Dill to sit in a wheelchair. He refuses politely, keeping his tall and skinny frame in movement, just out of their reach. He is not running away, he does not want to comply. I come back five minutes later. The two women are laughing, powerless. Mr. Dill is still escaping them, in his gentle way. “I think Mr. Dill does not want to be treated like a disabled patient. He walks fine. I will walk with him to the clinic.”
I remember Mr. Dill moving in, six months ago. He was in bad shape, dozing in his wheelchair. We could not guess that he would become the life of the party, a spontaneous entertainer happy to dance, clap the beat and whistle or sing with gusto. From the beginning he was a charmer, often stroking the head and arms of his table companions while whispering compliments in their ear. Is it possible that now wheelchairs trigger sad memories, or fear of relapse and dependence?
I take Mr. Dill’s hand, guiding him towards the elevator while singing and dancing. For the ten minutes it takes to reach the clinic, we sing and shimmy through the hallways. I only have to give a little impulse to have Mr. Dill jump in my game. We hum along to each other tunes. The staff we pass smiles at us tenderly.
At the clinic, one woman is in line in front of us. I am not sure how long the goodwill of my companion will last. We enter straight through the treatment room’s open door. “We cannot wait. – What is your name? – Mr. Dill. –- You are next. I will take you in three minutes.” A nursing student, who was observing the podiatrist’s work, gives us his chair. –Thanks, we do not need a chair. We are just going to dance.” We leave the room. Mr. Dill introduces himself to the patient still waiting. Pointing to her ears, she apologizes that she does not get it. “N-o p-r-o-b-le-m” I enunciate back. She laughs. I swirl away with Mr. Dill. We giggle letting our dialogue of animal calls resonates through the empty corridor.
The podiatrist did not lie. After a few minute she waves to us. Mr. Dill steps smoothly inside the treatment room. Sitting down is more challenging. I sit promptly next to the vacant patient chair. I hope he will imitate me or sense that things are happening at a lower level. He talks, smiles but his long legs do not bend. Could the podiatrist work on a standing patient. Are we going to have to return now? Is it really impossible?
Calmly I explain in English that the doctor would like to look at his feet and seating would help. It works. The long legs fold and Mr. Dill takes his seat. I slide close to him laying my open hands on the leg he has stretched out towards the podiatrist. Is it to reassure, is it to control? The podiatrist removes the sock and starts her inspection. I chat nonstop with Mr. Dill, describing the situation, mixing in songs and jokes. The specialist is not too happy with what she discovers. She understands why the care is not provided as often as it should. Gently she cleans and debrides. I am glad we were able to come today.
Second foot, Mr. Dill is still cooperative. I am now keeping his hands in mine. There are sharp tools close by. The doctor has discovered a blood blister. As she works, she is explaning the procedure to the attentive student. Mr. Dill grimaces and tries to reach out for the podiatrist’s hand. “Mr. Dill, were you a soldier? – Odessa…” Animated, he describes his war, in Russian, in-between moans. ”You are strong. This is a piece of cake for a soldier like you.” I imitate the sound of riffle shooting to create excitement and accompany the pain. The podiatrist whispers “She is good!” Mr. Dill inspires me. We appreciate each other. “Be strong. You can scream if you want.” I scream twice to demonstrate. “Some people say it’s helpful.” As soon as the podiatrist is done wrapping a bandage around the big toe, Mr Dill puts on his bright yellow socks. I help him slip into his shoes. He thanks me. Hand in hand, we hop out of the treatment room. I start a happy song. We sway together. Behind my back the podiatrist comments: “You have a nice voice.” The administrative assistant grins and starts singing along when we pass in front of her desk. With variations on our dancing steps and vocalizations, we retrace our path back to the elevator, up to our starting point.
“How did it go?” asks the nurse “Twenty/Twenty”, is all I can utter to describe our intense and successful expedition to the clinic. She reads the prescription. ”Soak twenty minutes each night for the next four days! We cannot do that. He will not let us.”