John’s days were maddeningly routine. All the day’s activities were scheduled so staff could cram in every resident’s care in the allotted time. In the hours following 6:00 a.m. breakfast was served to the patients able to eat, then vital signs were taken, and baths were given. The TV was always turned to the same station, and invariably blasted the same stale routine of situation comedy reruns and the same diet of News Six talking heads delivering a rehash of yesterday’s news.
With the exception of weather reports, John had never been interested in TV before his illness. Now the antics of Andy Taylor, the Mayberry Sheriff, and Barney Fife, his deputy, were his daily fare. But pictures and sound couldn’t compare to the fresh air and sunshine he had lived in all his life. In John’s room at night, the hours dragged by like eternity. Even though John was awake, he had almost no ability to express himself to the outside world, but he could still think. And he thought a lot. In the stillness of the night, the pump of his feeding device hummed, and the clock on the wall measured the seconds with an audible “tick, tick, tick.”
The nightly routine of the Center was hushed and subdued. The staff was reduced to a fraction of the day shift. During these hours, the staff moved quietly about and spoke with hushed voices. Occasionally the quiet was broken by a laugh or some problem with another patient. John wished he knew what they had to laugh about. The hall lights were dimmed, and John’s room was only illuminated by a small night-light. The atmosphere gave John time to think as he never had thought before.
He thought about all the things he had loved in his life and now missed. He thought about his tractor. He had bought the old John Deere used and tended it with more care than he had ever given to his children. When he concentrated really hard, he could hear that first cylinder explode with compression as he turned the ignition. The pow-clunk-clunk would repeat itself as he prayed for the tractor to start one more time. Then he would hear the second cylinder fire with pow-pow-clunk as the third cylinder decided whether or not to join the party. Finally, the third cylinder would join the rhythm, and he would once again hear the familiar John Deere three-cylinder serenade that he so loved. He could hear that characteristic pow-pow-pow that he had taken for granted for so long but now cherished. In his mind, he would start his John Deere and hear its soothing cacophony of sound any time the room was quiet enough to think, which was most of the time.
Once John could hear the tractor running, he empowered his other senses. He could turn off the offensive smells around him and bring back those farm odors he remembered so fondly. The repulsive smell of antiseptics and excrement and even his own fear-triggered sweat could be abolished. He could replace the unpleasantness with musty barn odors, which were just as organic, but welcoming. His favorite aroma was that of a newly turned field. God, how he loved the feel of the powerful tractor as it pulled the plow, creating long straight furrows that released the essence of the new earth into his nostrils. Nature’s mixture of farm odors was the most potent perfume he could imagine. He could even feel the moist soil squishing between his bare toes.with musty barn odors, which were just as organic, but welcoming. His favorite aroma was that of a newly turned field. God, how he loved the feel of the powerful tractor as it pulled the plow, creating long straight furrows that released the essence of the new earth into his nostrils. Nature’s mixture of farm odors was the most potent perfume he could imagine. He could even feel the moist soil squishing between his bare toes.
He thought about his family. He didn’t blame his children for leaving, but his main regret was that they had not shared his love of the land. Did he love his family? Probably not. At least not the way the nursing staff seemed to love their families. Alma had stood by him even though he had treated her like slave labor. He couldn’t blame her for her new behaviors. She had done his bidding without complaint for many years and had suffered the hard life of a farmer’s wife through the many bad times and too few good ones. No, he really had never loved her as he loved the land and his farm. He didn’t have that in him, and now it was too late. Soon he would be a part of the land. He would return to the earth as all men inevitably return to the soil. He was ready, and as far as he was concerned, the sooner the better.