Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: INDEFATIGABLE (02/11/16)
- TITLE: Harry's Exit
By Francy Judge
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It didn’t take long to get used to the constant beeping. High-pitched alarms of different lengths and volume are in place to alert staff every time wobbly residents try to stand, or a door is opened without the code punched. A louder, more rhythmic beep goes off when residents with a Wander-guard bracelet pass an exit. After a while, all the beeps and buzzers mesh together.
Other residents are confused and suffer with various stages of dementia, but they stay in their rooms. Harry Donovich is the exception.
I can see him in the mirror, inch by inch, creeping down the hall in his silent wheelchair. He’ll take a few minutes, but if I’m not careful, he could pass the lobby and get halfway to the kitchen and side exit. He peeks around the wall with wide eyes. “Oh, it’s you again. Why are you here?”
“Hi, Mr. Donovich. I always sit here during the day.”
“Well, that might not be a good idea.” He shakes his head. A lock of white hair waves across his eyes. He rests his elbows on his thighs before the pants leg tied in a knot at his knees.
“Why is that?”
“You could get stuck there, and what if you have to go to the bathroom?”
“Don’t worry about me, Mr. Donovich. This is my job.”
He’s got to be in his nineties…hard to imagine he fought in WWII after high school. He once mentioned his war buddy, Johnny…said poor guy never made it home to marry his girlfriend. Harry’s daughter nodded. It was true. Somewhere in his disorganized thoughts, he recalls memories from over seventy years ago. He can’t remember that I told him not to go down that hall five minutes ago, but he remembers random events and Bible stories.
“Do you know about David?” He asked one day.
“David from the kitchen?”
“No, the other David who fought the giant.”
“Oh, that David and Goliath. Yes, I know all about him. I’ve read the Bible since I was little.”
“Good. That’s important. Jesus died for us.”
“Yes, He did.”
Harry was a soldier, but that’s not how he lost his legs. Harry once told me, “You, know, a doctor did this. He chopped them off and kept them. He was a mean guy.” Another time he said, “I lost these when I crashed my airplane.” And he has also said, “I don’t know. Seems they just came off one day.” Of course, I’ve never asked. Residents like to chat with me. I’m part guard, part therapist.
Maybe he does remember, and this is his entertainment—driving me crazy. He’s unrelenting in his goal to get out of this place. Doesn’t matter that he’s in a wheelchair; he doesn’t have legs; it’s five degrees outside and snowing; and he isn’t wearing a coat. He is headed for the exit door. He plays this game several times a day, and that doesn’t count what he does for the night guard.
I’ve asked him why he wants to leave when this is his home. Working at Winding Way for five years, his answer doesn’t surprise me.
“Well, you know. It’s out there, so I gotta be out there.”
“What’s out there?”
“Mr. Donovich, please go back to your room and rest for a while.”
“Okay, but I’ll be back later, when it’s time.”
“I’m sure you will.”
This day I work a double to fill in for the night guard. The beeps slow down as residents drift off to sleep. I almost nod off too for a moment—then an ambulance pulls up and EMTs rush in with a stretcher to room 107. In ten minutes, Harry Donovich is led out the exit with his eyes open and an oxygen mask fastened. He looks at me and raises his hand an inch to wave.
“You feel better, Mr. Donovich.”
That was Harry’s last night at Winding Way. Maybe he knew God was calling him to exit that night.
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