The apartment in the assisted living complex was immaculate. Pristine. I felt like I was in a museum. There were paintings hanging on the creamy white walls. One was definitely a Van Gogh print that I'd recognize anywhere, Starry Night Over the Rhone. My son was learning about Van Gogh in school, and this was his favorite painting by him.
It was mine as well.
I had been to Hilda and Oscar's home just a few times. Oscar was one of our newer regulars. He was an 11:30 pick up for dialysis on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. He always had to have his blue duffel bag, headphones, and a zip lock bag with beef jerky in it. You missed one of them and he'd let you know about it. Oscar was a tough old man. You either loved him or dreaded seeing his name come across your pager.
Hilda was the complete opposite. EVERYONE loved her. In the five times I had transported Oscar she had greeted us at the door with a smile on her face and cookies, brownies, or some other DKA inducing confection each time. She was quickly becoming a legend among the crews.
"So, we picked up Oscar today and Hilda had chocolate chip cookies waiting for us..."
"Oh yeah, well, Hilda made us German Chocolate cake yesterday, and it was still warm!"
"Well I heard that Hilda taught Scott how to crochet and they knitted a blanket last A Shift!!!"
Everyone loved her. Most of us tolerated Oscar's cantankerousness with a smile on our faces because there was always Hilda.
We walked through the apartment towards Oscar and Hilda's room. My Awkward-New-Medic-Partner for the day comes dangerously close to knocking over a side table. He catches it and exhales audibly.
Hilda is standing sentry at the entrance to the bedroom with a paper plate filled with Christmas cookies. She waves her hand towards my Partner. "Baby, don't give it a second thought. Here, have some cookies."
The look of shock on my Partner was priceless. "Uhm... Ma'am...no...thank you..."
I shoot him a look that could simultaneously kill and instructs him under no uncertain terms to take the damn cookies and thank her.
He clears his throat and thanks Hilda.
Hilda and Oscar met in North Toledo around the beginning of WWII when he was a Senior in High School and Hilda was a Sophomore. They had a whirlwind courtship lasting only six weeks. Hilda often would talk about the train pulling out of the station downtown and waving goodbye to her beau, Oscar, in that Army uniform. It would be almost two years before She'd see him again.
It wasn't all sunshine and flowers either. When he returned he had changed. She had expected that he would, but she wasn't prepared for the nightmares, for the aggressive stance he would take when they would argue, or for the drinking.
Oscar started by cracking open a cold one whenever they'd resolve an argument. That quickly turned into a six pack he'd start working on before the argument. Towards the end he could finish off a case on his own. In one night.
Hilda was sitting at the kitchen table.
"Mrs. Jones, I was trying to find Mr. Jones Beef Jerky.... and... "
The first sign that something was wrong should have been the fact that it wasn't where it was every single time I had transported him.
Hilda was sitting at the table crying.
I could hear my Partner talking to Oscar about the merits of round headlights on a Jeep as opposed to the square headlights.
"Ma'am?" I was kneeling next to the kitchen table looking her square in the eye. "Are you okay?"
That was the first and only time I saw fear in her eyes. I guess it's presumptuous to assume that's what I was seeing, but it's absolutely what I felt like I was seeing.
This was NOT Hilda.
Of course she shooed me away. "Honey, I'm fine. I'm just worried about Oscar. They said yesterday that we needed to move him over to... East Wing." She swallowed hard.
The east wing of the complex where Oscar and Hilda lived was the unit considered "Constant Care".
Hilda wasn't ready to surrender her husband of sixty plus years to someone else to take care of.
The rest of the story.