April 26th, 2008

There’s a minuscule open-here tab on Smucker’s snack size peanut butter. At 8:00 this evening, I broke it off attempting to open the cup. Let me put this in context: dinner was served at 5:30, this packet was the last peanut butter snack at the nurse’s station, there was nothing other than green apples left in the snack basket, and a three-pack of Keebler’s grahams is no good without peanut butter. Breakfast is a long way off.

Between 7 and 8 p.m., I watched an A&E show about people who survived certain death. One of the survivors, a young man, spent fourteen days snowed in in his jeep in the wilderness of Washington state. He recalled how he was able to keep his cool as the blizzard hit. Day by day he assessed his situation. Worst of all was the dehydration — on day 9 he was able to leave the Jeep. He crawled through the snow until he heard trickling. It was a rivulet from which he filled his jug. The water allowed him to eat his rice cakes and dried banana chips. A man on a snowmobile found him on day 14.

Back to me. I’m 66, have long white hair and wire-rimmed glasses. Picture me, my head full-frame against black seamless. It’s how A&E does interviews –

ME: At one minute after eight, with the aluminum tab still pinched between my thumbnail and index fingertip, I try to peel away the bible-paper thin aluminum cover with my front teeth. I suffer a small cut in my upper mid-gum.

I think about the guy in the snow. How he never gave up. I begin bending the protrusion on the peanut butter package that the tab is sealed to. I work until 8:03, when I see blood on my finger. I use the last of my sample of astringent mouthwash (I forget the brand — it was green) to stanch the flow. It works.

8:06. After three minutes more of bending the package, I feel it’s going to give. I speed up the process and aggravate my arthritis. I take a short break.

8:08. I begin again. But within twenty seconds I know my hands won’t last. Charlton Heston flashes before my eyes. He gives me a “don’t quit now look.” Why Charlton Heston and not the snowbound guy, I don’t know. The guy would be the natural, but you take what life hands out. Anyhow, Charlton Heston’s dead, so I quit. I toss the Smuckers in the waste bag at the end of my tray table.

8:09. I head up to the floor above. The two floors of the nursing home have the same layout — including a snack basket at the nursing station. I’d been caught by them before. Guys from one floor are not allowed to take snacks from the other floor. Normally, I’d be reluctant to put myself in the humiliating position of snack filching recidivist, but, again, Keebler’s grahams need something, and I don’t have it. If I don’t get it I’m going to think a whole lot less of myself — on top of my snack hunger.

8:11. Off the elevator. I have a BMW of a wheelchair and my theft is quick. The charge nurse doesn’t even look up. I grab two snack-paks of Fig Newtons (packaged, thankfully, in a strangely quiet yellow foil) and I’m back on the elevator and down to the ground floor by –

8:13. A thirty second sprint to my room.

8:14. I toss the Keebler grahams in the waste bag and peel the silent foil back on the longest, goodest two fig bars ever baked for institutional clients.

8:15 A&E is playing something I have no interest in, so I switch to CNN.

8:16. Hilary is talking about how she would never give up. Yeah? Listen, Madame Senator, sometimes shifting your strategy isn’t giving up.

One Response to “Survivor.”

  1. Elizabeth C. Says:

    Have run into similar fixes myself at laguna honda hospital as we wait for the new hospital to be completed. I’m in one of the hottest rooms, yet to have a room at all is like winning the lottery b/c the wards here have 30 or more beds. I will never live independently again b/c MS has paralyzed both legs. I have a power wheelchair but i have to be hoisted into it. But that’s a story for another day.

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