It’s a cold winter evening, and I’m on my way on a house call to see old Mrs. Jean Camden in Dutch Settlement. The Beach Boys are wishing “they all could be California girls” on my car radio as I cruise past the Dutch Lunch and the Grono Road, then turn left by the mill to reach Mrs. Camden’s trailer.
It’s another grey winter’s day with just a few holes in the clouds through which sunbeams pour, like the eye of God searching for lost souls. I get out of the car and am pleasantly overwhelmed by the scent of the wind off the surrounding evergreen forests. I suck in air with the texture of cool wine.
I’ve been travelling to Mrs. Cambden’s trailer for almost 19 years, ever since I was a fledgling doc, just starting practice in rural Nova Scotia. At first it was to see her husband Chester. A tall, gaunt man, he was profoundly demented when I first met him. Although I tended him for several years I never knew him, his personality dead before I made his acquaintance. His wife tended him devotedly, conjuring visions of the love they once shared, now a rather one-sided affair as Chester stared blankly and unknowingly at the television screen.
Mrs. Camden was a short, round lady, full of merriment and with a hearty laugh. After her husband’s death she paid infrequent visits to my clinic, usually for her blood pressure checks. She remained quite healthy for a long time, though arthritis of her hips took its toll. She’d have benefited greatly from a hip replacement, but would never entertain the idea of going “under the knife.”
Gradually I noticed she became more forgetful and more vague. As the deterioration progressed she ceased to know me, and one by one forgot her children and grandchildren. Her mobility decreased so much that I agreed to provide her care via a once monthly visit to the trailer, as I did for Chester many years before. Deja vu.
It’s late and it’s dark, this frigid winter eve, and I shudder and wrap the warm sheepskin of my coat more tightly about me. I enter the trailer, first seeing Jean’s son reading the paper and quietly smoking himself into oblivion. No point in saying anything. “Jean never smoked, and look at her now doctor.” Mrs. Camden’s devoted daughter, Joanne, leads me to her mother, enthroned in the best of the 50s-style arm chairs in the living room. I grasp her hand and she smiles and chuckles, stuttering something incomprehensible. “She thinks you’re my brother Bobby,” says Joanne. “He always warms her hands like that.”
I check Jean’s blood pressure. It’s better than mine. Her heart is strong and lungs clear. “You’re in great shape, Jean,” I say.
“I guess we’ll renew that warranty for another 12 months or 12,000 miles.” She always used to laugh when I said that. Jean’s two granddaughters, in their teens, enter the trailer. They adore their grandmother, though they can’t understand a word she says. She smiles and chuckles at them also. It amazes me how her personality still allows her to connect to others at an empathetic level, more profound than the spoken word.
Jean’s birthday is coming up in a few days. I wish a happy birthday, and for some reason bend over and kiss her on the forehead. She smiles again as do the family members. “We all kiss Nan that way you know,” says one of the granddaughters.
I leave the trailer dragging my black bag behind me and climb into my car. Elton John’s crocodiles are now rocking on the “golden oldies” channel. Golden Oldies aren’t limited to songs, I think to myself.