"I need you to sketch the fish"

Dad beckoned me close to his bed, tried to wink, and whispered, "The rules have changed."  He saw the evening nurse pass by his doorway, and gave a silly little wave with wiggly fingers.  "She knows about the change," he confided.  

Okay, hmmm.  I never know what game is afoot.  Clearly, Dad felt it was important enough to communicate that he was willing to project his voice. He was animated, and twitchy. Dad's white hair was clean, soft, and wafting about like Einstein milkweed fluff, but he denied that the shampoo lady had visited.  He was anxious to see the greeting card in my hand, but alas, it was a card I was writing to mail, not one for him.

I'd been on the phone with the hospice nurse working to get Dad's meals changed to foods and liquids that are easier for him to manage and appetizing.  She has more clout with the dietitian and chef.  Dad lost three pounds in just the past month.  It takes at least 45 minutes to spoon-feed his meal, another sign of decline.  At this point, long-term nutrition and balanced meals don't seem all that important.  Flavor, enjoyment, and ease of swallowing are key.  

As I was feeding Dad his pink strawberry dessert that looked like Amoxicillin parfait, the tuna salad, 2% milk, and slice of bread, he suddenly said, "I need you to sketch the fish."  This sentence was a big speech for him.

Okay, hmmm, huh?  I scanned through a lifetime of fish associations starting with my small wire sculpture fish hanging from his ceiling.  Small fish in Willow Creek where Dad grew up?  Catching bullheads and sunnies at the cabin?  Eating rainbow trout in Estes Park?  The aquarium fish in the dining room across the hall from Dad's room?

What fish, Dad?

"The fish at lunch.  It was shaped," and here he seemed to be forming clay with his hands, "it was shaped like a dead animal."  

Well, then, HUH!  It seemed unlikely that Dad had fish for lunch since I was feeding him tuna salad for supper. 

Dang.  The best I could imagine was a molded salmon mousse at a gourmet buffet table.  Remember those copper fish molds that used to hang on kitchen walls about 1960?  Fish Jello seemed like a really bad idea.

Trying to keep away a mental image of decaying rat I'd seen on a sidewalk recently, I hoped for fancy fish sticks.  My students bring sandwiches cookie-cut into bunny, dinosaur, and heart shapes.  This would not be the first time Dad's chef had a bad attack of creativity.  But it seemed more likely that Dad was flipped out.

Then I recalled David Douglas Duncan's famous photos of Pablo Picasso eating a fish for luncheon. Afterward Picasso made a clay plate, and pressed the fish bones into the clay.  I saw a huge exhibit of Duncan's photos in Austin, probably at the LBJ Presidential Library in the early years of this millennium.

You just can't make this stuff up.  Sure that Dad was in a surreal la-la land, I saw his favorite aide in the next hall on my way out.

Turns out the rules really changed.  Big Red was shifted to a different hall and is not a happy camper.  The residents of Dad's hall are not happy, missing their Big Red.  Plus, she confirmed that Dad had fish for lunch today, although it wasn't "shaped like a dead animal".  Fish twice in a day seems excessive, but Big Red and I just slap our foreheads and shrug our shoulders about the weirdness of Food Service.

Don't change the rules.  Don't play with your food.  Don't mess with my mind!

© 2011 Nancy L. Ruder

1 comment:

Kathleen said...

I think that would be an excellent comment to leave on random blogs:

"I need you to sketch the fish."

Feel free to leave it on mine!


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