By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“People ask about my mom sometimes. I say, ‘She’s nuts, I don‘t talk to her anymore.’ I keep it brief, or else it invites a lot of questions I don‘t want to . . . I don’t know. It‘s just not fun to talk about. You’re the only person who really has even got this close to the situation, so maybe you can understand, but no one else does. No one in my family ever asked.”
nancy and mack
“They‘re for Mack,” Nancy says of the two ham sandwiches and container of cottage cheese she holds in her lap during a drive in early July to Rancho Los Amigos, where her boyfriend has been receiving care for the past six months. Mack was sleeping next to her on the night of the accident, and was paralyzed from the chest down.
“I met him on Thanksgiving Day. There was a group of us gathered in what we call Cactus Park, near the pier. We were waiting for people to bring turkeys and things. He winked at me, is what happened, and that was that, I just forgot about everybody else. We were together one year, one month and a couple of days before it happened. Except when he was in jail. He likes crack cocaine, which will land him in jail occasionally.
”We were pretty much dedicated to each other. We kept, you know, a routine. Somebody would always watch the bedding and clothing, while the other one went out and did something or other to get money. I did most of the panhandling. He didn’t like to do it; I put up with that. I averaged about $20 or $30. Sometimes I was in the mood, sometimes it was drudgery.“
As for the smashup that separated them, Nancy is fatalistic.
”The accident was so freaky. It could have happened to anybody. More than Mack and I had used that slab to sleep. It‘s a concrete porch in front of a city-owned utility building that has to do with monitoring the chlorine that’s sent into the sewage pipe that goes down to the Hyperion plant. There was a concrete porch about this high, and the car came from the north, I guess. She had to drive the car onto the concrete. It hit the wall of the building, and in the process of doing all that, she ran over my leg, which made my body go up, and my head connected with her bumper. I knew I went blind instantly, I knew it. I called out to Mack, I said, ‘I’m blind!‘“
Nancy wheels herself around the spinal-cord injury ward, looking for Mack. He’s not in his room, nor in Occupational Therapy, where a young quadriplegic on a respirator is having his hand squeezed into a ball over and over by a nurse.
”My goal is to look for a place where Mack and I can live under the same roof. I‘m not talking about the same convalescent home, but a place where we can make it possible for him. I mean, he’s a quadriplegic, he needs incredible care. You have any idea what that entails? He can eat, but he has to have a suppository twice a day. He has to have what is called range of motion, he has to be exercised. He has to be turned. He has to have a Heparin shot, which is a blood thinner, to prevent blood clots. All kinds of different things. He‘s a diabetic, he has to keep checking his blood sugar. It’s complicated. The state will help with a nurse up to a certain number of hours, and the rest will be up to me. Ideally, I‘d like to be able to find somebody who has a guesthouse. An arrangement is what I’m looking for.“
Nancy finally runs into Mack in the hallway.
”Hi, Mack,“ she says, coyly lifting her eye patch.
”Where you been?“ asks Mack, a very handsome black man who, were he able to stand, looks to be a good deal over 6 feet. Their respective wheelchairs make an embrace impossible; Nancy reaches out her hand, but does not quite touch him.
They go to the cafeteria, where Mack asks a visitor to position an elastic band around his left hand, in which she‘s instructed to stick a plastic fork.
”This is how I eat,“ he says, as a visitor lifts the lid on his lunch tray; a steamy gravy aroma rises from the chicken leg and canned peas. He eats peas, bits of which stick to his cheeks, as he half-listens to the plans Nancy has.
”I’m hoping someone might have a guesthouse on their property that we could wheelchair-accommodate,“ Nancy says, ”and we could live like that, without having any interference from the rules and regulations of HUD, a which say you have to be married“ -- she is misinformed on this -- ”which even though, I mean, they‘ll come out and perform that, but . . .“
”I’m fixing out to a nursing home, trying to get closer to where my sisters at, that‘s Fontana,“ says Mack. ”My social worker trying to get me as close as I can to them.“