Moving around, not on
Curiosity brought Wendall Thomas to Linda Vista Care Center.
The 60-year-old was hiking in the hills above Lithia Park when he saw a strange object lying on the ground. It was blue and shiny. He left the trail to investigate. He found a broken bottle and decided it was worth the trip.
Deep in thought, he turned back toward the trail. He did not see the slab that threw him off balance. The fall bruised his hip and caused small, jagged hairline fractures in his femur.
Wendall managed to get back to the road, where he waited until somebody drove by. He can't remember the name of the man who picked him up. He wanted to try to walk home, but the man insisted on taking him to the hospital. X-rays revealed the hairline fractures.
"They looked like a lightning bolt," Wendall says.
Wendall says he has been here about two months since the fall led to his admittance.
The large bay window in Room 26 overlooks the hills north of Ashland. The sky is blue and cloudless.
Wendall has the face of a kindly wizard. His face, like the rest of him, is thin. Above his wispy white beard, his moustache bears a slight nicotine stain. He rolls his own cigarettes.
"It's a lot cheaper," he says. He thinks he smokes less, he says, because hand-rolled cigarettes take more time than ready-made ones.
His bed is surrounded by art, mostly his own. Wendall draws with pencil and crayon. The drawings are of colorful abstract shapes, accompanied by stylized human and animal forms.
"I use the world famous Crayolas," Wendall says with a smile. He gestures to the large box of crayons at his bedside.
Two of the works above his bed are by his son, Zorba.
"He's quite the artist," Wendall says. "I'm proud of him."
He says that Zorba is currently looking for a place for him to live when leaves Linda Vista. Wendall says his doctor has given him a clean bill of health, and he should be leaving soon.
"I'll just be happy to be outside again," Wendall says.
Wendall grew up on a small farm in Virginia. His family owned some milk cows and a small herd of Black Angus. He recalls a pleasant childhood.
He is the youngest of five. Two of his brothers have passed away. His other brother is in his 80s, and his sister is 71. Wendall says she is very active.
Wendall went into the Air Force in the 1960s. He chose not to serve in Vietnam.
"It just didn't seem right," he says. "That is in no way derogatory toward those who did serve there."
He first fell in love with the West while stationed in Cheyenne, Wyo. It was another kind of fighting that would bring him to the West for good. Wendall fought fires for 20 years with the Forest Service and moved to Oregon in the early 1980s.
He recalls a forest fire in the 1970s that consumed more than 50,000 acres. Wendall says a fire that large can create its own weather.
"I don't need to tell you," he says, "that's f***in' huge."
Wendall wears a red San Francisco 49ers sweater. His roommate was discharged earlier, and he has Room 26 to himself. He stares out the window toward the hills.
Wendall has been divorced for about five years. He is not looking for new relationships.
"I'm comfortable," he says. "If romance happens, it happens." These days, Wendall is content to be by himself, spending time in the outdoors. He considers himself "pretty much" retired.
A nurse stops by Wendall's room to bring him a cup of coffee. Wendall's sleepy blue eyes suddenly brighten as he accepts it.
"I think they're on top of their job," he says of the nursing staff.
At about 7 p.m., a young nurse sprints by Wendall's door in response to an alarm down the hall. Wendall says this sort of thing happens every day and every night here.
"Let's see what that dinosaur can do!"
A female staff member shouts encouragement to a player in Linda Vista's weekly "horse race" game. Players roll oversized red and green dice to move their toy plastic horses &
and one stegosaurus &
down a tablecloth racetrack.
The tablecloth is marked with the usual board game spaces, allowing them to roll again, go back one space, etc. One of the spaces is marked "Glue Factory," and spells instant doom for the unlucky toy horse or dinosaur that lands on it.
A few residents are sitting in the front room this afternoon, watching a bullriding competition on television. Linda Vista's television bears a small plaque: "In remembrance of Carroll Munson." One woman works on a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle of a pumpkin patch.
Meanwhile, Wendall sits barefoot in his room, reading the newspaper. His Blue Ridge Mountains cap is beside him. His art is gone from the walls. His 49ers sweater is stuffed into the top of a small black travel case.
Today, Wendall is relocating to the long-term care side of Linda Vista. He hopes the stay there will be a shorter one.
"It's just another room," he says. He expected the move to take place at — p.m., but it is after — now, and the move has not come. He goes outside to smoke.
4 p.m., the sport on the lobby television has changed to cage fighting, and all but four of the TV watchers have wandered off. One woman has fallen asleep watching. Wendall stubs out his cigarette, comes inside and returns to his room. The staff now say he will move before 5.
At 5 p.m., still nobody has come to help Wendall move. He settles down to take a nap until dinner. The nurse at the nurse's station is surprised to find Wendall still sleeping in Room 26; he thought Wendall had been moved this morning.
At 5:48, a female nurse comes to wake Wendall for dinner.
Wendall moved to Room 7 last night. He does not remember exactly when.
"The only thing I really miss is the view," he says. Room 7 is on the opposite side of the facility from Room 26. Instead of a view of the valley, he now has a view of a concrete wall and some ivy.
"They moved me because I can get around so much better," he says. He still spends most of his time recuperating in his room or smoking on the patio. He has gained some weight since he came to Linda Vista. He usually keeps weight off by staying active.
Wendall is a vegetarian, and he stresses the importance of maintaining a positive attitude.
"It's so important to your mental health, your spiritual well-being, and physically too," he says. "Negativity can definitely affect you physically."
One week late, Wendall has moved again. It's 2 in the afternoon, Wendall is asleep but now he sleeps in Room 12.
Room 12 has a view of the embankment outside, and the graying wooden bench that faces the window. Wendall's roommate is watching "The Daily Show" on a small television in the corner.
Linda Vista is active today. The halls echo with noise from the exercise group in the cafeteria. Residents sit in their wheelchairs, bouncing large rubber balls back and forth. They also "sword fight" with foam noodle pool toys.
A few of the residents are watching a sports commentary show in the lobby. The intercom announces a call from the Ashland Community Hospital wound clinic on line 1.
In his sleep, Wendall periodically kicks the small brown paper trash bag taped to the corner of his dinner tray.
Moroni drops to his knees at the bedside and begins to pray.
He and Houston, another member of the Latter-Day Saints' church, have come to give the sacrament to church members here at Linda Vista who can no longer make it to services.
Both are dressed impeccably in dark suits. They do this every Sunday. Houston, a tall young man with blond hair, graduated from high school just last week. Moroni, who has dark hair and an easy-going smile, will be leaving Ashland soon.
After the sacrament and a brief conversation, the Mormons leave the room to continue on their route.
This afternoon's activity is "Music With Donny." Residents, situated in their wheelchairs, sing along to "You Made Me Love You" and "Don't Fence Me In." They shake wooden rattles in (or, more often, out) of time with the music.
Donny stands before the residents with his guitar and harmonica. He wears khaki shorts, a white cap, flip-flops and a shirt with sailboats on it. He stops playing to tell a few jokes.
"Why does the ballpark get hot after the game?" he asks. "'Cause all the fans go home!"
The assembled residents groan in unison.
Meanwhile, Wendall reads the paper with his bedside TV on. He is surrounded by sections of his newspaper. He misses being outside.
Wendall likes to watch the news and weather, but usually does not finish the newscast because of the violent content. He also enjoys watching sports.
He does not have much on the walls in Room 12. He plans to leave soon, and does not feel it is worth the trouble to put all his art back up.
A nurse wheels Wendall's roommate back to his bed. As she leaves, she and Wendall exchange a friendly greeting.
"See, they love me," Wendall says, chuckling. His tone becomes more sincere as he continues. "I treat them like ladies," he says. "I know they don't get that from all the men here."
A passing staff member tosses Wendall a sandwich bag full of cheese and crackers. The nursing staff have figured out that Wendall likes to eat, and they bring him extra food between meals.
"It's been pretty quiet today," Wendall says. "Not every day is quiet." Wendall says that his doctor told him he is healing very well for a man of his age.
"I said, 'of my age? Excuse me?'" Wendall puts his hand on his chest and mimes joking indignation.
Wendall had his beard trimmed at "Colleen's Beauty Shop," Linda Vista's on-premises barber shop. Gone is the wispy wizard's mane. He had it done either today or yesterday. He cannot remember which.
He is smoking at the very back of the patio, making the most of the warm, sunny weather. The TV in the lobby is off.
"It's very seldom off," Wendall says.
Inside the facility, residents are out and about, as much as they can be. The hallway in the long-term wing is filled with residents in their wheelchairs. One woman in a pink sweater sits, eyes closed, with a stuffed toy cat in lap.
Wendall still hopes to find an apartment and leave soon. He stares into space and fingers his hand-rolled cigarette thoughtfully. Here on the smoking patio, he takes in what he can of his beloved outdoors.