My father is having trouble with his gait. He doesn't shuffle; rather the toe of his sneaker catches on the floor with each step causing him to lurch. The aide walks next to him, holding on to the wide canvas belt knotted around his waist.
"He's a fall risk," the nurse reported to me this morning. "He should not be walking around without a helmet."
A helmet? I don't know if I could handle seeing my father in a helmet. I watched him stumble.
"Dad!" I shouted at him. He froze in space - I'd scared him. "Dad." I said, softer now and patting the chair next to me. "Dad. Come and sit next to me." The aide maneuvered him to the seat, sliding him close to the table. "I brought a surprise for you." I tore open the small bag of peanut M&Ms and leaned in close. "Don't tell anyone," I said. "It's a secret." I put an M&M in the palm on my hand and held it out.
He stared at it.
"It's candy," I said. "You like it. Try one."
He pressed the M&M with his thumb, mashing it into my skin. "No Dad, it's food. Look. You eat it." I held out another M&M, only this time, I held it to his lips. He sucked it in, chewing with great concentration. "Good?" He nodded. One by one, I handed him a candy and watched him pop it into his mouth.
Behind my father, Mr. Lentin was strapped into a wheelchair, held erect by a thick harness that encircled his torso like a straight jacket. He shook the table that barricaded him in to a corner. He pushed at the table, sliding it this way and that. With every shove, he grunted. His head was encased in an oversized grey helmet that snapped under his chin. He looked like one of those bobbleheads on a taxicab's dashboard.
I'd been distracted by Mr. Lentin's attempt to escape his enclosure. When I looked at my father, I saw he was eating the tab I'd torn away from the bag of candy. I pulled it from his lips. I laughed, and then he laughed, and I saw his silver hair shimmer in the harsh florescent lighting. Even now, he has such beautiful hair.
No. My father does not need a helmet.