The Parkinson’s Diaries
By Steven Axelrod
Leaving the Breakers: Escape from Assisted Living
My mother had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease ten years ago. Still ambulatory in her late eighties, she was now living in a retirement community in Long Beach, California, on the fifth floor of a beautifully restored hotel from the golden era of Hollywood called The Breakers. The ceiling of the lobby floated twenty feet above the marble floor, with intricately worked plaster panels that put the tin ceilings of Greenwich Village cafes to shame. The peaked red tile of its roofs and turrets lent it a Mission revival feeling, and the top floor restaurant, the Sky Room, earned its name with a spectacular panorama of the harbor, while retaining a heady whisper of old time movie glamour. The staff was charming and helpful, the suites themselves were spacious and sunny, sparked with period detail in the moldings and baseboards, with high ceilings and water views. The dining room was spacious and congenial, the other residents friendly and patient. You couldn’t ask for a more pleasant and professional assisted living arrangement.
And I hated it, with every fiber of my being.
I hated the way the impeccably courteous, and hard-working staff treated my mother and the other residents as a separate, feeble race, inferior but privileged like hemophiliac dwarf royalty, simultaneously catered to and patronized, deferred to and dismissed. I hated the smell in the hallways, some tragic perfume of disinfectant and decay – the sense, so much like the sense you get in a hospital, of a world where human volition and dignity have been sacrificed to the mechanisms of medical technology and routine.
I also hated the dining hall food, tasteless and generic as if the management actually calibrated how many of the residents had no working taste-buds left and arranged the meal preparations accordingly. I hated the weak coffee and the fuzzy sausages, and the cardboard pancakes, the sense that the particular texture of life, the look and feel and taste of things, didn’t really matter any more.