Having spent the last twenty-one months of my life in various nursing homes, rehab centers and hospitals, I have met a variety of people that have impacted my life in one way or another. Doctors, nurses, CNAs, therapists, other patients and residents. Included in this last group is Albert Reed.
To say Albert Reed is a unique individual would be a gross understatement. Albert is a 48-year old African American gentleman that was stricken by a stroke. He is bald, short in stature and usually sporting some salt and pepper stubble on his chin. His typical attire is a dark bathrobe, a white t-shirt, pajama bottoms, flip flops and his trademark black horn-rimmed glasses. He speaks in a low monotone that is almost hypnotic. He uses a walker to get around.
I felt it was necessary to give you that description of Albert before I let you know that I am his stunt double. Yes, that’s what I wrote. I am Albert’s stunt double.
Let me explain. I first met Albert about eight months ago in the therapy department which is located in the basement at Kenosha Estates. The therapists were trying to convince him that they were going to take him upstairs to do some walking. Albert’s response was, “Why the hell I gotta go up there to walk? I like it down here.” This caused me to smile and chuckle. Noticing that I found humor in his plight, Albert turned to me and said, “Don’t just sit there, get up and help me.”
When the amused therapists returned with a gate belt for their walk with him, Albert looked at me and announced, “I’ve got it, you can be my stunt double. You can do the shit I don’t wanna do.” From that moment on, I was Albert’s stunt double. He never called me Paul; I was always referred to as stunt double.
Over the past few months, my duties as Albert’s stunt double have varied. While under the supervision of the occupational therapist, I played catch with him as he sat in the Lazy-Boy recliner in my room. I have also acted as his lookout, letting him know when the therapists were trying to find him to bring him to therapy.
Another time he had me help him escape from a crowded gathering during a musical performance. The show was part of a monthly birthday celebration and Albert was not enjoying himself.
When the performer took a short break to switch from a guitar to a banjo, I saw our opening and quickly escorted Albert through the crowd and out of the room. I prevented a potential disaster when I reminded Albert that he had to use his walker. It’s what stunt doubles do.
As I guided him to the outdoor smoking deck, he looked at me and said, “See, he’s playing some hillbilly shit.” Indeed, you could hear the strains of the Ballad of Jed Clampett wafting from party we had just left.
A couple of weeks ago, a small group of Albert’s friends and family gathered in the lobby to spend some time with him. This was wonderful because, on the rare occasion that he had visitors, Albert’s mood would always improve.
When I passed through the lobby to get some water, he proudly introduced me to the group as his stunt double. His bewildered guests stared at me for a moment and then gave Albert weird look. I just smiled.
This past Tuesday evening, Albert left Kenosha Estates to live with his daughter. When I heard the news that he was leaving, I made sure to be on the east side of the building to bid him farewell.
As the CNAs packed up his meager belongings, Albert made his way over to me. After he reassured me that I would always be his stunt double, I extended my hand to give him a final handshake. He grasped it with both of his hands and thanked me for always being there for him and for helping him.
Fighting back tears, I said goodbye, telling him that I hoped his life would be a happy one now that he is getting out of this place. Still holding my hand, Albert looked at me through his horn-rimmed glasses and said, “Stunt double, life is what you make it.” His ride then came to pick him up and he left.
The next day, I was reminiscing about Albert with Laura, the housekeeper and Gina from activities. We all said how much we would miss him; how special he was. Then Laura told me a story that I will never forget.
A while ago, when I was out at an appointment, she was cleaning, and Laura looked down the hall and noticed that Albert was standing outside my empty room. She approached him and asked if he needed any help. He said no. She then told him, “Alright, but you know that Paul is out.” Albert replied, “That’s okay, I’m just gonna wait here for my buddy to get back.”
As I write this, I am longer trying to fight back my tears. Too late. They are now streaming down my cheeks. Albert Reed, thank you for making me your stunt double. And, even more so, thank you for considering me your buddy.