by David Muller
October 23, 2012
Charles—Charlie, as I came to know him—greeted me at the door wearing only his boxer shorts and a full head of tousled white hair. Ninety-one-year-old folds of skin hung loosely from his lanky, bent, but powerful frame.
My first impression was of an aged Abraham Lincoln: strong and gangly, dignified despite the boxers, with a mischievous smile that I would later learn never left his face except when his pain overwhelmed him. He had the grip of a man half his age, and after shaking his hand I had to look to make sure all my fingers were still there.
I was seeing Charlie because he’d been referred to Mount Sinai Visiting Doctors, a home care program by physicians for homebound elderly patients in Manhattan. The first day I visited him, Charlie led me into his one-bedroom apartment, using the walls and the backs of chairs to make his way into the living room. Cluttered and lived in, it was an obstacle course of well-worn furniture and fraying rugs. No matter where you sat, bowls of Life Savers and foil-wrapped chocolate kisses were strategically within arm’s reach.
Over the years Charlie had gradually limited his usual daytime range to within ten feet of his sofa, whose sagging cushions welcomed the weight of his aching bones. He invited me to sit with him and, in his plainspoken, self-effacing manner, responded to my questions by telling me his life story. More