Tuesday, April 17, 2007


I drove to a nameless nursing home today to interview a person who has Alzheimer's disease and see if I want him to come and live out his days at my place. The wisdom of interviewing someone with Alzheimer's escapes me, but I'm always up for an adventure.

I remember walking through the halls of a nursing home back in the day, and this woman, this shell person-- nothing left but paper skin stretched thin over sharp bones, draped into her wheelchair sort of like a pie crust before it has been pressed into place, stick arms flung outward, legs splayed -- said, in a sandpaper voice, "If this is a rest home, why can't I get any rest?"

And now, perhaps heeding her comment, they are called nursing homes or rehab centers, but walking through the halls, little has changed. One thing. One thing has changed. They don't tie people up anymore. They (we) seat them in wheelchairs, pin a magnetic device on the back of their shirt, attach the other end to the wheelchair, and tell them to stay put. Of course, they, without benefit of memory, do not, and a godawful alarm goes off, scaring the shit out of the poor little person who has no idea what generated it. But it does not keep them seated. They rise, then they fall, break a hip and keep the place in business. Now, I know it seems mean to tie them up, but you may see the sense in it. And the rule is, if a person can release a seat belt on their own, they can wear one. But the point is, if they can think, they don't need one. A mystery, to be sure.

Anyway, it is curious to me, the notion of rehab for people with dementia. I wonder if, when I have dementia (I assume I will), if they can finally teach me to do my exercises.

So, I interviewed Sam. His wife had come to see me, told me she had been taking care of him at home for years and, like so many wives, he was getting to be too much. Sam was a bigshot. A real mover and shaker, with buttloads of money, wheelin' and dealin'. Now he has become too much, hard to handle, verbally abusive, still thinks he's running the show. But this time, he has walked away in the middle of the night and fallen down. And that is what usually happens. Before "the event" the wife almost always says something like: "It isn't that bad yet." But it is. Usually. And once they land on my doorstep, some of the denial is broken. and some bones.

So I walk into the room, and Sam, friendly guy, says, "Hey, come sit over here." So I do. But here's the thing: He's tiny. He's this little bitty ninety year old shell man in a wheelchair. He couldn't kick his own ass. So, I sit down with Sam and his best friend, who's name is also Sam. Who looks like a mafia hit man. Friend starts to talk to me and Sam yells: "Hey! Shutup for five minutes. I'll do the talking." And he has the voice. The man voice. I say, "Sounds like you're a guy who's used to having people do what they say." He turns to me, nodding. "I'm the boss," he says. I nod. "So I see." And it kind of goes on like that for awhile. I tell him his wife has been to see me. He says, "Yeah. She's the scout. She reports to me." Which, acutally, seems pretty true. So, I try to ask him questions to test his memory, but his friend thinks I really want the answers and tells me the facts. I don't care about the facts. I know what I need to know. I say, "How long you been here?" Sam says, "Six months." Friend says, "It's only been a coupla weeks," which I already know. Sam doesn't let him hardly get the words out before he yells, "HEY! YOU'RE JUST A GUEST. NOW KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT FOR FIVE MINUTES AND ACT LIKE ONE." I smile. This is better than TV, and I like TV.

So, I'm not sure I'll take Sam. He would be fun, but I'm not sure he'd fit in with my little harp-singing-gray-headed ladies. If I had strippers and bouncers, maybe, but that just ain't what's going on.

Pearl got two cabbage patch dolls today. She named them Roger and Tulip.


asia said...

i did that once when i was working in mental health and the crisis team was trying to assess a kid who was decompensating. they asked him what day it was and i yelled WEDNESDAY from the office. i was so embarrassed as soon as it came out of my mouth.

Anonymous said...

But the sweetest little old ladies would love him; there would be an outbreak of dolls named Sam...

asha said...

Today is Thursday. Yes, I'm sure of it. Thursday. However, you may not be reading this on Thursday. Ha! Can't fool me.

Anonymous said...

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