I apologize for not getting back to you folks out in this sea of ether we share here. I’ve been pulling extra shifts to make up for wages lost while I was looking for work. I haven’t been performing a lot of x-ray exams during the day, but when I go to swing shift at the dementia care afterward, everything and everyone requires examination. There aren’t enough people to do it, or hours in which to complete it. It seems that not many people like doing the job of care-giving. I don’t think it’s the physical demands, which are high but simple. I’m beginning to wonder if it isn’t the difficulty of trying to follow where these people’s minds are going (besides down the drain).
We humans attempt to make sense out of everything. We are hard-wired to try, even when things are senseless. I haven’t developed the ability to ignore what the residents are saying to me yet, and I’m unsure if that is even what I need to learn to do. I have no problem with answering the same questions repeatedly for a person who can’t remember asking them. What I find difficult is being asked questions that I am not allowed to answer completely, because I’m not high enough on the ladder yet, or because the real answer would upset them. They haven’t got the strength of intact logic and emotional centers they would need to deal with the whole truth. This is a difficult, essential choice we must make over and over each day between kindness and honesty.
“Why didn’t my wife call?”
“I don’t know, Pops. C’mon, it’s time for dinner”
(She didn’t call because she brought him to the care home after he failed to recognize her and attacked her. She’s been dealing with his deterioration for some time and is afraid of him now.)
“Can’t you get this thing fixed? I’ve been trying to move and it WON’T WORK!”
“Try it now. I made an adjustment. I think it will work now.”
(He keeps setting the brakes on his own wheelchair and not understanding how to release them.)
“When’s the bus coming? I’ve got to get back to Reno.”
“The bus doesn’t run this late, Maisie. Why don’t you get some sleep and try again in the morning?”
(She lived in Reno years ago when her husband was still alive.)
“I can’t eat this. I can’t eat ANY of this! I can only risk it if it hasn’t been opened. These people are clever. They’ll do anything to see that I’m poisoned.”
(He is blind, and imagines “enemies” are in his room, stalking him.)
Many of them have selective sense impairment. They can’t tell when they are wet or need to be changed. Sometimes they’ll try to fight you if you attempt to get them clean. Some still have a lot of grip, or they’ll cry or shout. Fortunately they are also usually medicated, and physically slow to respond. None of the residents have struck me yet, but the other care-givers insist it will happen one of these days, as it has to all of them. I’ve been cursed at, but I don’t take it to heart.
We were seriously short-handed one night. I kept racing from room to room, putting people on the toilet, brushing their teeth, washing them, changing their clothes and putting them to bed. While I was overwhelmed in this process, one of my more agile pixies who roams all over the facility but can’t talk (except in gibberish) closed her door, dismantled the toilet tank, pulled out the hose and flushed it. The toilet tried to do its job, but instead of having to fill the tank it now had to fill the room. As I sped past with another sleepy resident, I saw the water spreading out under the carpet from her closed room. We put her to sleep in the fireplace room and I spent an hour mopping, mopping, mopping.
Was she embarrassed at what she had done? Was she content with whatever she thought she had done? Is something inside her still seeking an avenue of expression, trying to flush away all this shit she’s going through?
There are also the times when a wheelchair-bound woman in a permanently curved pose will go “mMMMmmm”, because she likes the applesauce you are feeding her. Or the one who has no idea what day it is, or where this care home is, or that she’s over 80. She knows she can’t remember anything for long. She’ll ask questions for guidance, and thank me for answering by saying, “You’re a good sport for trying.” Another one who can’t string four words together that make sense, still smiles and says “I love you.” Some only get as far as the smile.
I know they’re in there, God damn it. I just know it.