Saturday, May 2, 2009

Another Day in Paradise

Originally posted in Multiply on April 11, 2007 … revisiting Connecticut and Convalescent Home Memories. I guess I'm thinking about my grandmother for some reason.

We went to visit my grandmother yesterday at the Regency House in Wallingford. She’s been sick lately, an infection, so we were hoping she would be awake. It’s always scary for Elizabeth to see her great grandmother when Thelma isn’t well because her illness makes her more explicative than usual. Senility. Dementia. There are a couple words for it. Bottom line, she tends to loose touch with reality. Thelma yells for her mother (who is long gone), acts overly cautious about everything – loudly – and says her A B C’s a lot, a long standing habit that is a very much like a chant. Imagine this, “A B C D -- Hurry UP!” Once, she called out to her sister, Phyllis (also dead), and then looked up from her trance bewildered, and said, “I just said Phyllis,” as if she were bewildered by her own self. To Elizabeth, this strange behavior is frightening, and concerning, and means that her great grandmother is either really tired or getting sick. When Thelma is well, she and Elizabeth have somewhat of a relationship. They say hello, good-bye, Thelma asks about school, and when Elizabeth ventures closer to Thelma’s bed, Thelma watches her as closely as she can, despite being almost blind. Thelma rarely can remember the name, “Elizabeth”, and has referred to her as Betsy, Brigitte, or most common, “the girl”. Their blood connection is an amazing thing, reaching out over four generations between my daughter and my grandmother.

We walked through the front door of the Regency House and many of the patients were in the front room soaking up the warm sun through large windows. The room was toasty. There were octogenarians in wheel chairs, old Doris in the corner mumbling to herself (and who announced she would be following us around – she didn’t), Irish Peg, who has teeth that are brown and scary and much too big for her head and a rather disconcerting smile, and spouses that are there faithfully and regularly. Coco was there, all scrunched up crooked in her wheelchair, long hair and a face full of make up. We went by the nurse’s station and just as we were approaching Thelma’s room we heard a loud, barking, very German like command. It was Helga in a rowdy mood. Helga is a very nice German woman, who has a thick accent, and spends a lot of her time in her wheelchair sort of scooting around the A Wing. Once day she scooted into Thelma’s room when we were all watching television, and we got into a conversation about how she came to America by herself and stayed with her brother, whose wife was good to her. Today she seemed wound up tighter than spring, barking every once in a while as though she couldn’t hold it in. Leslie and I strolled by, “Hi, Helga, how are you?” And she yelled back, “HELLO!” and took my arm. I patted her hand, and she told me she liked me. “Thanks, Helga, I like you, too.” There is a patient there who was a weaver and her husband of over 60 years visits her almost every day. As we passed on by, this husband was in the hallway waving his hands over Helga’s head, grinning like a fool, getting a rise out of her, as the pool nurse dispensing pills said “Don’t egg her on,” disapprovingly. Helga kept grinding her teeth and wagging her finger at the man, which only proved to amuse him. Is this a rest home or grammar school, I wondered. The parallels are amazing.

Thelma’s door was closed – time for an “oil change” – so we hung out in the hallway. Before a moment passed, Suzie, another patient who is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s and is always in her chair, starting moaning loudly and reaching out for us. Suzie likes us, too. But, I mean, she can really get loud, and the whole hand outreaching thing is a lot like Frankenstein.

All this commotion was going on in a little hallway, and there we were in the middle of it. I can’t remember the last time we were there and everybody was so awake! I looked over at Elizabeth, who had her face crammed as deeply as she could into her video game, and I held my arms out. She came to me, put her head on my chest (she’s getting taller), and took a deep breath. The whole thing can be so taxing on a child. But she hangs in there.

What a trooper.

It’s just another day in paradise.

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