How Are You...Here in this No-Man's Land?

It has finally happened.

Today Cookie didn't know who I was.

Last week I thought maybe she was having trouble, but today I knew for sure. She rolled up to the entrance of the Social Services office where I was getting reports on my patients and gave me a blank stare.

"I can't go through here," she said. Her voice was dull, her expression flat.

I smiled at her, said her name, gave her cues, did anything and everything I could think of to bring her back, but it was no use. We rolled down to her room and I pointed to the witch on her door, the witch her daughter hangs up every year. Cookie didn't even respond to her daughter's name.

I crossed the threshold and sat down on the end of her bed with Cookie right behind me. She looked around and said, "Now that is unusual!" She was pointing to a second bedside stand and she was right, it was unusual.

"That doesn't belong in here, I said."

Cookie gave me a look like "Tell me about it!" and moved on.

"I'll tell you," she said. "I'm not going to do that again. Not with those women. Those..."

She was wearing maroon knee socks with a clashing red skirt and top. Mary would never have allowed her to look like this, but Mary quit and now a young girl with no common sense is her new aide. She doesn't seem to care how Cookie looks. She bathed and dressed. Enough.

I point to the wall of pictures that is Cookie's link to her family. "Do you know who they are?" I ask, hoping.

Cookie stares a hole through me. "Yeah. I'm not going to do that again!"

But I hope in my heart of hearts that she does because it will mean she's come back to herself. This is how it's going to be from here on out. Cookie may appear in fragments, for moments or hours or days. She may never come back. Or she might be right as rain on Thursday when I see her next. They'll tell me she has a UTI (urinary tract infection. Old people get them a lot and it frequently makes them psychotic.) They'll say she's on an antibiotic and coming around.

And that's just not going to happen.

Sometimes I think of the rooms full of people I've lost. I remember their names, their smiles, their tears. When I walk into a room where one of my people has died and find someone new in their bed, it always sets me back. I have to catch my breath before I take their hand in mine and say, "Hi, I'm Nancy. How are you?"

How are you here in this cinderblock-walled institution where people come to die? How are you, now that you know you'll never ever go home again? How are you now that all you have left to hold onto are your memories and even those are soon going to leave you? How the hell are you?

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