Misplaced Faith

I went back to work in my three nursing homes yesterday. In particular, I went back to the nursing home where my friend, Cookie, lives...the one who thinks I should move downstairs and live on her hall because I fit right in.

It's been at least 3 weeks, maybe a month, and I was really afraid Cookie wouldn't know me. She's so easily confused and her memory is slowly dissolving into feelings...like, "I love you. I don't know who you are, but I do know I love you."

A month away from Cookie is asking a lot of her fading memory banks.

The first time I slipped into her room she was sleeping. The second time I thought she was still sleeping, but she raised one arm in the air and while she may have been dreaming, I took it as a sign to venture closer.

I stood next to her bed, peering down at her small, sweet frame, and was shocked. I was the one who didn't recognize her.

Her face was swollen. In fact, hands looked swollen too. Her mouth seemed to droop to the left but you know me and denial, I just thought it was because her teeth weren't in.

"Hey, Cookie!" I spoke softly because I could tell she was just waking up. "Remember me?"

"Hello friend," she murmured and began to cry.

"I missed you!" she said. "Nobody knows. They don't know how I...They won't tell me what's wrong. There's something wrong. I don't feel right. And I missed you so much!"

She raised up her arms, like the boys used to do when they were babies, waking up after a nap.
And I did what we're not supposed to do. I bent down and scooped her little body up and kissed her forehead and stroked her hair. I whispered, "It's okay, honey. I'm here now."

She gripped my hand in her right hand, as if holding on made me more real or kept me anchored to her...when in reality nothing could keep her out of my heart.

"I missed you, too, honey," I say.

"You did?"

I am saying these things but I am thinking, something is wrong with Cookie. They must have her on a new medication.

"I'm so tired," she says as her eyelids sink down and her head slips slightly to the left.

She fights to keep her eyes open, to maintain her hold on me, but it's costing her. "Cookie, I'm back. I'm not going off again. Dad died, that's why I was gone for so long, but I'm back."

When I say, Dad died, her eyes close tight, she frowns and moans softly. She couldn't remember meeting him almost a year ago...Could she?

"Rest, honey. I'm going to go look at your chart for a minute. I'll be back."

I hug her again, kiss her forehead and she touches her fingers to her lips and presses a kiss to my hand. "I missed you," she says again.

Because the same nurse is working the hall that was working it the last time, I mistake her presence for committment. Lately the turnover has been nonstop, but hey, this one's still here. She cares, right?

"Is something wrong with Cookie?"

She's briefing her replacement on 3-11 and they both look up. 3-11 has been there awhile too, but I could never mistake her presence for concern. She could care less.

But the first shift nurse says "And you are?"

I tell her I'm the mental health consultant, glad she at least checked, and she rewards me with a fleeting smile.

"We think she's had a TIA. The doctor's going to look at her tomorrow. I called her daughter and she said she'd come if things got worse."

Got worse? They're not doing something now? We're waiting on the doctor until tomorrow?

It is pointless to say this to her. She's leaving. Meathead is taking over and this requires a step above floor nurse...which won't result in anything either, but I'm doing it anyway.

I turn to leave, to find a supervisor and the day nurse says, "We think she had another TIA two weeks ago, too, but it was smaller. This time her mouth's drooping and her left side is swollen."

I whip back around. The nurse is smiling again, but now it's an apologetic smile. "She's really going downhill fast."

Gee, ya think! Ya think maybe getting good medical attention would help prevent such a rapid decline? Do ya think if her family gave a good rat's ass it would matter?

But I don't say any of these things because it won't get me anywhere. I will tell the newest Director of Nursing. I will tell the social worker. And I will not have any faith in the system changing.

Cookie's possible TIA is old news to the social worker. "Yeah," she says, shaking her head. "I know." She shrugs with this, that's-all-we-can-do attitude, like that's normal-that's what happens. Hate it for her.

I do not think this is normal. I am not a nurse. I don't know my TIA from my ass, but surely this isn't normal, is it? What about asprin? What about X-rays? What, she's 91, so let her die? I remember vaguely other people having TIAs and saying, "There's not really anything that can be done about it. Eventually she'll have a stroke and that will be that." Did I hear that here, or from a real doctor?

It seems I am always screaming into the wind, hoping someone across the canyon will eventually hear me and give a shit.

I walk back into Cookie's room and smile like the world is one big happy place. "I just couldn't leave without giving you one more hug," I say. "They told me they think you might have had a little stroke, a TIA. The doctor's going to check you out tomorrow."

She nods. "I knew something was wrong." Then she smiles up at me. "I love you."

My heart snaps right in two.

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