12/07/2006

People Are Different

It's nursing home day. I'm a consulting psychotherapist two days a week in three different homes, two of which are appalling in terms of the care they provide. In fact, I can't call what they do there "care." But most of you already know this about me and nursing homes.

One of my very favorite little old ladies is Cookie. She has Alzheimers. Throughout this blog I have ranted and raved about what is happening to her, marveled at her strength, enjoyed her humor and wisdom.

Two weeks ago my company said I had to quit seeing her because Medicaid didn't like it if I'd been seeing someone for a long time and they weren't getting better. I ranted about this, too. I said how can you judge "better" when Alzheimers is slowly erasing every memory and thought you have ever had?

I discharged her but I haven't stopped seeing her.

But it's been a week and Cookie is rapidly going downhill. I think this is not just her Alzheimer's. I think she is having ministrokes. I think ignorance and neglect are also contributing factors...but it doesn't change.

I walked into her room and she looked up at me, recognition slowly dawning.

"Can I have some water?" she asks.

I pour some from a pink pitcher on her nightstand into a small plastic cup. It is cold and a few ice chips float in the few inches I've poured.

Cookie takes the cup from me like she's been in the desert for days, gulps, chokes and coughs. Her cough sounds deep and raspy. She's sick.

She stares at the cup, studies it carefully with a puzzled expression. "It's," she says and pauses. "It's water!"

I nod and smile. "Nice, cold water," I say.

"I forgot water!" she says when she's finally able to speak. She seems astounded by this. She finishes what I've given her and drinks two more small cups before stopping. "I'd better not have too much."

She reaches out, takes my hand and pulls it into her lap. She brings my hand to her lips and kisses my hand.

"People are different," she says.

I get it. Earlier I'd seen two aides in getting her dressed for the day, dressed I might add in dirty clothes. The aides were playing with Cookie's favorite Christmas musical bears and music boxes. They seemed to be talking nicely to her, so I'd passed on by. But now, when I see her she seems clearly disturbed and keeps looking around over her shoulder, inspecting her music boxes.

"I went..." she says, looking toward the door. Cookie sometimes sits by the front door. Wanda, the receptionist, says she is waiting for me.

"I know," I tell Cookie. "I haven't seen you in a week."

Cookie smiles. "I felt like my life was leaving," she says.

I'm puzzled. I think she doesn't feel well, maybe thinks she's dying. I ask her because her right hand is swollen, but she shakes her head no.

"I thought I lost my friend," she says a few moments later. "I thought I lost my life."

And I realize she means me.

"People are different," she says looking toward the doorway again. "They are all different."

I hug her. I say, "I am your friend, Cookie and I am never going to leave you."

She smiles at me, grips my fingers and says, "I won't leave you either."

Somehow I think she knows this is a promise she can't keep but then I remember what Dad said before he died, "I will always be with you."

When you love someone, they live in your heart forever. You don't stop loving them because they are gone- you just add missing them to your list of feelings about that special person.

So, Cookie is right...she will never leave me.

2 comments:

Teena said...

Cookie sounds delightful :)

My sister works in a guest home where there are a lot of "Cookies". She has gotten attached to Ruby, a senior who is in a wheelchair but has all her wits about her, who lives in the guest home where my sister used to work. My brother-in-law and his friend volunteer occasionally there and sing old country songs. The residents love it.

Anonymous said...

I just stumbled onto your blog tonight and find myself drawn to it. I haven't had the chance to read much of it, but I'll be working on it. This story was posted on Dec. 7th which was my 40th birthday. I was having a hard time with this birthday, feeling that I've finished the first half of my life and the last half will all be down hill. I think we all know a "Cookie" and someday it will be me. Thank goodness there are people like you who could make life a little brighter for them. I enjoy your writing.