Tuesdays at the Nursing Home- Bagging the Shrink

It's Tuesday, so I must be sitting in the nursing home, listening...

Today Anna, my little patient who is convinced the Muslims and Lesbians are taking over her soul, sits with me at "our" table in the empty dining room. 

For the first time, she is suddenly willing to examine her reality.

"Maybe these people not bad," she says, looking at me to gauge my reaction. "I am thinking maybe this is voice in my head and not the truth. I don't know.  I can't listen to it if it's...if I am, you know, crazy in my thinking."

She giggles, her hand held up to cover the escaping laughter at the very idea. Her eyes are merry, begging me to chime in.

"No, crazy's not good," I say, chuckling. "Can't go off following a voice if it's..."

"Cral-zy!" she cries in soft, broken English.

We sit at one of twenty square, four-top tables, surrounded on all sides by patients in various stages of dementia.  Are we not all bozos on this bus?

Behind Anna, outside beneath the shaded awning, a small crisis is brewing.  Maggie, my patient who wants to die because she is losing her mind to  Alzheimer's and knows it, is sitting in a rocker.  Her husband is standing in front of her, obviously saying something Maggie doesn't want to hear. Her daughter sits in another rocker, her hand on her mother's arm, trying to persuade her of something.

I know because I have witnessed this same tableau play out week after week, what they are saying.  "No, Mama," the daughter says.  "I'm your daughter.  He's not leaving you for me."

Maggie sobs, her grief palpable even through the thick, glass panes.

"It's all right," she whispers to the pretty stranger beside her.  "I like you.  I want him to be happy.  I don't make him happy anymore."

"Cral-zy voice!" Anna says, jarring me back to our conversation. 

I listen to her as she tells me how lonely she is inside her court-mandated home, how she longs to go outside and promises she won't run away again.

Maggie's nurse is outside now, sitting in the rocking chair vacated by Maggie's daughter, holding her patient's hand as she tries hard to coax her back inside.

"I don't know where my brother is," Anna tells me.  "I can't call him.  My pastor, he doesn't come to see me.  One night two peoples, they come in my room and inject heroin into my veins. They are drug people. Muslims."

I nod, diving beneath the words to find the feeling.  "It's hard to feel safe when you can't tell who is good, huh?" I say.  "That sounds scary."

"Yes," Anna says, nodding vigorously.  "God's work is dangerous."

I see Maggie shuffle slowly across the porch, her fingers clasped in her nurse's warm, reassuring hand.

Anna sighs and is saying she needs to fast in order to keep the voices away when I feel a dull, hard jabbing hit my side. I jump, flying up in my seat and whirl around, looking for the source of the attack.

"Ha-aah, ahh, ahh!" Bertie, another one of my patients, sits in her wheelchair, a ridiculous red fuzzy top hat on her head, screaming with laughter.  "Got cha!" she cries.

Bertie looks like a manic basset hound, the thick folds of her sagging skin pull her mouth down in what looks like a perpetual frown but she is smiling, her eyes alight with the glow of self-satisfaction.

"Ha, hah, hah!" She crows.

"Cral-zy!" Anna cries, jumping to her feet and clapping her hands gleefully.  "Good job! Good job, lady!" she yells and stretches her arm past my nose, her hand held palm up as she giggles and says "High fl-ive! High fl-ive, you lady!" to Bertie.

They are dancing in place, united in the awesome wonder that is pulling one over on their shrink.

"Look at me!" I shriek, pointing to the goose bumps on my skin. "You scared me so bad, the hairs stood up on my arm!"

"Ha-haa-haa-haa-haa!" The two women cry, practically collapsing with joy.

I am so proud- so very, very proud of them.


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1 comment:

Beth said...

Nancy, for some reason, only two of the numerous comments I've made on your posts have gone through, so I wasn't sure if I'd try again. (Don't know why--might be that I have very sloooow dial-up).
But I had to try again on this one. This is so very beautifully written--it made me laugh and cry at once. A perfect combination of humor and pathos--thank you so much for writing it.
P.S. I think you have the makings of a book in your Tuesdays at the Nursing Home series.