Elder Care Chronicle
I bring up a load of laundry, in a stand up bendy mesh hamper I bought for myself once. It’s a good hamper, my mother understands to put dirty things in there, the embarrassingly stained underwear and nightgowns. I plunk the laundry in between Mom and I, guessing she can still figure out that it’s laundry, see it a little bit, and all the while feel I’m not a dangerous disrupter. This is a lot to figure on with dementia and the people we’ve both been around. Encouragingly, I put a couple pair of underpants in my mother’s hand. She waves airily at it all and says “Fix it up.”
This Elder Center is not gonna work out, but just for the heck of it and to see how they do, I try, and play host to a series of testers, evaluaters, and even an entire social worker. My mother hates her. ‘I’m a nurse’, the woman says a couple of times, but its not different than how she says anything else. The nurse gets a text: “I wouldn’t usually take this”, she says nervously, “But it’s about an intruder at my house.”
“That’s awful!” I mew politely.
“An animal invasion,” I think she added. I picture a bear busting in to her kitchen.
“Who WAS that straange person?” my mother asks haughtily, after she leaves.
The reflexive thing is to deny Mom’s perceptions, but it’s seldom the right thing, if you really want to help without just playacting helpfulness. “It was a NUUURSE” I sing song in this unwittingly aggressive manner I’ve adopted. It’s so hard not to punish the very out of it. Soon I have to admit the obvious. That visit was a little strang.
“She seems like she’s very NEW” Mom adds. I take it to mean somebody new at their job, not sure how to act yet, maybe in the wrong job completely. Happens. A few jobs were like that for me, I was usually just thinking “hunh, so a railroad ran through there? Now where does THAT word come from, and where’s it heading?” My best skill is to just hang out, and I continue to be helluv lucky at staying out of the rain.
We met another future visitor while we were at the Elder Center. “I’m your social worker.” she told us, cheerily. “I’ll just come to your house” she said, peering into my face and forking over yet another card. Once she did visit, she had to plow through an elder care dementia questionnaire.
“Do you feel completely empty inside?” La’Tanya asked Mom, plowing through an evaluative form.
“Nooooo” answered my mother, guessing really, putting a thoughtful emphasis on the middle of the no. I chortled out loud. It’s just such a funny thing to ask somebody from the Bronx.
Another woman came over next, her job description was OT, the initials of Occupational Therapy, yet another misnomer designed to soften. She asked my mother to show her how she cooked, where she did it. Not really a mystery since the kitchen was in the same room, but wanted to observe my mother’s ability. She walked across the room shakily, stooped over, gripping at the nearest wall and spurting though the intervening middle space.
Everybody with dementia begins to fib, across the board, in an echo of how people are supposed to sound, a cover up that is so common and innate it must be neurological. “Oh, it doesn’t matter what day it is” they’ll bluff, trying to hide their ignorance. During a visit to my 91 year old father I wrote the date in sharpie on a pad of paper, and perched it close enough for him to glance over, repeatedly, acting all casual. He was fronting the need to cheat on what month day and year it is. Guess at least 50% of us, if we live long enough, will all be doing the same exact thing. Fibbing, echoing.
“And THIS is where I heat things up!” my mother improvises to the Occupational Therapist, shakily gesturing at the oven. As if.
The OT visitor evaluated that Mom was going south extremely quickly, a decline ending in about 6 steep months. That Nurse from before walked in with her, enthusing about our purported aquaintance. I put on my vague face and brushed off her the echo of a social entreaty, narrowing my eyes a bit in a way black people have to do a lot. I always catch it. “Oh, I hate you now.” the narrowing eyes signal.
“I’m from Chicago, so I just tell it like it is” The OT says as her and the nurse stand side by side.
Now my eyes narrow in a different way. “I understand” I reply, psychically blocking the flapping presence of the poor new nurse, who’s busy looking absolutely stricken. This also how people look that are in a Collective, which this elder center is. It’s partly a system of checks and balances that is a good idea for monitoring those handling the speechless. After all, people are just ditching their doddering parents at hotel rooms in Florida, bailing quickly past the register and out the door. The watchful system at this paticular elder center has merely spiraled out of control, meeting to schedule more meetings, nobody in clearly in charge or even with the power to make a simple appointment without group consensus. The staff have to sit under the bad lighting around a plastic woodeny looking table and hash it out, three times a week, endlessly. They consequently do not want to take the responsibility of pointing out evident tragedy.
I ask the OT to spell her name for me.
“It’s just like saying Dorothy without the D” Aarthie said when I called her to schedule. This confused me. Often I’m supposed to be learning or adapting to one thing, but a word distracts me completely along the way, A A R T H I E. “Oh, it’s a nice Indian name” I blurted out, on an inappropriate tear. If you put any kind of Indian thing together with words, I love it. Don’t know why, have a couple of theories but this is not the place for them.
“I’m sorry, I just shoot from the hip” Aarthie said, angling toward the exit. She’s maximizing the scheduled amount of time with folksy professional detachment on her way out.
“Oh, not at all — you’re great, you have really good mannerisms.” I continued, stammeringly. It’s like I have some kind of post colonial tourettes, “I’m sorry if that sounds patronizing” I wound up. “Oh no, it doesn’t sound patronizing” she warmly murmured, hand on the doorknob. It was actually ok. I know how to hold the crazy card, so I get a little free pass now and then.
While I’m in this city/town I’ve adopted a derelict look, an invisibility shield, a stretchy tie dye head bandana, raggedy blue hair, overlarge winter coat that screams of a church handout. It’s a good way to occupy an unclear place, where you don’t have the answers, and get help navigating from a collective with pure hearts, broken bodies, and chopped spaghetti. The Elder Center here is an overly plotted way to mitigate a huge gap in care for the lucky few. Bingo and reggae on a boom box, no salt, just Dash.