*Due to regulations, names and some details were changed to protect the privacy of this patient.*
It was a rainy Tuesday evening on a particularly busy shift at my local nursing home. As I was flipping through charts, I heard someone clear their throat. In a daze, I turned around quickly and said: “May I help you, ma’am?” With tears in her eyes, she said, “Yes, may I please use your phone to call my parents? They must be worried sick that I am not home!” Confused, I tried to think of a reply. How can I change the subject when she is this upset? Surely I can’t tell her that her parents are dead. So, I just stared for a moment.
“Mrs. Chapman, did you have a good dinner?” I asked.
“Did you not HEAR me?!” She replied. “I do not care about my dinner! My parents are going to kill me! Please let me use your phone!”
I tried my best to keep calm. “Just a minute!” I said. I called my fellow co-worker to see if she could be of some help. You see, Mrs. Chapman is 82 years old. Her parents have been gone for many years, but Alzheimer’s disease has distorted her reality. In training for this, we are told to go along with their reality as not to upset them. So, I tried.
“Brandy, can you answer the phone and try to calm Mrs. Chapman down? She thinks she needs to call her parents because she is late for curfew.” I asked.
“Sure! I will do my best!” She replied.
Mrs. Chapman was waiting for me when I returned. The tears had multiplied, and she was now wailing. “I’ve dialed your parents, it’s ringing,” I said.
Mrs. Chapman snatched the phone from my hands. “Momma, I’m so sorry I’m not home. It’s raining and I just don’t know how I am going to get there. I hope you’re not too mad at me!” I heard her say. Brandy replied, “Just stay where you are, we will pick you up in the morning.”
Easy enough, I thought. Mrs. Chapman seemed at peace with the call and scooted back toward her room. I went back to my task of charting and passing my evening medications.
Around 10pm, I heard a familiar voice back at the window. It was Mrs. Chapman. “Get me out of here, now! My parents are going to be so mad at me!” I left the nurse’s station to sit down and talk with her. I tried to explain that her parents must be in bed, and surely will call in the morning. She wasn’t buying it. After an hour of trying to calm her down, she lost it. She wailed, she screamed, she broke down. This was the closest I had been to a real breakdown, myself. How can I keep living in this woman’s world when everything I say is making it worse?
So, I just held her. I let her cry. I let her yell. I let her hit me.
A half hour later, I asked her if she wanted to take a walk. She agreed. I helped her up to her walker and we started down the hall.
We were walking past two glass doors when she stopped.
“Excuse me, who is that?” She asked. “Mrs. Chapman, that’s you,” I replied. Expecting another breakdown, I prepared for the worst. She just stood there, looking. She inched toward the glass until her face was just a hair away. She pulled her wrinkly cheeks up and down, looking perplexed.
“Mrs. Chapman, do you recognize yourself?” I asked.
“I suppose I don’t!” She replied. “How can a sixteen-year-old look so old?”
Not sure how to answer, I just grabbed her hand. “I’m not sixteen, am I?” She asked.
“No, ma’am. You are 82. But you don’t look a day over 65!” I joked. She laughed. But the pain on her face was what broke me. I have never been the same.
Since then, I have worked with countless Alzheimer’s patients. Some have pulled on my heartstrings, and some have become my family. It never gets easier, but my love has grown with each patient I meet. Please take a moment to pray with me for all of the scared, lost, angels suffering from this disease.
Dear god, please lay your hand on these special men and women who are just a bit confused. Please comfort them and guide them as they go about their day. Please bless them with understanding caregivers who are patient and kind. Amen.
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