Monday, October 04, 2004

Anne Jean 2

Anne Jean quit leaning away from me after a time but continued staring with her wide blue eyes and as things lightened between us, some of the locals started sensing a friendly corner with a new face. They swerved by to say things like, “I’m going to the birthday party” and “My doctor says I’m OK.” I noticed that some made several passes as if to be sure that they had all the facts about the new guy sitting with Anne Jean. After writing my notes to chart and before I left, one of the nurses said that Anne Jean’s daughter arrived and took her to the monthly birthday party.
As I walked through the halls to the dining room, I noticed that I always feel odd moving about in a nursing home. I feel privileged and special in those places because almost everybody looks up at me from a bed, a wheel chair or from the hunkered shuffle they all seem to do behind aluminum walkers. It makes me feel artificially powerful and I’m self-conscience about it. I know that what separates me from them is a little time and the thickness of some fragile blood vessel. I look for their former lives in their faces. Which one was the pretty high school cheerleader and which one of those men was the competent factory boss? Was this one an athlete and that one always timid? Were all of these teetering old ones squealing, running children, highly sexual adolescents and self assured middle agers? I’ll never forget the day that my dad sat bewildered and at a loss for words as I verbally worked him over. He had been an incredible and often cruel tease and I, in my late forty’s with a well-educated mind in my arsenal, caught him with his pants down and let him have a round of pent-up anger. I was amazed as he sat there unable to keep up with me mentally as I threw barb after barb into him and then realizing he was down for the count, went for his throat. With my mental teeth on his jugular, his belly exposed I backed off and piously told him that the difference between he and I was that it would end here and this teasing session was over. I went to the kitchen and called my mother to the room and pointed out the defeated master looking glumly at his feet and told her that I thought that he now knew how it felt and I was finished. I went back in the room and watched TV with him but our relationship was never the same afterward. I was disappointed in his weakness. I was as stunned as he that his mental capacities had diminished through some unseen and untraceable change in his brain. Is this all there is? I have to wonder about the end of my own usefulness and the beginning of my helplessness.
I’ve spent years training my mind and now I question the wisdom of that effort as I look through this building for my patient with a diagnosis of simply “Dementia.” At some point the formation of the firing chain of my synapse containing the words of Socrates, Freud and a hundred wonderful teachers and professors will begin to deform, calcify. The incredible possibilities of what even my meager brain could concoct out of those firing chains will become smaller and smaller. I became anxious as I looked over the icing smeared faces at the feeding tables and the dull-eyed servers who handed out ding-dongs as if they were assembly line workers in a factory.
I saw Anne Jean and her daughter, a plump 30- something woman who has come from feeding her babies to feed her mother. She holds the fork-speared cake with dexterity, as I’m sure she does with the babies, and Anne Jean eyed the suspended fork with the same look of anticipation. My mind swam with mixed and up-side-down emotions. It always happens to me in nursing homes.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Anne Jean

Brighthome is a nursing home in a town near here that has the architectural demeanor of a government building that recalls the old descriptor, “Built like a brick shithouse.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing when one needs a durable shithouse but when I pulled in the parking lot the first time to visit a patient, I was sure that the odors wafting about in the place would match its looks. It didn’t and when I got in the halls, I discovered that most of the residents seemed happy. When I got a referral to see a patient there just last Friday, I was sort of looking forward to it.

Anne Jean is a fifty-something woman who is pitifully thin with limbs that are drawn to her body and a wide-eyed look about her that looks like she’s scared most of the time. I knew from the referral that she is “non-verbal” so I sat down beside her in the day room with the expectation that everything I did with her would be based on her non-verbal and para-verbal responses to my presence and interaction. When I spoke to her she leaned away from me and looked at the floor and away in a way that said she was afraid. So, as I introduced myself, I softened my presence and assured her that I wouldn’t hurt her.

In the chair on the other side of Anne was a young man who was watching TV and my interaction with Anne. He was dying to join in and be a part of what Anne and I were doing but controlled himself until I started singing “Jesus Loves” me to Anne. He couldn’t contain himself and started singing with us just a shade too loudly but with all the gusto of one who was utterly unaware of the effects of his own zest.

Anne Jean responded with sounds – I can’t describe them anymore than that but they were just that. I wish I could say that she was singing but I wasn't sure that’s what it was. Later, when I met her daughter, she said that she was singing with us. I was glad. I used to see a woman up here in town that responded to me by playing patty-cake when I sang to her. Sometimes I’d get a chair and sit opposite her and play with her.

Don’t get the idea that my singing is anything special. One woman I saw in the same facility threw me out of her room. After singing something like ‘Jesus Loves Me” I asked her how was it? She screwed her face up in a horrible grimace and said in a high, penetrating voice, “It just makes me sick. Get out. Get out.” She emphasized, “sick” by drawing the word out as if it were spelled “ssseeack with her lips pulled back to her ears and her nose wrinkled as if I’d offered her road kill to eat. My critics have not always been that harsh but I get the point and only sing when I’m fairly sure that a patient’s condition will not be exacerbated with my music or that I’ll be struck by some flying object.