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.


At Monday, 04 October, 2004 , Blogger Nurse Mia said...

I think it's good you try to imagine the younger years of these patients in the nursing homes. I try to do the same. It's especially hard with the dementia patients. It seems there is so little left of their former selves.

At Saturday, 16 October, 2004 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder what it's like to be one of these patients. Sometimes I think, despite the awful powerlessness of aging, there must be something to having the messiness of 80 years of memory wiped clean, your focus only on daily food and drink. But then again, from my few times in nursing homes--it smells more like despair than simplicity.

At Sunday, 24 October, 2004 , Blogger Meredith said...

Dear Ken,
Your writing is so beautiful, thoughtful, and raw at times; I feel connection with you. The thoughts and experiences from your work and examined in your writing bring a richness to life. I sense that you struggle at times with the notion of "helping" - what it truly means and if you are you doing it. A book I enjoyed on this topic was "How Can I Help" by Ram Das. In a nutshell, the most important piece is who you are, not what you do that helps. Lead with your Presence, Ken, and know that this is pure and this is enough. Second, honor the realization of deep connection, of seeing yourself in another. When you are able to do this, you will open yourself to experience the integration of compassion, both for yourself and the other, that arises from this knowing. Last, but not least, what if you didn't pick and choose, decide that one thing is good and another bad, say in the nursing home setting? Is it not just as holy to sit in a wheel chair as it is to walk. Or to feed or to be fed? Each moment in time is pure, and right. How do you want to view these situations? As sad, and pitiful? or Holy and perfect?

Just some musings from a Friend,

At Thursday, 04 November, 2004 , Blogger Marjorie said...

Hi Ken, as one of your fans, I just wanted to let you know I'm anxiously awaiting another post!

Best to you, Sparky


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