“Do my daughters know I’m here? I need to see my babies, they need me to tuck them in at night. I always tuck them in.”
“Your daughters are all grown. They brought you here a few hours ago. They’re doing very well.”
“Do they know I love them? I need to tell them I love them. I love them so much. I’m so lonesome for them.”
“I know you are, but I’m here for you right now. They do know. You told them over the phone a few minutes ago, and they love you very much too. They told you so, and they’ll be back in the morning.”
“Why are you spying on me? I want to go home to the lake. I should’ve never fallen down that manhole. Why did they leave the cover off that manhole? Do my daughters know I’m here? They need me to tuck them in.”
“Your daughters are all grown up and they know you’re here. They love you very much. They’ll be back in the morning.”
“Why am I in prison like this? I just want to go back to the lake with my daughters. Please can I go?”
That is how the entire second half of my twelve hour shift went. She had dementia and was incredibly sweet, pleasant, and cooperative, but she couldn’t remember anything that I told her and was surprised every time I repeated my stock answers to her litany of questions. I’ve never dealt with someone whose mind was more like a sieve. She was, of course, a fall risk, and I had the bed alarm turned on so that a blaring noise went off whenever she tried to get out of bed without one of us there. For 6 hours, this went off almost every 10 minutes. I do tend to exaggerate at times for comedic effect, but I only wish I was exaggerating about the previous sentence. I repeated the same thing every time I went in and reset the alarm. I sat with her for a solid hour and a half, but she was insatiably lonely and immediately tried to get out of bed as soon as I left. I distracted her with magazines, foods and drinks to nibble, tried to find a show for her to watch, and even asked her to “help” me fold towels and washcloths to keep her hands busy. None worked for more than a few minutes, ten at best.
I can’t imagine being the caretaker for someone with a disease this severe. It’s unfathomable and devastating. When I finally caved and called her daughter after several hours of repeated pleading, I could hear the tension in her child’s voice over the phone. She apologized to me, saying that she wished she could be there, but she needed a break. Just a little break and some rest. I couldn’t blame her for failing to warn me what my time alone with her mother would be like. I had to hang up the phone even though she wanted to tell her daughter that she loved her one more time.
I cried on my drive home, my first time crying because of work since I started in February at my first real career. I’ve been so proud of myself when the other nurses ask how many times the job has made me cry. “None!” I’ve said, and they’ve been surprised. I’ve been emotionally drained from patients before, but never like this. Everything I did for her and said to her was pointless. Hopeless. Irrelevant. She couldn’t remember all the times I’d repeated myself over the past hours, but somehow, her frustration was building and all she could recall was that I was keeping her hostage. “This is America, you know. The United States. I’m not a prisoner. I’ve had my picture taken with the Statue of Liberty. I’m free.” No matter how much I soothed her, hugged her, held her hand, stroked her face, and reassured her that both she and her daughters were safe and loved, she forgot it within 5 minutes. I kept my voice calm and gentle with her, but as soon as I left her room I would lose it. Over and over.
I’m not entirely sure what to make of this day, or this post. It’s cathartic. And depressing. And terrifying that it may happen to someone I love. Terrifying to think I might have to do this for more than a day, way more than a day. I don’t think I’d want to live if I was that way. At what point do you just give up?