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talking to myself

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A not so pleasant visit

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Rose and I arrived at Eastside for a visit with William. We had to take him back in to have his meds looked into, since he was starting to have some trouble dealing with his situation. He has now been there going on six days, and I guess his stay will be longer than what I hoped for. I always hope it will only take a week, but for him in the past, he has been there for three weeks or more.

My first visit took place on his second night there. I was pleasantly surprised that they had him in the wing for less agitated patients. It has a larger area to walk in, a large community room, and yes, somewhat quieter than the other two smaller wings, used for those who need constant supervision.

When I visited him for the first time, on his second evening there, he was in a bad way. His mood dark, feeling like he was in a dark place, seemingly trapped in some kind of event that may have happened in the past, made now present. He kept talking about how vulgar everyone was, and how the place was taken over by ‘them’, how disrespectful they were. I have always found it best to go along with the conversation, and eventually he seemed to get a bit better. I guess I stayed about 45 minutes and then left for home.

On my second visit he was in a much better place, talkative, jovial, and very happy to see me. The visit went smoothly, and near the end of the visit, I read to him from the scripture and gave him the Eucharist. I left with a feeling of hope that his stay at the hospital will be a short one and that soon he will come home. On the second visit I also meet one of the other patients there. He was an older man, I guess in his mid-seventies, but in very good shape. He likes to ride bikes since his wife died in 2003. He told me that he has lost a lot of weight, and he spends a great deal of time doing it; bike riding. His bike he bragged has 22 gears, so I guess he can pretty much ride it anywhere, hills not a problem. He seemed very normal, until he told me how he decided to take a two day bike ride without telling anyone in his personal care home his plans. So I guess that was why he was there. I don’t think he understood how he worried others, or even put himself in danger by taking off that way. Over all, a very nice guy, a man well met, so the saying goes, hopefully soon he will once again be in the saddle.

Last night, Rose, the RN who works here wanted to go in with me to see how William was progressing. She is a very caring Nurse, with enough compassion for three people, always helping others even when off duty. So we arrived, gave the code so we could in, signed in our names, and then went in to see William. We looked for a short time, and almost at once I could tell that he was not in a good space. He had a set smile on his face, but his eyes had a very intense look about them, like he was ready to burst with what he had to tell me. Rose, being very sensitive, excused herself and waited in the front sitting room for that wing. So we sat down and William starting telling me about the monsters that live there with him, who were out to get him, as well as me. He was very agitated and scared, and I felt some alarm since I have never seen him in this kind of state before; Angry yes, pacing, at times yelling, yes, but never paranoid like this. I excused myself for a short time and got Rose’s attention and told her what was going on. I also stopped one of the Nurse’s and notified her, she said that she would talk to his nurse. So I went back and the talk went on for a short time.

After awhile, I told William that I had the Eucharist, so let’s go to his room so we could pray and I could give him the sacrament. He agreed. So after we got into the room, his nurse brought him some medicine, which he refused to take at first. So I got the pill container and do what I always do when I give him his meds, I placed them in his hand, telling him that he takes medicine three or four times a day, so please take these. He did, and the nurse left. I asked William if he wanted to receive the Eucharist, and at first he said no, he was warned about that, and chose to ignore the answer. So we talked for a short time more, and I asked him again, and he said yes. We said an Our Father and a Hail Mary together, and he received. Usually he is very reverent, but at that time, he just chewed and talked, which was something new.

As I was watching him, I thought about the Eucharist, food for the soul. God comes to us in such a humble form, food, in such an unassuming way, like Julian said, He is always courteous towards us, gentle. God with us, even if at times we are not with him, whatever the reason. For William at this time it was his disease, Alzheimer’s, something that isolates William from others, but never from God. Yes God with us takes on a very intimate connotation when thinking about this sacrament. So earthy, immediate, bread, salvia, teeth, chewing, swallowing, digesting; yes God truly with us. The human bodily condition that many find unsavory seems to be embraced by God.

After he received, we continued to talk. Then he was saying something about his family, and as usual I go along with him when he is in a fragile place. He wanted to see them, and I said one day he will. He took that to mean that they were coming to see him. He went ballistic, and started screaming that they must not come here, that they will hurt them, how could I be so stupid. So I went along with him, and stated that when they arrived I would let them know, since they did not know the way to the hospital were he was staying. He insisted on calling them, getting louder, and I was starting to get worried, not sure were this was going. So I said that they were in the car traveling, and could not be reached. I then said I understood why he was so upset and angry. He was ok for a few minutes, then started thinking I was also out to get him, but did not try to defend myself, since that would make things worse. He was not of course rational. So I just listened, and that seemed to slow things down a bit more. At one of lulls, I decided it would be better for me to go, and hopefully the meds given would soon kick in, and he would start to feel a little better. So I got Rose, and we left, both of us with a heavy heart. One of the hardest lessons for caregivers to learn is that there are times when there is nothing to be done but simply wait, pray, and be there.

We work with a woman named Jody, and I guess we will call her tomorrow and see what is going on. I really hate Alzheimer’s, the suffering that some of those afflicted with it go through, cannot be measured. To have ones sense of time shattered that way must be beyond bearing. I guess the one thing that saves many of them is that they soon forget the immediate past, so in a way it helps, but then again each time they go another round it is like the first time, no memory to learn from, to put things in perspective. So until the disease progresses to the point where this kind of suffering ceases it can be a very long road for both the family, caregivers, and especially for the one who has to endure it. Still, even if William does not always know it, he is surrounded by those who do truly care for him. Like I told him once; “it is ok if you forget who we are, we will never forget you, or stop taking care of you”.

Where is God? Right in the middle, in the thick of things, unperceived but there none the less. All things work out for the good; all will be well, even when life at times seems to be nothing more than a sh**-pie. Our temporality is a gift; beginnings and endings are something to be embraced and treasured. Without them we would soon loose our humanity. William is precious simply because he is a pilgrim, temporary, hence he is to be treasured like all humans. Christ truly among us, what you do to the least you do for me. I think we are all the least, so honor is due to all. I can’t say I always understand, or that my faith is clear or without doubt, but it has weathered a lot, and I suspect it will continue to deepen as my own pilgrimage slowly (or perhaps swiftly) moves towards its fulfillment.

Life is precious because it is short, it should be embraced in all of its manifestations. Hopefully all will find support when their times come, to give the gift of allowing others to take care of them. A strange sort of gift, but a precious one none the less.

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