“What lap are you on now?” Dolly asked with a chuckle as she watched her friend Gail walk past her, an elderly woman a bit on the frail side on Gail’s arm.
Shooting Dolly a look, Gail bit back a snarky reply and instead, continued on her guided tour. Rounding the corner towards the activities room, Gail returned her attention to her guide for the day, one of her favorite residents, Esther. Esther was particularly keyed up about something at the moment, but Gail couldn’t make out what she was saying, the words seemed to pile up in Esther’s mouth before she could properly dispell them, causing her speech to come out in garbled sputters. “BEEeble stubinkins amaye… retticle parpple cream corn,” Esther pierced Gail with an intense look indicating her statement was one that required Gail’s upmost attention.
Patting Esther’s hand lightly, Gail continued on their walk, “You’re right sweetheart, you’re right,” she agreed as she had countless times before when she couldn’t quite understsand what Esther was saying. It was happening more and more frequently in recent weeks. Gail pushed that thought away and focused on where they were going. If she wasn’t careful, Esther would guide them both into a locked door or sideswipe her into a wall accidentily.
Coming up once more on Dolly, Gail shouted “Twenty-Six!” before Dolly could ask about her and Esther’s progress again. “At least I’m getting in my exercise for the day,” Gail thought cheerily to herself. Not that she needed it. Working at the center kept her constantly on the move and following her typical ten hour shift if she didn’t immediately collapse then it was an ‘off day’. Reaching the activities room for the twenty-sixth time, Gail took advantage of the sing-along activity that had just begun and guided Esther into the room unhooked the woman’s tiny arm from her own and positioned her in a plastic chair between too other residents.
Shooting a confused look around the room Esther looked up at Gail in obvious bewilderment, “What am I doing?”
Glad her ability to speak clearly had returned, even if briefly, Gail plastered a grin on her face as she replied, “Why Esther, we’re singing of course!”
“Oh… ok,” Esther nodded before she joined in on the bridge of the song the group was wrapping up.
Waiting for the next song to start up, Gail then quietly backed away from Esther and silently slipped out of the room. “Whew… wonder if tomorrow it’ll be a short day or another long one,” she thought as she made her way to the nurse’s station where Dolly would most likely be waiting with a cup of ice water as she usually did after Gail returned from one of her ‘walks’. Walking with Strangers as the nurses fondly referred to these often daily resident-guided walks. It wasn’t that the nurses thought of their patients as strangers, far from it as they spent more time with them than many of their own family members, it’s that their patients usually couldn’t remember them.
The Not So Fantastic Reality:
The above story was inspired by the following tidbits I encountered today:
ONE: Where to start… Today was the shooting of my boyfriend’s short film about Alzheimer’s and to better acclimate us all with this disease, Andy was determined to shoot in a functioning 24-hour care facility specializing in Alzheimer’s. What an impact… Throughout the day many of us, if not everyone involved with the film, got first-hand exposure to what it’s like to speak to, observe and walk with someone suffering from this very sad disease. In between keeping track of takes as script supervisor, coordinating the food for everyone and sticking post cards on the wall, I personally had the pleasure of being ‘taken’ for a walk by several of the residents. They would wander into the room and just stand staring blankly around the room with all of us in it as if we were nothing but exotic furnishings until one of the nurses would gently guide them back out of the room and otherwise preoccupy them. When a nurse couldn’t be found or were otherwise detained, we would get a few extra minutes between takes thanks to a member of the crew being grabbed or coaxed unexpectedly into walking the halls with a resident in need of a walking companion. It was amazing how we all adjusted to this pretty atypical phenomenon and just went with it- talk about a learning experience… try taking a walk with a stranger; it might just change your life.
Love & Squirrels.