Remembering with Alzheimer’s

Wow. Much has changed since my last post. I’ve left my job with the YWCA and begun working in a nursing home. Right now, I’m a nursing assistant on my way to being a certified nursing assistant on my way to being a nurse. I work primarily in a special care unit for elderly folk with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Depressing? Not really, and some days, not at all. A woman who can’t remember her maiden name can remember this ditty from her childhood:

Lincoln, Lincoln, I’ve been thinking,
What the heck have you been drinking?
Smells like whiskey, tastes like wine,
Oh, my lord, it’s turpentine.

I’ve had an angry octogenarian throw her dentures at me. I’ve also been kissed on the cheek by a courtly gentleman of 93. I’ve helped people remember how to use a knife and fork, how to comb their hair, and what to do when they get into the bathroom, step by painstaking step. It’s a rewarding life. It’s an exhausting life. I come home dog tired. I strip off my scrubs, step into the shower, put on my street clothes and collapse on the sofa. I have to take a nap after work just so I’ll have the energy to fall asleep at night.

At 42, I’m twice as old as most CNAs. By and large, this is a young person’s job. There’s a lot of running around and heavy lifting. I transfer men who, in their prime, were six-feet tall and two hundred pounds from a bed to a wheelchair and then back again. I get people up and dressed in the morning, and I put them down for a nap in the afternoon. Sometimes it feels hectic, or worse, mechanized.

I remind myself to slow down, to not be a blur of activity around a stationary person, someone lonely, dazed, and confused. I remind myself that what matters most is not that my elderly friend’s socks match or that her hair be perfectly combed. Maybe it doesn’t even matter if I get her to breakfast exactly on time. What matters is that she sings her song about Lincoln, Lincoln. That’s when I sing my song about how dry I am, and we meet somewhere in the middle on an eternal playground.

How dry I am
How wet I’ll be
If I don’t find
The bathroom key.

Oh there it is
But where’s the door?
Oh too late
I’ve peed the floor.

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