I feel shallow for saying so, but I can’t imagine a more Kafkaesque place than the dementia ward of a rest home. As a patient, you’re tethered using the same technology as Charlie Sheen to keep that sundowner wandering at bay, but because senile dementia is eating away at your mind you have no idea why. I regularly go to such a home to support my husband, who is nursing his 85-year-old father through the twilight, and each time I’m confronted by a new and bizarre sight.

The other day I met Agnes, who was a sundowner that continuously paced back and forth (well with her arthritis it was more like a shuffle) at all hours of the day except when her stomach told her it was mealtime. A nurse told me her son, a plumbing contractor, had made the PVC walker she pushed around; it doubled as a chair with memory foam cushions into which the poor lady sank when sundowning had worn her thoroughly out.

When I attempted to make conversation with her, Agnes (who was 90 if she was a day) asked “Have you seen my mother?”

The other regulars in with my father-in-law include Bessie, who will stride around and confront anyone she sees with the shouted question “Are you a man?” The first time we met I replied, offended, that I was not; Bessie simply asked the question again, louder: “Are you a man?” Trying reverse psychology, I told her that I was in fact a man cleverly disguised as a 45-year-old mother of two. Bessie responded instantly to my revelation: “Are you a man?”

Apparently I wasn’t convincing as either gender.

Poor Ethel, whose nephew told me had been a nurse, would wander around the area trying to share things. She would approach you, thrust whatever was in her hand into your face, and ask sweetly “Do you need this?” More often than not it was a used tissue, but items as varied as a dessert spoon and a (thankfully unused) enema bulb had been offered helpfully to me by Ethel. I would often accept if it wasn’t too grody, out of politeness. But if you turned her down, Ethel would simply move onto the next person to try and help them with the gift of secondhand kleenex: “Do you need this?”

Occasionally, Bessie and Ethel would run into each other and have a conversation.

“Are you a man?”

“Do you need this?”

“Are you a man?”

“Do you need this?”

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!
Advertisements