The Help

hospital staff

Otis Historical Archives

“Do you know where Dorothy is?” she asked me. The Woman was a petite brunette, about 5’3”, tanned, gold jewelry bedecking her neck and wrists.

“I think she’s with one of the residents,” I said. Mom and I were taking our usual “spins” (Mom’s term) around the floor.

“My mom needs her medicine, and I need to find her,” she said.

“I’ll let you know if I see her. Did you speak with the doctor?” I said, pointing to the doctor who periodically does paperwork at the nurse’s station.

“No, forget him, he’s no help,” she said.

Lucy shuffled up to the Woman. “Do you know how to get to the downstairs elevator?” she said.

“I’m not one of the staff,” she said, seemingly mortified. Then she stomped off to her mother’s room.

Lucy is a resident at the Actors Home. She is rail-thin with salt and pepper kinky hair cinched into a tight pony tail. She asks everyone, repeatedly throughout the day, where the downstairs elevator is.

I tell her, “I don’t know where it is. I only take the upstairs elevator.”

I don’t believe there even is a downstairs one, and Lucy’s not allowed to take the elevator unless escorted by a nurse or an aide. The elevator can only be accessed with a key fob.

Dorothy appeared.

“Hi, Erica, good to see you. Hi, Katherine,” she said.

“Good to see you too. A woman was looking for you. She said her mom needs her medicine.”

The Woman came out of her mother’s room.

“There you are. I can never find any of you people. Mom needs her medicine,” she said.

“Okay, give me a minute,” Dorothy said and went to attend to another resident. It was 4 o’clock, and she had just started her shift.

The Woman said to me, “I can’t believe it, how rude and disrespectful she is,” and huffed off.

I heard The Woman in her mother’s room continuing, “They disrespect me. Nobody listens in this place—nurses, aides, all the same. How dare she speak to me like that!”

Her voice was rising in pitch and agitation. I can’t imagine it’s good for her mother to listen to her rantings, especially since she has dementia. I doubt she understands what her daughter is saying.

“She seems upset,” I said to Mom, and we continued our spin.

Dorothy returned to the nurse’s station. “What’s wrong with her?” I said.

“I don’t know. I think she needs the meds, not her mom.” We exchanged a smile.

Dorothy walked into the room, and The Woman said,” You say ‘okay’ and just walk away from me? I’m tired of being disrespected. Every time I come here, I get treated like this. It is unacceptable.”

I heard Dorothy trying to calm her down.

“Somebody’s upset,” my mom said.

“It seems so.”

By the way, the nursing home where my mother resides is one of the best, if not the best in the country. I have found the nurses and aides to be uniformly exceptional—caring, hard-working, and attentive to the residents.

So what was The Woman’s problem? She acted as if Dorothy was part of her personal “staff.” Perhaps she fancies herself a Kardashian or a person of great import who feels entitled to dump on “the help.” I would have liked to see Dorothy put her in her place, but I guess that wouldn’t be following protocol. What BS.

I have used pseudonyms for the staff and residents.

Where is Bear?

black bear

photo courtesy of Ridgewood Police Dept.

We heard on the news this morning that a baby black bear was on the prowl in Ridgewood–a neighboring town. He was tranquilized and captured today. I’m glad they didn’t hurt him.

Another group of animals were on the loose at my mom’s residence last week. When I spoke to her on Thursday, she said that all three of her stuffed animals had gone missing. I spoke to the night nurse Dottie who scoured her room to no avail. I called Friday morning and spoke to Nell, the morning nurse. Still no luck. Both Dottie and Nell assumed the animals went into the wash.

Nell said, “The aide said the cat was stinky.”

“Yes, it was,” I said.

I agree, Mouse was quite rank, but the others were perfectly hygienic.

The missing animals were: Mouse (a cat), Snoopy (Snoopy) and a teddy bear she calls “Bear.” Fortunately I had purchased 3 additional “Mouses” in case of such an occurrence. Mouse 1 went missing at her first nursing home, never to turn up again. Mouse 2 is the one currently at large. Friday was a busy day: Lorin’s mom was flying in for his dad’s memorial service on Saturday, and we had other errands to attend to. Still, I was determined to bring Mom a new Mouse so that she would not spend the weekend fretting and fussing.


Mouse 1 (photo by E. Herd)

Enter Mouse 3.

When Mom  saw her, she said, “She’s so clean!”

Mom held her in her lap while we drank coffee and ate cookies.

Several minutes later, her aide Angela and Nell stood in the doorway holding “old” Mouse and Snoopy. Angela looked giddy.

I said, “Look mom, it’s Snoopy.”

Mom turned around in her wheelchair and smiled. I thanked Angela and Nell and handed Snoopy to Mom, placing Mouse 2 on her bed so as not to cause greater confusion.

“I missed him so much,” she said, looking at Snoopy. She kept Mouse 3 and Snoopy on her lap for the rest of our visit.

After a while she said, “I wonder where Bear is.”

“I don’t know. Maybe he needed a vacation.” Mom laughed.

Now that there was some semblance of order, it seemed fitting that we continue watching ER–we’re on episode 11 or 12 of season 2.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, two of her favorite characters are Dr. Mark Greene and Dr. John Carter. I asked Mom if she could remember the last name of the character named Mark.

She scrunched up her face, “Mark . . . ”

“It begins with the letter ‘G’.”

I pointed to my green shirt and said, “What color is this?”

No response.

Then I pointed to the leaves of her plant. “What color are these?”

She stared at me. I’m not sure if the question didn’t register, the word “color” or something else. I finally told her the name. Greene.

Then she blurted, “Noel Wyle.”

“Yes, Noah Wyle. That’s the actor who plays John Carter. Let’s write it down.”

I took the index card spiral notebook out of her drawer–the one she used to use for grocery lists, phone numbers, doctors’ appointments and other information. I wrote in block letters, ” JOHN CARTER = NOAH WYLE.” On the next line, I wrote, “MARK GREENE.”

We repeated the names together, “Noah Wyle, John Carter, Mark Greene.”

“I wonder where Bear went,” Mom said.

“I’m sure he’ll be back soon. We’ll keep looking for him.”

*Pseudonyms have been used for staff members at the nursing home.

I Could Use a Cigarette

“Is tonight a full moon?” That’s what I asked the nurse yesterday when I was visiting Mom.

She said, “Every day is a full moon here.”

Betty, one of the residents, asked me if I was smoking, and I said, “No, but I could use one right about now.”

“Do you smoke?” I asked her.

“No, never did,” she said.

The highlights of my visit with Mom are as follows:

Mom: You don’t care about me anymore.

Me: That’s not true.

Mom: Where have you been? (accusingly)

Me: I work full-time and can only come on weekends.

Last weekend I didn’t visit, which might have set her off.

Mom: You spend plenty of time with Lorin.

Me: Well, we live together, but we both work full-time, so we don’t see each other as much as you think.

P.S. Why do I have to defend myself? Am I not allowed to spend time with my husband?

Mom: I hate it here.

No response from me, I keep wheeling her around the floor, hoping she’ll shut up.

Mom: Why did I ever move here?

Me: I don’t know.

Mom: Am I going to die here?

No response from me.

Mom: Look at all those old fogies lined up.

She was referring to her fellow residents seated in a row in front of the nurse’s station. She does not consider herself to be one of them, it seems.

Mom: It’s stuffy in here, isn’t it?

Me: No, it’s not. The windows are open.

Mom: They never wash my hair. It’s a mess.

Me: I put you on the list for the hair salon. You’ll get it cut and colored.

I told her this over and over but she kept complaining about the awful state of her hair. They do, in fact, wash her hair twice a week.

I was tempted to leave more than once, but stayed on, after she apologized. We watched ER and drank coffee.

Another resident named John came into Mom’s room and said to me, “I have some business to discuss with you.”

“Can we go outside to discuss it?” I said.

“Okay,” he said as I led him out and told the nurse he had “business” to discuss.

“But I need to discuss it with you,” he said, as the nurse led him away.

Another resident was screaming at the top of her lungs in her room, “Where is my mommy?! I want my mommy!”

I have seen her in this state before, and she is inconsolable. It takes her about an hour to calm down.

I don’t know how the aides and nurses keep going when I observe the goings-on. They deserve to be paid more than our fabulously wealthy Wall Street bankers and CEOs. Where’s the equity?

* * *

I am trying hard not to take Mom’s words to heart, but when you have spent years helping someone out, and they are so hurtful, it can be difficult to take. It was as if she had returned to her pre-Alzheimer’s mean, manipulative self. It brought up a lot of old issues for me.

Today was a much better day. I baked banana bread, watched the Tony Bennett / Lady Gaga concert on PBS and took a hot bath. Lady Gaga is awesome, by the way, and Tony Bennett still looks great. I put our standing scarecrow outside on the top step, taping him with duct tape to the railing so he doesn’t blow away in the harsh wind. Trying to stay positive.


photo by Erica Herd