I’ve written about my brother Adam before. He has been an active person all of his life. Despite his blindness, which he developed in his late fifties, he learned to ski in his sixties with an organization called Ski for Life. He also went mountain climbing, hiking, and camping with this same group.
Now years later, the story is different. Adam, 81, is in a care facility for “medically needy” persons. He is wheelchair bound, and is not able to walk at all. In fact, he can barely stand up. He needs help with eating, dressing, and every aspect of personal care.
Several things amaze me about him and his life in this excellent care facility (Wesley Manor in Ocean City, NJ). He still has a good attitude, and he still enjoys interacting with people.
Good Attitude and Interaction with People
After an early period of agitation and anxiety about being in a new facility and away from his own home, Adam settled into the routine at the care center. A lovely older woman named Loretta, 89, became his tablemate and good friend. The two of them kibitz and tease each other throughout their meals and in the common areas of the facility. This interaction is unusual because many of the clients in this wing live in their own little worlds, rarely speaking to anyone else except the occasional family member who happens to visit. We are convinced that this daily friendly interaction between Adam and Loretta have kept them both going.
Reminiscing Passes the Time
My sister, Bev, and I are Adam’s only regular visitors. (His daughter lives and works in Arizona, so can only visit occasionally.) I visit on Tuesdays and Fridays, and Bev visits three other days because she lives closer. We try to visit around mealtimes because Adam needs assistance with eating, and he also seems most alert at those times.
We spend a lot of time reminiscing with Adam when we visit. It gives us something to talk about, and it helps pass the time.
Lately we notice that Adam is spending more and more time in the past. Last week he asked what mom was doing. Trying to explain reality to him is futile and often brings on more anxiety, so we have learned to go along with him.
“Mom is making spaghetti sauce for dinner,” I said. “Can you smell it cooking?” “Yes,” he answered.
“What’s Daddy doing?” he asked. “Daddy is in the recliner ‘resting his eyes.'” (Adam laughed at this old family joke.)
Adam’s long-term memories are still sharp, so we talk about working on the farm when we were kids. One day he asked, “You know what I did one time out at Dada’s (our grandfather) farm?”
“No, what?” I answered.
“When we were picking up potatoes, I put a watermelon in the bottom of the basket, and then filled the rest of the basket up with potatoes. Dada was mad when he found that basket.”
I laughed with him about that. “Oh, so you were the one who got us all into trouble with Dada.”
I didn’t tell Adam that at one time or another, each of us kids had tried that same trick. And when Dada reported our shenanigans to our dear mother, she never believed him. Her children would never do such a thing!
For us, talking about childhood happenings is reminiscing, but for Adam, it is his reality.
Adam’s vivid dreams seem so real that he believes the events in them actually have occurred. We do not try to convince him otherwise. He reports that he has other visitors on a regular basis: his brother Bill who lives in South Carolina, his daughter Lori who lives in Arizona, old friends from the Enrichment Center for the Blind in Bridgeton, NJ, his old boss, as well as several aunts and uncles who have previously passed away. He even reports on some of their conversations. (His boss still wants him to make deliveries in Philadelphia!) But these visitors are part of his dreams, and although they would dearly love to visit, they cannot. We, however, are happy these “visitors” bring him comfort and joy.
Who Turned the Lights Off?
Today, Adam was quite agitated because someone keeps turning off the lights so he can’t see anything, and he can’t find his way in the airport terminal to find his flight, and someone has taken his wallet and his money, and why do they have to turn the lights off all the time anyway?
Adam reported that his little dachshund Peaches (who passed away ten years ago) raises a nightly ruckus in his room and scares the other patients. Luckily his new roommate also has a little dog (*wink* wink*), so the two dogs now play together instead of raising a ruckus. Problem solved!
After our visits, Bev and I call each other to commiserate. We laugh about the funny comments Adam has made, but we sigh with sadness at the reality of the inevitable. Adam’s physical and occupational therapy have been terminated because he shows no improvement but rather is declining physically. He is steadily losing weight (now 140 lbs) despite an enriched diet that includes “super-smashed potatoes,” extra fruit-flavored yogurt, and sugar-free pie and ice cream. Like Mikey on the old TV advertisement, Adam eats everything and has no complaints about the food.
It is so sad to see Adam slowly fade away. Our consolation: he has no pain, he has a good friend near him, and he has so many “visitors.” His good attitude certainly makes it easier for us to spend time with him.
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