Friday, February 02, 2007
As she heaved herself out of the chair and took her first measured lumbering steps I realized I hadn't scheduled enough time for her to walk to the car. We exited the door of Creekside, she looked for my car, then looked at me. "Where's your car", Moi? "Right there in the first parking space", I said as I estimated the distance. "Eh, why don't you let me drive it around ... I'll pick you up right here, I replied already sprinting towards the car. I pulled up to the curb and figured maybe I'd better get out of the car and help her get in. It took an attempt or two, but finally she was able to get into the car. She really struggled with lifting her foot high enough to place it on the floorboard of the SUV. Silently I shared her frustration. My mother, "Talla Paula", is always saying to me, "just hop in honey, it's not that high, deep, or wide" and I always think, "If it were EASY do you think I'd still be standing here?" So I kept my mouth shut as she manuvered her way into the car. While God-zilla girl settles herself, I get in the drivers seat and realize her mobility issues and the big blue poofy felt coat stuffed with a coke bottle stuck in the pocket will prevent her from putting on her own seat belt. Reaching across her with my left hand it immediately becomes apparent I cannot access the seat belt buckle. Using my right-arm I executed a full hug around the passenger seat place the belt around her. Finally we're settled in the car and begin our short trip. Within moments of entering the car Godzilla girl begins to share pieces of her story with me. She's been at the facility for about 3 months. She has sever adult arthritis and diabetes. The doctors didn't diagnose the advanced authorities when the first signs appeared in 1989 - because she had poor/no health insurance. In 2001 she qualified for better insurance and that's when the medical community started treating the arthritis. It was about this time period when the adult onset diabetes made its appearance too. As she proffered this information I made sympathetic noises, but didn't say much, except to tell her my Dad has adult onset diabetes too and that's one of my biggest fears - and reasons why I should spend more time exercising. Of course, exercising is difficult to do with advanced arthritis and not too much of an option for her. She also told me the improved insurance is what prompted her residency at the center. That, and the fact her parents admitted her there. We were two blocks from the church at this point and as she took a deep breath to tell me more. I kindly interupted her and said, "Really God-zilla girl, you don't owe me any further explanations about your life. Riding in the car with me doesn't mean I'm entitled to know your personal history." This little speech coincided nicely with pulling into the church parking lot - where more physical obstacles immediately presented themselves for assessment. I pulled in the handicap roundabout, jumped out of the SUV, opened the passenger door, leaned over, unbuckled and waited for her to disembark. I pointed out the 3 steps with railings into the Social Hall and told her I'd meet her there after I parked. Slightly out of breath from all the exertion of parking, and walking quickly back to the social hall from the parking lot, I joined her on the steps. We arrived in time to hear the announcements just as the service began. After contemporary service we headed to Sunday School. Sunday School on the second floor. The second floor at the complete OPPOSITE end of the building. *sigh* With no qualms I suggested we take the elevator. "I hate walking up stairs, I'm always tripping. Uunfortuanately this is a far too true statement. "Let's take the elevator", I said as I pushed the button. We rode up one floor and then .... one step ... at a time ... slowly ... and surely ... as people streamed around us ... we walked ... and walked ... and slowly walked ... 10 yards. 90 left to go before reaching the class room. Just as we gained the Sunday School room she asked for the location of the nearest Woman's restroom. I hope the overwhelming feeling of frustration didn't cross my face as I evaluated which one was closer. I wasn't frustrated because she needed to use it, but because I hadn't thought to ask and we'd zoomed - okay not exactly "zoomed" but traversed past one between the social hall and class. I pointed out her two options and told her I'd wait at the bottom of yet another set of 3 steps to our class. I waited, and waited and waited. When I was wondering if I should go check, she turned the hall corner and headed toward me. We successfully negotiated the 3 steps and joined the class. Class was good, but God-zilla girl was awful quite. At the end of the lesson she once again asked for phone numbers from members who'd be willing to pick her up on a weekly basis. One or two of my classmates chatted with her - then we made the next 50 yard trek to 'Big People's Church'. As we s-l-o-w-l-y entered the sanctuary Godzilla girl said she wanted to sit in the middle where she'd be able to see the kids as they came up front for the "Children's Moment". This was fine with me as I usually sit in the center section with some friends near the front . I started to slip into the pew, when she said, "No, I want to sit on this side of the church" while pointing 5 feet to our right. I wasn't too proud of my thoughts right at that moment. There were many things running through my mind ... and few of them were gracious. I smiled and said, "Of course, that will be great." After all the reason I was in church wasn't to laugh with my friends and nudge each other as the minister preached. (Although we do that A LOT) The reason was to hear the sermon and share in the service, something I could accomplish no matter where I sat. While sitting in the pew waiting for the service to begin I realized at its conclusion we'd be at one end of the church and the SUV would be at the other. It began to dawn on me how cavalier I am about my mobility and ability to navigate from one location to another, with little thought of how I'm going to get to my next destination. After church I explained the plan. I pointed the hall for her to walk down. "You wait for me down there by that door and I'll go bring round the SUV". I sprinted out of God's house and towards the parking lot, clambered into the SUV and drove around the property. I pulled into the circular drive by the business office .... and ... no God-zilla girl. I jumped out of the car - left it running - and went back inside the church. There she was - sitting right outside of the sanctuary with one of the ministers. They were telling her they were sure I hadn't left her behind. Brightly I said, "Here I am, let's go" and we began our inch by inch progress toward the car. I won't lie to you. I almost cried in frustration when it came time to put the seat belt on again. The operation wasn't as smooth as the first time. I fumbled with the belt and around her body I wondered, "How can I do this and let her retain her dignity?" "How much would I HATE to be in her shoes, dependent upon EVERYONE to do some of the most simple things for me?" Finally she was buckled in and we were on our way. Within seconds of placing the transmission in Drive God-zilla girl was talking again, jumping in right where the conversation had left off. GG: Moi? What I wanted to tell you just before we got to church? Is that besides the arthritis and diabetes, I was diagnosed as bi-polar in 2001. My parents are the ones who put me in the care facility. Moi: (feeling totally inadequate for this conversation) Well Creekside looks like a nice place. Do you like it there? GG: It's okay. I'm in the Alzheimer's Unit. Moi: Oh... GG: My parents put me in here, because before the diagnosis and medication I had rage and temper issues. I'd hurt myself and others when I got angry. But I'm not like that now with the medication. Moi: (in my head) ... Great job God! ... I have to be patient, AND you send me someone with a temper! Isn't this nice? (Also Moi --->calling the kettle black.) Moi: (audibly) So how does the medicine work for you? Do you end up with any side effects you don't like? GG: I LOVE the medicine. And so does my family. I got to attend my first family gathering over the holidays this year. It was so nice because I was nice and they wanted to be around me for the first time ever. But I have to take it at night because it makes me sleepy. Moi: I bet they thought it was nice having you there too. So what's it like, being young, and being in an Alzheimer's unit? GG: It's not too bad. They have lots of activities and crafts and things. But, but, I really miss talking. I can't talk to anyone, 'cause they can't remember they've started a conversation. I say, "hi" and they say "hi" back, then they get a blank face and stare at me. I can't ask them about the weather, because they don't remember what the weather is. I can't ask them about how their day is going because .... ", and her voice trailed off. Imagine what that must be like. I'm sure it's one of the rings of Dante's hell. To have the ability to converse, to desire to talk to people, to want to be able to share. And to be surrounded by people who only remember the past. Just snippets of the past - and not enough to even interact with you and tell you an entertaining tale. Where would your socializing come from? The staff? She shared a little more, but before long I was pulling into Creekside. This time I knew to park as close to the door as possible. I gave her a bright smile and said, "Back in a flash!" and jumped out of the drivers seat. As I opened her car door I said, "Ready for another groping?" and unbuckled the seat belt. Slowly she worked her way out of the SUV and stood next to me. As I began to say goodbye and wish her a good week I impulsively gave her a hug. I stepped back and there was a huge smile on her face. "Wow. That was nice, Moi", she said as she ducked her head shyly. "I don't get many of those". Quickly I stepped forward again and said, "Well that one was for, "Thank you for letting me take you to church." "This one is to wish you a good week", and I gave her another one. A little bit longer - and a little bit stronger. "See ya next Sunday, God-zilla girl" and I waved as I pulled out of the parking lot. On the half-mile trek back to my house I thought to myself, "Okay God. I get it." This is my lesson. I have so much in my life I take for granted, thank you for reminding me. Thank you for reminding me how lucky I am to not have a disabling mental illness. Thank you for all the independent things I can do every day. Thank you for prompting me to give "God's 'Lil girl" a hug. I think I needed it just as much as she did.