What do a cardiologist's office and a blind, noisy woman in a wheelchair have in common? No, this isn't a joke. These two unrelated things provided a most thought provoking and touching experience for me this week. Please allow me to explain...
I was sitting in the cardiologist office, waiting for the senior citizen I was with to emerge from the bowels of the inner office. Playing my Brain Age game, my site was angled towards the floor. Once in awhile, I would see a pair of legs go by. And then, a wheel rolled by. More legs, some flurry of action... and then...
"WHO TURNED UP THE AIR CONDITIONING SO HIGH?" yelled someone out into the office. No one paid much attention. A few minutes later, "I KNOW THERE'S A MAN AROUND! I ALWAYS KNOW WHEN THERE IS A MAN NEARBY. I LOVE MEN! (the person laughs) MY DAUGHTER DOESN'T LIKE IT WHEN I TALK ABOUT IT, BUT I LOVE ALL MEN!"
This last barrage of shouting got my full attention - after all, I think men are pretty cool myself. As I looked up, I saw a gentleman had walked past the wheelchair to put a magazine back in the rack. He looked pretty embarrassed as he sat back down. I looked over towards the wheelchair to see the source of all the yelling. A small, gray-haired lady sat in the chair, staring straight ahead. She looked pretty harmless, but her loud voice indicated otherwise!
After no one responded to her, she quieted down. By this time, all the men in the waiting room were holding their breath, hoping their name wouldn't be called forcing them to get up and walk across the room.
The lady's daughter came back in with a wheelchair foot rest in hand. By this time, I had gone back to my game. In my peripheral vision, I could see the daughter struggling to get the foot rest onto the wheelchair. I heard her mother say something to her daughter. And then the entire office heard, "HEY! WOULD SOMEONE PLEASE HELP HER? SHE CAN'T GET IT ON! HEY! SOMEONE HELP MY DAUGHTER!" Her daughter, by this time, was quietly imploring her mother to please not shout, that she was fixing the chair on her own.
A few minutes passed, and my own little old lady came out of the inner offices, ready to be taken home by me - her chauffeur. Instead of going directly out of the office, I told her she would have to wait a minute. I had something to do.
I don't know why I needed to talk with the elderly screamer's daughter. I just knew I had to sit by her - to take the chance of being told to mind my own business.
Immediately upon sitting next to the lady, who appeared to be about my own age, I whispered, "I need to talk to you about your mother." I asked her softly if her mother had dementia. She whispered back that she did. I whispered that I had the same condition. Then we heard,
"HEY! WHAT ARE YOU ALL WHISPERING ABOUT?"
Rita, the daughter, explained calmly to her mother that she was talking to a lady who also had dementia, and she was only 59! Immediately, her mother answered back, but this time in her normal, wonderfully soft voice, "Oh, honey! I am so sorry!" She reached out her hand and I took it into mine. Such an emotional moment. I know, now that I think about it, that everyone in the office was looking at us by this time. I don't know what they were thinking, nor do I care. Two lives had touched, three including the daughter.
Rita went on to tell me that her mother had had a stroke which left her blind and with dementia. Her mother introduced herself as Genevieve. I told her how beautiful I thought her name was, and she beamed. She oozed love and kindness, and yet, without me taking the chance to get to know her, I would have thought she was some crazy woman saddling her daughter with an unbearable burden.
During my short time talking with them, I told them about this website and of the support it gives to caregivers. I also told Rita (the daughter) that I was working to change society's view of the dementia patient and to give some insight into our world. She squeezed my hand and thanked me, her face beaming with a smile of appreciation.
There, I did it. I took a big chance at being rebuffed when I approached a stranger. Instead, I was awarded with more than I could ever have imagined. I hope those watching in the office had some inkling of how wonderful this meeting was. I hope, too, that it showed them that there is so much more to a little old lady screaming out in a wheelchair than the limitations of her surrounding world, that she is a wonderfully warm woman beneath the chains of dementia and blindness.
Published On: October 11, 2007