Saturday, July 20, 2013

Volunteer Meets Nursing Home Patient With Dementia, Alzheimer's

Pointing her out to me, the nurse aide said, "That's Henrietta sitting by herself at the table." I followed her finger to a caramel-colored woman who sat humming. She had just finished eating and still hadn't wiped her mouth. A light coating of chicken grease looked like high-priced lip gloss when I walked closer to her.

Henrietta was going to be my new hospice patient, my first at this particular nursing home. Later, she would become my first patient whose health improved so much she was discharged from hospice care. For now, she knew nothing about me, including the fact that I was coming that day to serve as her hospice volunteer. I only knew she was seventy-nine and declining mentally with dementia. I pulled up a chair next to her and said, "Hi, Henrietta. I'm Frances Shani Parker.”

Looking me straight in the eyes like she'd known me all her life, she responded, "Girl, I know who you are, long as we've been friends. I've been waiting for you all day. I kept wondering when you were coming. I hoped you hadn't forgotten me, and here you are. What took you so long to get here?"

"Well, actually I got lost," I stammered, processing these new details concerning my whereabouts.

"Shucks, I get lost all the time. When you get lost, go to the lady at that desk over there. She'll tell you where you are. She'll tell you where you want to go. She knows everything. I'm surprised you didn't go to her before. We all do. How about some dinner? The chicken is something else, nice and tasty, just the way I like it. And I ought to know because I just had a wing that almost made me fly," she laughed.

"No, thanks. I'm not too hungry now. I'll eat when I go home. Some leftovers are waiting for me. I just came to visit you. I want to know if it will be okay with you if I come see you every week."

"Okay with me? Of course, it's okay. Look at all the years you've been coming to see me. If you stopped coming, I'd be wondering where you were just like I did today. So much is on the news, I'd be worried something happened to you. Keep on coming. I don't ever want you to stop."

"I'm looking forward to seeing you, Henrietta. We can talk together, and I can take you on wheelchair rides when I come. We'll get to know each other better. That is, better than we already know each other," I added, remembering our extensive "history."

"Sounds good to me. It's been working for us a long time. I think what you need to do now is eat something. You must be hungry after being lost all that time. Call the waitress over here and order some food. Don't worry about the money. Just put it on my tab. They know me at this restaurant. I eat here a lot."

So, this was Henrietta, an interesting oasis of serendipity. What would the future hold for us as patient and volunteer? I smiled to myself, buckled my mental seat belt, and prepared for another intriguing ride.

© Frances Shani Parker

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at booksellers such as

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