wings and things

Unfinished conversations

on April 3, 2015

During my 3-7pm shift today (called ‘the sundowner shift’) I overheard the following tidbits of conversation between one resident, Anna, and various other residents.

Anna: You’ve spilled your food all over yourself!
Sheila: So? Mind your own bloody business!

Anna is a beautifully groomed, very fit and mobile woman in her eighties, but she suffers terribly the loss of her husband because she asks for him nonstop. Most of the staff will tell her that he is busy on the farm and will be in later but, as this is something that has to be repeated over and over, a couple of staff will sometimes remind her gently that her husband is no longer here – that he died. Anna’s silent acceptance of this truth is hard to witness but thankfully her grief is short-lived as she collects her handbag, powders her nose, applies lipstick, and asks again when her husband is coming to pick her up.

Anna: My husband should be coming to pick us up soon for church. Is yours coming along too? We better get ready….
Penelope: I don’t really know if I … my son maybe … he’s the one with the, with the ….
Anna: How’s my hair? Do I need any more lippy? Come on girls, up you get; it’s getting late.
Penelope: It certainly is! We can do it when the time comes over the you know that thing I was telling you….

Of the ten residents in the dementia house, Anna is the one who, on first impression, seems absolutely fine. It is only when you get to know her that her dementia, and associated agitation, becomes apparent. Tonight, after dinner, when most of the residents had been helped by the carer into their pyjamas and dressing gowns and were watching the television, I began to make supper (tonight’s was milo and bananas or biscuits, quite a popular combination). Anna thanked me a few times for her ‘delicious’ drink and gave me a beautiful smile. She seemed so much more content than usual, but, with only six shifts per fortnight, I can’t possibly know what is usual apart from hearsay.

Anyway, I was delighted to overhear this:

Anna: They’re good here, aren’t they. You never have to be perfect.
Dorothy: Yes, dear, very good. Now drink your tea.

The laughter that fills this dementia house is a wonderful, wonderful thing and, in many instances, is due to the unfinishedness of conversations, like Anthony asking me today if I could wash the car in readiness for tomorrow’s trip down south. My pause was followed by “Can we talk about this tomorrow, Ants?”

Anna: Are you cold, love? Do you want me to get you a cardigan?
Ellis: (under her breath) Do you want me to get you a bullet, bossy boots?

Note: Except for Anthony’s, names have been changed to protect the innocent and guilty – ha!


39 responses to “Unfinished conversations

  1. How simply wonderful!

  2. Love this Julie! Joy is found in moments and it certainly sounds like Anna has moments. ❤
    Diana xo

  3. susanpoozan says:

    I think that you and the other carers in the unit are saintly.

  4. tersiaburger says:

    What a lovely post! If we don’t find humour in bad situations it will destroy us. Much love my friend

  5. Anonymous says:

    It can be quite entertaining but moods can change in a flash.

    • jmgoyder says:

      Yes and that is a challenge but mostly the atmosphere is peaceful in this particular part of the nursing home. I have never experienced anything quite like this!

  6. To listen to all these different ladies and topics as they banter back and forth, has got to bring a lot of smiles… Diane

  7. tootlepedal says:

    They seem to be in an excellent place as far as is possible both mentally and physically. Congratulations to all the carers.

    • jmgoyder says:

      Decades ago I worked in nursing homes and there was nothing like this kind of home-like atmosphere. I salute the management of this nursing home for creating a job like mine which is simply to provide entertainment and activities and fun.

  8. Luanne says:

    What a cycle for Anna. And what cute and sometimes outrageous conversations :). My favorite must be the last one by Ellis. Goodness! My father is now in the nursing home, and I was surprised at how many people in there have dementia and are not in a home for people with dementia. You are such an angel, Julie.

  9. Julie……if only everyone read your blog. 🙂

  10. Tiny says:

    I got a few giggles too. I hope that’s ok. You write so well and in a caring way! Wonderful.

  11. There is something dreamlike in this. Really, really like it.

  12. janeslog says:

    People with dementia can be quite calm or quite agitated or a bit of both. But if you think about it they are ‘locked in’ in their minds and have lost a lot of important memories. Think how you would feel if this happened to you. You would be quite agitated as well.

    When I went with a friend to visit one of her elderly relations she was sitting with a friend in the nursing home. They announced they were waiting for a lift to take them to the theatre in Glasgow despite it being 10.00 in the morning. I don’t know how long they had waited and what happened when their ‘lift’ didn’t turn up. It was all quite sad.

    • jmgoyder says:

      Yes it is very sad and the agitation is sometimes very difficult to deal with. I am learning how to distract people from what is agitating them. I have to say that the atmosphere in the dementia house is mostly very peaceful which is a credit to the gentleness of the staff (well most of them!)

  13. You compassion and appreciation for these women shines through.

    Just recently became aware of how real and common the Sundowner syndrome is with alzheimer’s, it must make for an interesting shift.

  14. Yeah I have often heard such conversations while visiting nanna

  15. Working the Sundowner shift is tough, but you seem to manage easily. I admire that, and I’m sure the residents love you. I’d be nice to “Ellis” though, you don’t want him (her?) to find a bullet for you! LOL

  16. jensine says:

    I do this on the bus all the time …

  17. lensgirl53 says:

    Julie, your account of living and working around those with dementia is spot on. As heartbreaking as it is, there is humor between the lines….if you don’t laugh….well, you would be crying all the time. My mom has dementia and every conversation is a repeat of the last. A vicious cycle of retelling painful truths. I commend your tenacious and compassionate spirit and the love you have for the residents and your precious Ants. xo

  18. Laughter is so good for us. Wise and witty post–and I love the idea of talking about it tomorrow!

    It’s good to hear from you again.

    • jmgoyder says:

      I am not keeping up very well with blog reading so thanks for your understanding, Tracy – you continue to be an inspirations.

      • Oh, I definitely understand. There ought to be no demands, only understanding…. It’s good that you’re taking care of yourself. You, too, are inspiring. I think we’re most inspiring when we’re not trying to “show” others, but are simply loving others while taking care of our own health/sanity.

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