nothing like a visit to see a friend who’s just been placed in an Alzheimer’s
ward to set you straight on life.
When the elevator doors opened this morning at the fourth floor of The Methodist Home (Foster and Clark), directly in front of me was Marjorie Bennett’s name imprinted on a brand-new sign for her tiny, hospital-like room.
Just before Christmas, Marjorie, 81, was still enjoying her second-floor, two-bedroom apartment she shared with one other individual inside the assisted-living house where I work and she’s called home for the past decade.
For someone long-famous for her “DO NOT DISTURB!” reputation, being placed in this heavy-traffic spot outside the elevator—with its constant stream of workers and residents up and down the hallway—seemed like a cruel turn of fate to add to all the others hitting her of late.
I found Marjorie fast asleep inside the adjacent dining room/TV room where she was hooked up to her portable breathing machine. Immediately, I noticed a severely bent-over woman anxiously pacing the floor, her arms rigidly folded in front of her. Marjorie later whispered to me as this woman hovered over us in silence while we were in conversation, “I can’t begin to figure out what her deal is.”
Also upon my entrance, an old man yelled at me from his wheelchair, “Come over her miss!” When I looked his way, he asked loudly, “You’re the one spying on my car, aren’t you?”
An old woman in a wheelchair jumped in, “Pay no attention to him!” and then an old man barked from his wheelchair, “Hey, Jerry, you know I stole your car, right? I smashed it up on a joy ride.”
Marjorie inexplicably slipped into dementia late last fall just after we had another resident, 64-year-old Janet, die suddenly in her room (only a few feet from Marjorie’s room) of a massive heart attack. It quickly became too hard for Marjorie to care for even her most basic toilet/hygiene needs.
As much as she does show signs of the onset of Alzheimer’s—for instance, during our visit she talked about leaving her mother sitting at the tavern across the street and asked me about cats I never owned and a boss I never had—she is totally sane and scarily conscious of how vastly different her surroundings and life are now.
She was thrilled to see that I brought with me from a favorite hot dog stand a Polish sausage on a poppy seed bun with all the fixings. It’s only been in the last few weeks that she’s even found the meals at the nursing home edible and for days after she first moved in she refused to eat anything.
When I asked Marjorie if she ever gets to go outside, she told me she can’t even get a breath of fresh air unless someone pre-arranges an “outing” and schedules a time with the front desk to pick her up in the main lobby, etc.
“Anything you want to do, they tell you can’t do it,” she complained. “There’s a million rules and regulations to follow.”
As we talked, a very emaciated-looking woman across the dining room wailed endlessly from a standing-up position, leaning against a table. Marjorie said she goes on like that all day long and that she can even hear her sometimes from inside her room with the TV going. “In a year that’ll be me,” Marjorie said in her same old sarcastic tone I find so endearing.
During a long pause in our conversation, I surveyed the scene and Marjorie quipped, “Getting a taste of your future?” We both laughed. It was a heartbreaking laugh for me.
Eventually the hunched pacing woman with the folded arms returned to our side to silently stare at us and Marjorie sighed, “That’s show biz.”
Before taking off, one of my parting comments was how impressed I was with Marjorie’s ability to keep her sense of humor. She responded, “What choice do I have?” I agreed, knowing inside I wouldn’t have anywhere near her strength of will.
As from the day I first met Marjorie, she teaches me and somehow now she’s become part of my psyche.
I left by promising her I’d be back the same time next Friday with another favorite of hers—an Italian Beef, dunked in juice and topped with mild peppers. She couldn’t possibly know that I really need her to be my friend too.
(Editor’s Note: Working on a piece about suffering that I should have finished tomorrow.)