Never Goodbye

Navigating the Journey through Dementia

According to the chest x-ray, dad’s pneumonia had cleared up. A week after being admitted, he was released at 5:00 p.m. and driven by ambulance to the Rehab Center (nursing home) in Fort Payne. Here he would remain until able to get around better. At this facility, family members were not allowed to stay all night in patient’s rooms. I sighed with relief.

I warned the Rehab Center staff about dad’s leaving attempts. Equipped for situations like these, they connected beepers to patients’ beds. One end of a strap attached the beeper to the patient’s gown, and the other end attached to the bed. As the patient moved and pulled on the strap, the beeper sounded off to the tune of “Mary had a little lamb”.

At first the beeper sensitivity was set so high that whenever Dad made the slightest move “Mary had a little lamb” filled the room with her familiar tune. The music provided entertainment and became the brunt of on-going jokes between my dad and his roommate, Herman.

Dad finally settled down. His restlessness subsided, and his determination to exit lessened. The facility provided daily activities for old folks residing there. Ranking high on the list was gospel singing from visitors with hearts of gold, who genuinely loved and cared about old folks. Their warmth made up for off key singing that Dad must have found soothing. He kept nodding and falling sleep during their performances, which I welcomed as a good sign. His body needed rest in order to heal.

However, his stay at the Rehab Center wasn’t uneventful. During his first night, when the staff had not yet hooked up the beeper, at 3:30 a.m. they  found him on the floor. A week or so later, I got a call at 6:30 in the morning. They found Dad on the floor again. Fortunately he didn’t seem to be hurt and had no new bruises. The beeper only alerted the staff, but did not prevent Dad from getting out of bed. Invariably he was trying to go to the bathroom. No amount of repetitive explaining about pushing the nurse call button, or warning him he could fall, affected his fixed thought patterns regarding bathroom detail.

His pattern of fierce independence prevailed, even when it seemed there was no recourse, but to ask for help. His immovable decision to do things on his own had endured every test. One could only hope he would realize the non-survival aspect of his decision, especially when his attempts proved so disastrous. I hated seeing Dad downtrodden, but as life winds down you are able to do less and less. He still had his sense of humor. Looking around the Rehab Center, (I didn’t dare call it a nursing home) he said he could see he wasn’t the only sad sack there. Truly, he was much less of a sad sack than many of the old folks we saw roaming the halls with walkers or wheelchairs.