Some of the buttons on the metal pad are worn… the 2, 4, 6 and 8. The door will open if I press them in the right order. One of the nurses explained to me last time that it was the sign of the cross. I never learned that in Quaker Meeting so I get it backwards the first time. Then the door opens. You need the code to get in as well as to get out.
Eileen is in the hall, sitting in her wheelchair. They’ve pulled her hair back in a lilac elastic headband that matches her cardigan. The ever-present Dixie cup of Ensure languishes on the tray in front of her.
I smile and put my hand on her shoulder and introduce myself again. She smiles and says, “I don’t remember you.” A stooped man shuffles by with a walker, smiling at her. I ask her if she knows him. She dismisses him with a wave of her hand. “I wouldn’t even bother,” she says. A woman across the hall is bouncing a baby doll on her lap. In a high-pitched voice, she shouts, “My baby is hungry! My baby is hungry!”
An aide rips a Kleenex from a box and jabs it into the corner of Eileen’s mouth, throws it on the tray and storms off. She has said nothing. Eileen turns to me. “Did you see that?” she asks. I nod. “Can you believe that?” I shake my head.
Eileen says she wants to leave, she wants to go home. She wants me to walk home with her. I can’t today, I say. It’s very cold outside, it’s raining. She gets angry. “Why can’t we talk about what I want to talk about?” she says. I tell her I would love to talk about anything she wants to talk about. She is quiet for a moment, then she says, “What’s the weather like outside?” I tell her it’s rainy and cold. Then I ask her if she wants to talk about anything else. She pauses then says, “I can’t hold my urine anymore.” I say, that’s alright. You don’t have to. She says, so I should just let it go? Yes, I say.
About the Author
Heather Robinson is a writer of fiction and non-fiction from Fairfield, Connecticut. She’s drawn to dark comedy, and is the author of Dementions, a satire about a young doctor trying to succeed at a cutting-edge clinic whose goal is to shorten the suffering of elderly dementia patients and their family members. She has been an EMT, a medical assistant, and a hospice volunteer. Many of her essays focus on dementia and end-of-life issues.