Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Aging Ain't For Sissies

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Remember Bertie?

She stopped me last week as I whizzed by in the hall. She held out a small clear bag with something colorful in it.

"Someone gave me two of these. I want you to take the other one," she said.  "I want you to give it to someone who needs cheering up."

"Thank you for Tibetan prayer flags!" I told Bertie (though these didn't have the traditional five colors).  Tibetan Buddhists for centuries have planted these flags outside their homes and places of spiritual practice for the wind to carry the beneficent vibrations across the countryside. Prayer flags are said to bring happiness, long life and prosperity to the flag planter and those in the vicinity.

She had never heard of them. I explained to her what they were. She, being the inquisitive soul she is, wrote it down and was going to google it later.

So, this package sat on my desk last week and halfway through this one, patiently waiting for the perfect recipient.

The perfect recipient rolled in about 3 pm this afternoon. It was Ginny.
The look on her face was that of a child. I could tell immediately that something was very wrong. Thank God I was between treatments.

Up she rolled to my desk.

"Hi, Ginny, how are you? Come on in!"

"Oh, I need to leave school right now! Can someone help me get to my mother's house down the street? I am so tired. I don't know what to do!"

Poor dear! Then she flipped to the present within 30 seconds: "That library is too much for me right now! All those books, and people wanting to talk in my library!"

She had been shooing people out of the room, even though we explained to her daily that this room also served as a visitors' lounge. She simply didn't remember. On top of that, she's been spending more time in the distant past, indicative of either further cognitive decline or the need to do a UA (urinalysis) to check for a urinary tract infection.

It was all too much for Ginny.

She was so vulnerable, all I could do was put my arms around her and hold her while she cried. I mean, really cried. I could feel her warm breath on my neck as she exhaled. A few moments later, her body relaxed, and I reached over for a kleenex.

As I pulled the kleenex, I noticed the peace flags....

"Ginny....I have something special that might brighten this day. Would you like to hang this colorful flag in your room?" I pulled it out of the bag and stretched it out so she could see all the beautiful colors.

She took one look and brightened up. "Well, yes, it's beautiful!"

Off we went, me holding some tape, the flags, and her purse as we pushed her wheelchair down the hall.

We put the flags in their place. Ginny directed, "A little lower, yes...oh, let's move it to the side a little more."

When the flags were hung, I turned to her. "What do you think?"

Tears! (My heart swelled for her.)

"It's something beautiful on a really sad day!  I just miss my mother so much."

More hugs. Most of these people need to be held on tough days, darnit! You just have to know who and who not.

I left Ginny in the care of the nurse aide, who rubbed her back.

As I turned out of Ginny's room, I ran right into the Adminstrator, who I really respect and admire.

I gave her a quick briefing on Ginny's breakdown.

"Is it Mae West who said aging isn't for sissies?" I asked her.

"Something like that!" she replied.

And tonight, when I looked it up, I was close. It's Bette Davis, and she said,

"Old age is no place for sissies."

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