Cofrin Park

Cofrin Park
Cofrin Nature Park

Friday, January 3, 2014

Last Visit with an Alzheimer's Patient

 Even though he only weighed about 90 pounds, it took two of us to help Wes onto the portable commode from his wheelchair next to his bed. The bed sat in the corner of a newly remodeled room built just for the comfortable dying of a kind man stricken with Alzheimer disease.
“Why doesn’t he use a hand-urinal?”
“Wes refuses to use it. He insists on sitting on the toilet. The one in the bathroom is too low and very difficult to use, so we use the portable.”
“We got you, Wes.”
The nurse and I hoisted Wes out of his chair, acting like a boatlift hoisting a runabout out of the lake. Looking out the window, water-skiers whizzed past the pier on a sunny, humid-free summer morning on Rock Lake in the Midwest. I used to slalom ski nearby--my most thrilling youthful endeavor. I loved it so much…

Today I help Wes to pee using a portable potty. Pulling down dress pants, then adult diapers and carefully loading his frail form onto the plastic seat. Waiting with silent patience and listening for little droplets of pee that sounded like raindrops against the window. Then, hoisting Wes off the commode and pulling up the layers of protection.
We tried to reseat Wes in his chair so he could visit an old friend who waited on the porch overlooking the lake. Wes resisted our efforts, however, clinging to our arms, his body locked in hover mode.
“We’ve got you, Wes. The chair is right behind you, you just need to sit down on it.” His clear blue eyes peered into mine.
“It’s scareful,” he whispered with the voice of a ghost. I wanted to cry, but returned his gaze and noted matter-of-factly, “Of course it is. I understand. It’s scary to trust that you will not fall. You feel fearful that you can get hurt. You just made up a word that combines those feelings: ‘scareful.’ Very clever of you, Wes!” I patted the seat and eased his hip-bones onto the seat… 

      Sometimes it seems that’s what my life has been: helping people on and off the commode when they could not do it alone. Children, of course, but they don’t count. Or do they? Maybe they count most of all. Mostly, however, I helped loved ones who suffered stroke, cancer, disease, surgery and needed my help to go to the bathroom. I did so willingly; feeling like it was the most important job in the world. I bet the United States President never helped someone else go to the bathroom (that was not his child.)
      While mourning the death of my fiancé (my third time losing a significant other) my cousin Sandy said, “Maybe that is your purpose in life: to care for people just before their death.” I didn’t like that prophesy, but now it’s too late... 

      As we wheeled Wes onto the porch, where Gene, his longtime friend and business associate of over 40 years awaited, Wes’ eyes lit up. He struggled to sit up as straight as he could in order to greet Gene. Wes’ Alzheimer’s seemed to dissolve, as Wes clearly recognized Gene.
      I sat and watched as Gene’s visit brought Wes back to life, telling stories and joking about the past. In order not to break out in tears, I fiddled with my camera and took some snapshots and video as the two old friends enjoyed each other’s presence.
      I felt honored for such a sacred moment—I got to witness Gene caring and showing love for his friend whom he may never see again. I think Wes knew he was nearing the end too, and he handled the situation with grace and courage.
      At the end of the visit, Gene choked back his tears, trying desperately to give Wes a hopeful sendoff. Gene succeeded… 

      Visiting a person with Alzheimer’s is a spiritually rewarding experience. It’s immediate. It’s significant. It puts life into tightly focused perspective and grants the visitors and patient a moment to touch the Divine. I’m grateful for it all.

Wes and Gene a few weeks before Wes' death.



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