When the morning came, Amelia was in great spirits, even though she had not slept one bit. The day had finally come! She longed for this moment for what seemed like ages. Her mind restless through the night, she tossed and turned in the thick darkness. Her sheets woven into knots.
All night awake, the night’s fog blinded her wide-open eyes, while she waited in silence for the first ray of morning light to trickle through the shades. A million images and thoughts flashed through her mind. Her small children. Her husband. Her garden. Her home!
She was going home at dawn!
It had been a while. Amelia was ready to leave, although she was treated well there. She had a private room. The cook made the special meals she enjoyed. She could watch television, read or listen to the radio whenever she wanted, for however long she pleased until it was time to go to bed. They bathed her daily, and the stylist would come to do her hair and nails from time to time. The yard was impeccable. She could have her own section in the vegetable garden, and she enjoyed the short walks under the sun and the fragrant mountain breezes caressing her face. Amelia was grateful for the fresh air. No city smog. No city noises. The nurses catered to her every need. She got along with everyone, and all loved her.
She liked it there, but she was happy to know that her stay was only temporary. She would leave when she recovered. And she had recovered. Now it was time to go home.
Amelia put on her favorite dress, the navy blue one with the lemon and pink flowers. And she slid her feet inside her little red shoes, the ones with the tiny white bow on top and the worn one-inch heel. She sat on her vanity’s chair and looked at herself in the mirror. She combed her hair into a soft bun, which she secured with a single pin with a white pearl on its end. Sometimes she needed help, but for the most part, despite severe arthritis that had disfigured her fingers, she still did fine fixing her thinning gray hair all by herself. She applied her rouge and painted her lips bright red. She put on her pearl earrings, her pearl necklace, and her pearl bracelet. It was a good day. She looked at the wedding band on her finger. She had not taken it off for years. Smiling, she gently caressed it. Smelling like a lavender flower, Amelia reached out for her red leather purse.
Her suitcase was packed, sitting next to her bed. Someone would come for it later.
Amelia was ready to go.
“Amelia, you look beautiful this morning. Are you going home today?” said the nurse.
“Thank you. I sure am!” she responded with excitement.
“You have to eat breakfast first, though,” the nurse reminded her. “You cannot leave yet. Come here and sit on the table, so I can bring your breakfast.”
Amelia sat down at the table and rushed to eat. She could not wait to leave. She was all smiles and chatted with others at the table. Her contagious joy permeated throughout the room.
When she finished her meal, Amelia got up from the breakfast table and walked towards the rocking chair. She sat down, opened her red purse, and retrieved a small black coin pouch. She twisted it open and stuck her thumb and index finger inside. But it was empty. She had no money left.
“Do you have a penny for the cab,” Amelia asked one of the nurses.
“No, I don’t, Amelia. I am so sorry,” the nurse responded.
Amelia then stood up and slowly walked down the hall. The clicking sound of her heels announced she was near.
“Do you have a penny for the cab?” she asked those in the waiting room.
“I am afraid I do not,” one answered.
“I don’t either. Sorry,” answered another.
The clicking sound moved elsewhere as Amelia traveled around seeking a penny. But no one seemed to have a penny. No one could spare her the money she needed to take a cab to go home.
The first time I met Amelia, I was sitting outside with my elderly father enjoying the sunlight.
“Miss, do you have a penny for the cab,” Amelia asked me.
Puzzled, I shifted my gaze to the nurse sitting with us outside.
“Amelia thinks she is going home,” the nurse whispered. “She thinks she is going home, every day.”
I felt a profound void in my chest.
“No, ma’am, I don’t have a penny. I am sorry,” I responded. My heart ached at the sight of the frown on Amelia’s face.
“Here Amelia, I found a penny! Let’s sit down and wait for the cab. It will be here any minute.” Another nurse approached us to gently walk Amelia back inside.
Amelia’s puckered brow gave way to a little girl’s smile. “Thank you!” she said. Her face glowing with happiness, she accompanied the nurse.
The outside nurse proceeded to explain that Amelia had an advanced state of Alzheimer’s and her memory had failed her. So, every day it was a new day for her. Her mind stuck in time–like a broken record–stuck on the day she would go home. The nurse said that Amelia often spent the nights awake, in excitement for the morning to come. When dawn came, she would rise and get all fixed up, dress, shoes, rouge, lipstick, jewelry, perfume and purse.
She did this every day.
She was 95.
As directed, Amelia sat down to wait for the cab. She sat down with her legs joined together, her red leather purse on her lap, her hands holding the purse’s handle, the penny between her thumb and her index finger, her red shoes with the white little bow perfectly aligned.
And she waited.
After dinner, she was bathed, got in her pajamas, brushed her teeth, took her meds, and went to bed.
“Tomorrow is going to be a great day,” Amelia told the nurse.
“You don’t say, Amelia?” the nurse said.
“Yes, I am going home!” Amelia said.
And Amelia went to bed, excited. She could barely shut her eyes. She was going home the next day! She could not wait to take a cab and go home.
I met all the nursing home residents and learned all their stories of wait. Some wait for visitors. Some don’t get any. Some can no longer tell reality from illusion, and they endlessly roam around the hallways. Some are stuck in time, like Amelia.
All wait for death to come.
Amelia’s husband had been dead for years. Her home is long gone. Her children are elderly. Her grandchildren live far away. When she has visitors, she does not remember who they are.
Amelia had a massive stroke earlier this year. It happened at night, while she lay down on her bed, waiting for the sun rays to trickle through the shades.
She is now bedridden. Still waiting.
I changed Amelia’s name to protect her privacy. Her true story of wait, while heartbreaking, is not that different from the stories of wait of many patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
September 21st is World Alzheimer’s Day. Today is a perfect day to learn more about this destructive disease. We can no longer ignore the disease because the odds of our ending our lives like Amelia are skyrocketing. About 5.2 million Americans have Alzheimer’s or dementia. Eighty-two percent of those are age 75 or older, but the disease can affect any age (although most people diagnosed are over 65.) Because women live longer than men, almost two-thirds of those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias are women. By the year 2050, the number of people ages 65 and older with Alzheimer’s may reach 16 million, considering population growth and barring a major medical breakthrough. Sixteen Million. While “Baby Boomers” will be part of one of the largest waves of Alzheimer’s patients, “Millennials” will set an even larger wave. They will face a greater battle with a disease that does not wait.
Families of Alzheimer’s patients are often in denial. This attitude endangers the patient, as well as those around him. The care of an Alzheimer’s patient can be demanding and often may not be properly handled at home, even with professional help. In fact, an elderly spouse caregiver has a 60 percent chance of dying before the Alzheimer’s patient. The truth is that the illness is real, it is growing, and the entire family needs to face it.
People tend to wait until it is too late to seek care for their aging loved ones, or even for themselves. Alzheimer’s and dementia patients require specialized care, which can be costly. While there are medications to delay–and even treat–some of the early symptoms, there is still no cure. Alzheimer’s will not wait for you to be ready. You must be ready for Alzheimer’s.
Read. Stay informed, whether you are 19, 35 or over 50. Time flies.
Soon, Alzheimer’s will touch you or a loved one–if it has not done so already.
Will you prepare, or will you wait?
Copyright © 2015 Yasmin Tirado-Chiodini. All Rights Reserved. This content is provided under a Creative Commons License.