Seeing Beyond Alzheimer's
by Natasha S. Metzler
“Beware of Helen,” the girls who had trained me said. “She has Alzheimer’s and can be very difficult at times.”
Despite their warning, my first week at the Adult Home went by smoothly enough. As a CNA most of my work was drudgery, but I enjoyed seeing the patients and talking to them. They made me laugh, and I learned a lot listening to their stories. It wasn’t until I had worked there for two weeks that I even spent time with Helen. I had come in early so a co-worker could have a few extra hours off, and was nominated to take Helen her evening medication. I walked slowly to her door and knocked.
She opened it and frowned, “What are you doing here?”
“Just bringing your pills, Helen.” I smiled at her, lifting the small cup for her to see.
“Oh,” she opened the door wider. I walked in, grimacing at the overpowering scent of perfume.
“I’m going out tonight,” she informed me. I realized that she had several dresses lying on the bed.
“I see.” I went to her nightstand and poured a small glass of water. While my back was turned, she slipped closer.
“I like your hair,” she said. I spun slowly, the water in my hand, “Thank you.” I glanced in the mirror at my wild curls.
“I used to have hair like that.” She smiled faintly and touched her thinning gray locks. “I was almost as pretty as you once.”
“Oh, Helen,” I handed her the pills and water, “You’re still beautiful.”
She smiled brightly at me and I realized it was the truth. Lord, You did make her lovely. Help her remember who she is in You.
After that day, my co-workers always left Helen’s pills for me to deliver. I would walk up to her room and she would tell me that I was beautiful and I would return the compliment. Several months later, I was sitting in the kitchen, taking a break to eat my supper, when she came marching in. “You stole my nylons!” she cried. “Give them back!” Her eyes were flashing and her words were sharp.
“Now, Helen,” I began, trying to speak softly to help calm her.
“I can’t believe that I come to this place and you steal from me!” She began to pace up and down the hallway, her voice rising. There was a part of me that cringed at being accused of anything. I wanted to say, “Why would I want your nylons?” But I held my tongue and took a deep breath. I looked at her and prayed silently, “Lord, help me calm her down.”
Suddenly, I could see the fear in her eyes. Instead of ranting, I heard her silent cry, “I’m scared. I’m confused. I don’t even know where my nylons are! I thought I left them in one place but they are gone. Just like all my memories. Gone!”
My heart softened. My look softened. She paused and stared at me.
“Come, Helen,” I said gently, “Let’s look together.” My eyes crinkled as I smiled, “They might even be in the laundry.”
Fifteen minutes later, Helen turned to walk back to her room, her nylons held tight in her fist. She glanced back at me and all the fear and anger was gone. “Your hair is so pretty,” she said smiling. “I used to be pretty once, too.”
“You still are, Helen,” I said quietly, “You still are.”
Natasha worked as a CNA/Home Health Aide between mission assignments until three years ago when she met and married her husband, Amos. They recently returned from working in LaColline, Haiti and currently own and operate a dairy farm in Northern New York.