email: Olga to Greg, Dec 4 at 11am
Hi Greg, Alma’s birthday is on December 7, right on the day of your weekly community meeting. Would you celebrate her, if she attends? I am working that day. I can coordinate with the team to help and encourage Alma to show up.
Conversation with Alma, Dec 4 at 2pm
“What would you like to do on your birthday? –My father told us he did not want anything on his birthday. He did not want any celebration. That was good because we had no money. I do not want to do anything at all, not now, not at my age.”
email: Greg to Olga, Dec 4 at 3pm
Sure. I can help too. She has been participating to the group for a long time. Everybody will be happy to honor her. Thanks for telling me.
email: Violet to Olga, Dec 5 at 9:30am
Just double checking if Alma is attending the December birthday lunch. Let me know.
email: Olga to Violet, Dec 5 at 10am
The team thought that it did not seem meaningful for Alma to attend the birthday lunch. She has expressed no interest for celebration and rarely leaves her room before dinner time. We decided to encourage her to attend Greg’s group on December 7, the day of her birthday, and be honored there. Thanks for checking.
Visit to Alma Dec 5 at 2pm
From the hallway I hear loud wailing. Alma’s door is open, as always. I knock and walk in. Alma is very hard of hearing. She is sitting on the edge of her bed in a light pink sleeveless night gown. She lifts her head to look at me. “I want to die. Let me die. I have lived long enough.” She sobs. I sit next to her. The left strap of her gown has slid down, exposing her bony shoulder. I gently pull the strap back up. Alma has lost a lot of weight. Most of her clothes don’t fit anymore. Suddenly smiling she explains:“I just met this wonderful man. We are twins. He has been everywhere I have been. He arrived in America when I did. We have much in common. I have to tell my father.” Alma points at her TV:”Can you turn it off?” For the first time I notice a giant flat TV screen a few feet away from Alma’s bed. It seems so invasive. The remote is on her walker. I turn the TV off. “We are having ice cream, would you like some? –That would be very nice. Thank you.” When I come back, Alma is staring at the bright saturated colors of a TV game show. She beams at the sight of the sundae: “Thank you very much, this is lovely. –You are welcome. Have a nice afternoon.”
Talk with Mireille Dec 7 at 9am
“Hi Mireille, it is Alma’s birthday today. Do you think she could make it to Greg’s group this afternoon? –What time? –2pm. –That’s good. I am here. I can do it. –You will help her get dressed? –Yes. Don’t worry. No problem. – Thank you! Also, do you think Tilda could attend? Not today, she has a stomach ache. She is weak. –I did not know, that’s helpful information”
Dec 7 at 1pm
Back from lunch, ready to help, cajole, improvise, I peek through Alma’s door. All is quiet; she is dressed, lying on her bed. I sit down in the hallway. After a few minutes I hear Mireille’s voice: “Let’s see what Olga is doing. She will have a nice activity for you.” With a huge grin, Mireille is pushing Tilda’s wheelchair towards me. “Hello Tilda, so nice to see you. Come with me. Let’s watch a concert.” Tilda was a cello teacher. Watching concert videos is one of the few things able to lift her deep depression. “I am in pain. My stomach hurts. I want to lie in bed.” We settle in the living room. I start the DVD. From the piano Daniel Barenboim directs the orchestra, Yo-Yo Ma to his right, Itzhak Perlman to his left. We are captivated. “Beethoven was already deaf when he composed It.” comments Tilda. Her tears dry out. She forgets her pain. Greg appears at the door, waving to us. He too, came early to assess the situation. He works on another floor, but residents from all over are welcome to his community meeting; three from this neighborhood are regulars. “I just talked to Alma. She wants to come. I am going to stick around; she has been known to change her mind.” If don’t not have to help Alma, will Tilda follow me to the community meeting?
Dec 7 at 1:50pm
I knock at Alma’s door and step in. The room is empty. Hallelujah! She went with Greg. How am I going to transition Tilda from Yo-Yo Ma to Greg? Beethoven is on my side. Here comes a loud cadenza. The movement ends. “We are going to Greg’s group. He is expecting you. –But the choir was about to start. Can you believe that they were seated all this time doing nothing? –I am going to put the DVD on pause. We will watch the end when we come back. –O.K.” We take the elevator down, then the long hallway to the meeting room. It is nearly full. The conversation has already started. The participants make room for Tilda. I decide to do paperwork on my tablet, sitting outside the closed door, in case someone needs help.
Dec 7 at 2:20pm
Two women, over seventy years old, one walking with difficulty behind a walker, approach the door and step inside. They exit after a few minutes, followed by Alma, Greg maneuvering her wheelchair. He installs her in front of a long table, one of many in the large atrium. He notices me and asks: “Olga, do you mind helping Alma’s friends? –Not at all” I bring chairs, one on each side of Alma. The women sit down. One pulls out a wrapped present. I realize that they are outside of Alma’s vision field. “Maybe you all should get away from the table?” The women agree. I move the three chairs to allow visual contact. Alma says:”I am glad to be out. I did not understand a single word. I lost my hearing aids. –I will bring your pocket talker.” I walk quickly along the hallway and take the elevator up. I ask the nurse: “Do you know where Alma’s pocket talker is? It usually stays on this shelf? –Sorry, no idea.” I look into Alma’s room and find the device inside the top drawer of her bed stand. I try it. Luck, it works. The batteries are not dead. Back to the atrium, I offer the headset to Alma and speak into the mike; “Hi Alma, do you hear me. –Yes, thank you.” I explain to the visitors how to use the little device and recommend: “Don’t speak to fast.” Unfortunately the atrium has become noisy. Nearby someone speaks continuously to herself. Music comes out of a bedroom. I am afraid that all this will be amplified through the system that is supposed to help Alma communicate. I propose:” Do you want to go to a quieter environment? –That’s a good idea. We very much appreciate your help. What is your name? –My name is Olga. Let’s go to Alma’s room. –We follow you. –Alma we are going to your room.” We trot back along the hallway. I am pushing Alma’s chair. I encourage the visitors to stay in front of the chair, so Alma would not feel that they have disappeared. They walk very slowly and resist taking the lead since they don’t know the way. Finally they cram in Alma’s room. I do my best to position her between the guests who, one at a time, speak into the little mike. I say good bye. They say thank you.