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TRUST JESUS TODAY
First of many profiles of elderly residents who have stayed with us over the years and the things we learned from caring for them.
Where Did You Hide the Windmill Cookies?
"Omigosh Harry, this isn’t your room!” I could hear frantic bell-ringing mixed in with
Edith Bunker yelling at Archie on someone’s TV. Then the sound of cupboard doors being opened and closed. The overhead intercom told me Harry was not in his bed as I had left him. I went up to investigate.
Harry was affectionately known as our 85-year-old “Cookie Monster”. He once told my husband to fire the cook (me) because we ran out of cookies. So I went to the kitchen this night, and sure enough, Harry was searching for cookies, which we had locked in the office.
“What are you doing, Harry?” I asked.
“Where are the cookies? You know I like cookies before bed, especially the windmill ones. Where are you hiding them?”
“I know you do, but it’s past bedtime now, so you can’t have any more until tomorrow. Let’s get you back to your room.”
It was then I smelled the real problem. While he had been searching for cookies, he was having diarrhea through his brief, up his back, and dripping on the floor! I quickly asked God to keep me calm and not get upset because Harry was upset enough already.
“Let’s go to the bathroom before you get into bed, Harry,” I said as I steered him to the bathroom. “We need to clean up a little first.”
As I stripped him and began to wash him, he got upset and embarrassed because he wasn’t used to having a female take care of his personal needs.
“I’m so sorry. You shouldn’t have to do this for me,” he said.
I told him, “It’s all right. You can get another shower in the morning. Don’t feel bad. These things happen to all of us.” Then, with his mess cleaned and fresh pajamas on, he got back into bed.
I returned to the basement apartment, hoping to be able to sleep uninterrupted, knowing that was really just wishful thinking. We have several elderly foster care residents living with us. Our quarters downstairs are equipped throughout with speakers so that we can hear everything that goes on upstairs. That means we hear every snore, cough, moan, and sigh as they sleep or not. Like new parents listening for every little movement of their infant, we somehow manage to sleep, but with a sensitivity that wakes us whenever someone needs help or is walking about.
When Harry came to us, he had signs of some dementia. He was seeing people and things that weren’t there.
“There’s a naked lady on the sofa!” Harry would exclaim.“There’s a man hiding behind that big plant, sneaking around and smoking in the house!”
One day when my sister was visiting from Minneapolis, Harry walked over to her and said, “It’s all your fault!” Of course, she had no idea what he was blaming her for doing.
He was easily confused by the large mirror that filled one wall of the dining room. He could see her in the living room and also see her in the mirror.
Many times he thought his own image was that of his grandson. He would laugh at him and talk to himself thinking he was enjoying a visitor. He became obsessed with people in the mirror to the extent that he would forget about eating. We soon figured out that he needed to be seated with his back to the mirror for meals, which helped a great deal.
Harry was a smoker and a beer drinker when he came to us. We told him it was Dr’s orders to drink only non-alcoholic beer and he did all right with that. But smoking was a bit more of a problem. We do not allow smoking in the home, even when there is no oxygen in use. Harry would ask us to get him a cigarette and his lighter from his medication box and he would go out on the deck “for a ciggy” as he put it.
One night we forgot to make sure his lighter was locked away. We heard the squeaky floor above us so my husband went to get Harry back in bed. He was actually in the vacant room across the hall attempting to set the mattress on fire! He got angry when Dennis took the lighter away, shaking his fist and cursing.
“I’m going to call Rick in the morning and tell him to find a better place for me to live, move me out of here!” By time morning came he had forgotten the encounter.
Harry was always very kind to me. He often came up to me in the kitchen and told me that he thinks I’m sweet. The only time he was upset with me was when I had to limit his frequent hard candy indulgences. But then he would apologize for being angry.
Once Harry’s doctor got a complete picture of what he was up to, he started him on a new medication for Alzheimer’s disease. After it got into his system, he was a changed man. His temper waned. He no longer saw things that didn’t exist. He became the pleasant man I’m certain he had always been.
Some behaviors indicated that Harry suffered from obsessive /compulsive disorder. Every day he spent more than an hour shaving with an electric shaver, which meant that every few months he needed a new one. He obsessed about the number of sheets and folds of the toilet tissue he used, (exactly three piles of three squares of paper lined up on the edge of the sink). His socks, underwear, and pajamas were in neat rows in his drawers. He had to brush his dentures many times a day. He refused to use denture adhesive because he needed to remove them frequently. He spent hours checking to see that his hair and nails were adequately groomed.
His family consisted of two daughters and their husbands. One daughter held his power-of-attorney so our bills went to her. She did not mail the payment to us but rather dropped it in our mailbox. She came to our driveway but seldom came in to visit her dad. His son-in-law took Harry out for a haircut and to lunch occasionally. We were concerned that he might be intoxicated when he drove around with Harry in his car. We considered discussing it with him, but it was so seldom we decided it wasn’t worth giving him cause not to take him out.
Harry was lonely much of the time. So Dennis often took Harry with him when he ran errands, even though they needed to use a step-stool for Harry to get up into the truck.
Later in his stay at Providence House, we moved Harry to a new room where he could spend time with Ollie. His new friend was 99 years old and planning a big party for his 100th birthday. Harry was pleased with this new arrangement until he became ill and need to be hospitalized. Upon discharge from the hospital he went to a nursing home where he passed away two months later.
Harry had been our first resident, having come on the day we opened to residents. He will always occupy a special place in our hearts and memories. He was a nice man who had been a good provider for his family and who greatly loved his wife. And who can fault him for making windmill cookies a priority over messy diarrhea?
As I lay in bed, I could hear Harry say his prayers. He asked God to bless his family and also Dennis and Dennis’ wife (me). He always talked to his deceased wife too.
He said, as he says most every night, “Lucille, I love you, honey. I really miss you. I’ll come to see you after while. I’m not ready yet, but I will come. I’m OK and the food is really good.”
Then he would say to Lucille, “Come on, honey, get into the bed so you don’t get cold. I’ll turn out the light.”
A couple of minutes later I heard him say, “Here you go, honey. Do you have enough blankets?’
When I did bed checks later, I often found Harry scrunched way over to one side of his twin-sized bed --making room for Lucille.
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