“MRS. MYERS AND HER WORLD OF DEMENTIA”
GEORGE PETRIE – LONGBOAT KEY FLORIDA
The first time I knew that something was really wrong was when I saw the clothes washer and the dryer.
My instructions were to go in through the garage as she probably wouldn’t hear the doorbell. The washer and dryer were positioned on the front wall of the garage by the entry door.
Why was this a problem? It was a problem because both of them were dented and almost flattened into the wall. It wasn’t difficult to see that a car had smashed into them.
A few weeks later I did ask her about the washer and dryer and she casually responded that “They don’t seem to work anymore”. I asked her how they had gotten so damaged and she shrugged it off by saying that she more or less used them as bumpers to let her know that the car was pulled far enough into the garage.
We were sitting on her back porch drinking lemonade one day. She insisted on making her own “homemade” lemonade for me. Unfortunately, her taste buds had finally failed her. She did not seem to realize that some kind of sweetener would make her concoction a lot more palatable.
I watched her as she prepared our drinks. She filled two glasses with ice and poured some lemon juice about half the way up each glass and filled the rest with water.
I really did try to accept her offer of a “cold refreshment”. I did, however, make the bad mistake of taking a rather un-gentlemanly large gulp. It had been many years since I had spurted a beverage out of my nose. As I recall, the time that it did happen, it was at a very young age and it was with milk at the dinner table when my younger brother said something that sent me into paroxysm’s of laughter.
Milk is one thing (for those who have experienced this disgusting phenomenon, however lemon juice can be pretty painful and practically bring you to your knees when it is discharged from your nasal orifices.
I choked, coughed, spit up on myself, while she just sat there staring off into the yard talking about something that had happened to her in another decade, long before we had met, perhaps even before I was born.
When she finally did look my way she said “Why, dear – are you crying?” I couldn’t talk as I was still trying to catch my breath but she must have interpreted my head jerking as a “yes”. “Let me get you some tissue and we’ll talk about what’s upsetting you!"
When she returned, empty handed, (having forgotten what she went to get) she looked at me and said “Oh, I didn’t realize you were here! How lovely! Why is your face so red?”
My tongue was still curled up like a straw so I wasn’t able to really respond but, since she liked to direct the conversation I tried my best to appear to be simply paying rapt attention.
That particular day, as I was leaving, I noticed a woman (presumably a neighbor) rushing across the lawn toward me waving her hand as though she desperately needed to speak with me. When she got close enough she asked me if I was a “relative”. Not wanting to give out too much information to this stranger I replied “No….I’m just a friend” “Well” she sputtered “If you are a friend then you need to do something about her before she gets herself or someone else killed”. I had gotten really good at deadpanning when I didn’t know what someone was talking about and I’m sure the look on my face was genuinely award winning as I really had no idea what she was talking about,. Fortunately she had enough momentum going that she didn’t even stop to catch her breath. “She….she…well..when she goes out in the car she backs directly out into the street without even looking. Every day we know exactly when she has pulled out because we can hear the screeching of brakes and honking of horns. She’s going to get herself killed and someone needs to do something about it!”
I stood there trying to figure out what my proper reaction and response would be. All I could think of was the washer and dryer and the thought of her even driving a car made me realize that someone needed to do something (but of course it wasn’t going to be me!) I didn’t have the power to revoke her driving privileges and, even if I did, I’m not sure I would have the courage to even try.
I excused myself and promised to “look into it”. I could feel her eyes boring into the back of me but, once I was safely ensconced in my car, with the doors locked, I knew that I could make a safe getaway.
A week later I was scheduled for another visit. This was going to be a regular “welfare” visit just to ensure that everything was alright. By “alright” it meant that she was eating, had enough food and the washer/dryer were still there as “bumpers”.
As soon as I pulled into the driveway I saw that she was standing in the garage leaning against the pancaked appliances. I stepped out of my car and she came running toward me with what looked like panic on her face.
“What’s wrong?” I asked as I jumped out to greet her. “My car!....My car!” she kept repeating. “What happened?”, I asked. “Come inside quick and I’ll get us some lemonade and tell you all about it!”
I took a pass on the lemonade and got settled at her kitchen table. “Slow down and tell me what happened” I said. She had grabbed up a wash towel and was mopping the sweat off her neck and face. Obviously she was very distressed but I knew that it would take time for her to tell me what was going on. When she got this excited, she tended to lose her train of thought more easily and sometimes a cogent conversation was just not going to happen.
I waited patiently as she paced around the kitchen, preparing lemonade for the two of us. As determined as I was, not to drink that concoction, she was just as determined that it was something I needed.
Finally she gathered her composure, leaned over the table and grabbed my hand. “You won’t believe what happened!” She squeezed my hand tightly in both of hers and stared directly into my face. It was as though she wanted to be certain that she had my undivided attention. I looked back into her eyes and said “Please, tell me what is going on”.
“Well”, she said, “I was just standing in the kitchen with the side door open and some man came walking in and picked up my purse and took out my car keys. Then he walked back out the door and drove off with my car!” “When did this happen?” I asked her. I honestly felt my heart rate quicken and my thoughts raced thinking about a stranger coming into her house like that. “It happened just before you got here, I tried to stop him but he went so fast!”. “Did you call the police?” I asked. “No” she replied. “You drove up right after it happened.”. At that point she started to cry so I tried to console her by saying “at least he didn’t hurt you!” She seemed to calm down a bit so I suggested that we should call the police. She agreed and stopped pacing and handed me the phone. I dialed 911 and when the operator answered I explained what had happened. The operator informed me that she would send someone out right away.. She then asked me for a description of the car and I explained that it was a white sedan but we had no idea what the license plate number was. I had already asked her that before placing the call and she wasn’t even sure what make the car was, just that it was white.
The operator asked me if I was the owner of the vehicle and I explained that I was just a visitor. “Can I speak to the owner of the car please?” so I handed over the phone. She took the phone to her ear and said “Hello, who’s this?” I couldn’t hear the 911 operator but based on the response I assumed that she asked “What did the man look like?” I heard her respond, “Well, he was about 5’11”. He had lost a lot of weigh the past few years, but I still thought he was handsome”. As confused as I was, hearing her say this, I could just imagine what the operator was thinking. It took only a few seconds and the next response she gave was “Did I know him? Of course I know him. I was married to him for 43 years, dear of course I know him! No. No. My husband did not steal my car, he’s been dead for almost four years!” With that she turned and handed the phone back to me. I was practically dumbstruck and wasn’t sure what to say at that point. I almost wanted to hang up the phone and sneak away but I decided to wade in even further and said “Hello”. “Sir”, the operator said, “I’m not sure what’s going on there but I have an officer on the way. “OK thank you” I replied and quickly hung up. When I turned back around I saw that she had gone out the side kitchen door and was standing with her hands on her hips starting at the spot where the car was supposed to be parked.
I walked out and told her that the police were on their way. We stood there in silence for a while until I finally asked her “Why did you think that your husband had stolen the car?” She turned toward me, rolled her eyes and said “Can you imagine that? That woman suspected it was my husband who stole the car and she wanted me to describe him.”
Fortunately I didn’t have time to try to figure out any of this conversation as a police car pulled into the driveway. The officer stepped out of the car and approached us…..”Hello” he said “Can you tell me what happened?”
I already felt as though I was far enough into the briar patch so I simply turned toward her as if I was passing the ball into her court. I figured it would be better for him to hear the story the way she told it. The officer looked her way and said “Tell me what happened”. I knew from the look on her face that she didn’t know what he was talking about so I decided to prompt her a little “Tell him about the man who stole your car” I said. She straightened up and, with what can only be described as intense indignation, she said “Some bastard stole my car!” It wasn’t the first time I had heard that word, but coming from her it was like being struck by lightning. Looking at her, no one would ever believe that she would use that vernacular.
I stood there for a moment, wondering if I should offer the police officer some lemonade and she started to tell her story. “Some man came in my house, said he was going to mow my lawn and then he took my car keys out of my purse and stole my car!” The officer was holding a small pad of paper in his hand and started to write something. He looked up and asked her what make, model and year the car was. When he finished asking her she looked puzzled and responded, “I don’t know any of that, just go find my car!” He was extremely patient and it was obvious that he was experienced with dealing with older people. “I need to get some more information so we can find your car. I need to know things like the license plate number and a description of the car”. She looked him up and down and said “Oh, of course, let’s go inside and I’ll find my papers”. Fortunately (for him) he declined her offer of a glass of lemonade. She marched off to her bedroom and a few minutes later came out with a box jammed full of files and papers. She slammed the box down on the kitchen table and started thumbing through each item in what appeared to be random order.
I really have to give credit to that police officer. He stood there patiently for about 15 minutes until his “patient meter” ran out. Finally he looked at her and said “Mrs. Myers, we have a basic description of the car so we’ll check with the DMV to get the rest of the information.” “OK she responded, “my husband was with the Disabled Veterans, they’ll know everything.” I don’t think her response really registered with him and, if it did, he did a good job of ignoring it and he went on to ask her “What did this guy look like?”. She got that pensive look on her face and said “He was about five foot tall, a little taller than me. He had black hair and a big nose.” “Any other identifying marks, Mrs. Myers?” Nope”, she answered, “except he did have a funny accent so I think he was a foreigner”.
By this time, about 45 minutes had elapsed and the officer had called in a description of the car, gotten the license plate number from the DMV and done all of the “police” things that had to be done in this type of circumstance. Finally he turned to leave and said “We’ll do everything we can to get your car back ma’am”. “Thank you”, she replied “and I hope you get that bastard.” (There it was again!) “Oh, yes ma’am, we sure will” he said with a smile, and then he tipped his cap, got back in his patrol car and slowly drove away.
Mrs. Myers and I went back into the house. I could tell that this was a lot of excitement for her for one day. We sat at the kitchen table and I tried to come up with a plan.
The first thing she decided was that I should call her daughter. She lived about 65 miles away and I knew that her daughter would be very concerned and probably come to the house to help. She was a loving and concerned daughter and I knew she would want to help her mother through this traumatic event.
Mrs. Myers handed me a business card and said “Here’s my daughter’s phone number at work. I dialed the number and, after a few rings, the phone was answered and I asked to speak to the daughter. “I’m sorry”, the response came back “she’s in a meeting right now, can I have her call you back?” I explained who I was and that I was calling from the mother’s house. “Oh my goodness”, came the response, “Is everything all right?” “Oh yes”, I replied “please don’t alarm her. Everything is ok, I just need to discuss something with her. “Alright”, she replied, “I’ll leave her a note to call you”.
Mrs. Myers sat down and we waited for her daughter to call back. She finally nodded off and I picked up an old copy of LIFE magazine. It was about 10 years old but it was the most current pieced of reading material around. By the time the phone rang, about an hour later, I had the entire magazine memorized.
The moment the phone rang she sprang up and sprinted into the kitchen. She was 87 years old but she could have been in the senior Olympics.
I got up and followed her, hoping it was the daughter. This was quickly confirmed when I heard her say “Oh, hello sweetheart, what a surprise to hear from you.” She cupped the phone and mouthed to me “My Daughter”. “Why, everything is lovely” she said and chatted as though it was just a normal day, under normal circumstances. I sat patiently, hoping that they would both remember that I was the one who wanted to talk. Finally I perked up when I heard her say “Oh, yes he’s here, do you want to talk to him?” She turned and handed the phone to me.
I had spoken with her daughter on numerous occasions so there was no need for any introductions. Mrs. Myers turned toward the porch and said “I’m going back out here and finish my nap”. “OK”, I replied, “I’ll only be a minute”.
“Well, we’ve had some excitement around here today”, I said into the phone. “Really?” she answered. “What’s going on?” I answered “Well, when I got here this morning your mom was standing in the garage. She was all excited and said that some man had come into the house, taken her keys out of her purse and had stolen her car. I got her settled down and called the police. They came out and took a report.”
From the silence on the other end of the line I thought we had either been disconnected or she was a little bit in shock. Finally she spoke and said “Oh…I am sooo sorry I didn’t call you and let you know. My husband and I went down to her house last weekend. We had a long talk with her about how dangerous it had become for her to drive. We finally got her to agree to let us take her car. My husband followed me back home with it. We’ll probably sell it, even though the front end of it is all dented up.”
“Oh…he...he….he" is all I could muster up to say. After a brief moment of absolute speechlessness I managed to say “Well, I think I need to hang up and call 119. I think that’s how you take back a call to 911”. We both had a good laugh, hung up and I tiptoed toward the door to make a fast exit before Mrs. Myers woke up and possibly offered me a glass of lemonade