“Beware of Helen,” the girl who was training me said. “She has Alzheimer’s and can be very difficult at times. She’s been known to throw things, chase workers out of her room and scream obscenities at anyone and everyone. ”
I nodded and scribbled a note on my paper.
Despite her 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 as a history-lover, I enjoyed 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 up the stairs and knocked on her door.
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 noticed the pile of dresses lying on the bed and realized that she was dressed in a slip. “I see,” I went to her nightstand and poured a small glass of water. While my back was turned, she slid closer.
“I like your hair,” she said.
I spun slowly, the water in my hand. I glanced in the mirror at my wild curls. “Thank you,” I said, balancing the small container of pills on the edge of the dresser.
“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. I said goodbye and went to the door but paused before leaving. “Wear the pink dress tonight,” I told her. “It will look lovely with your pretty blue eyes.”
She looked at me in shock for a moment then smiled brightly. “I believe I will,” she told me. We were both laughing as I closed the door.
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 what she was doing that night (dinner, a movie, going for a twilight stroll with her husband) and then 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. I glanced up with a smile but it died on my face when I saw her.
“You stole my nylons!” she screeched at me.“Now, give them back.” Her foot stamped, 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 pacing up and down the hallway, her voice rising. “You are a terrible, terrible person to steal from me! Don’t I pay you enough so you can buy your own $#% nylons?!”
There was a part of me that cringed at being accused of anything. I wanted to say, “Why, in the world, 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, her words disappeared and I could see the fear in her eyes. Instead of ranting, I heard her heart crying, 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’re 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 upstairs, her nylons held tight in her fist. She glanced back at me and all the fear and anger was gone. “You’re hair is so pretty,” she said. “I was pretty once too.”
“You still are, Helen.” I said, quietly, “You still are.”