Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Lanie is a very determined, frequently confused lady who lives at the facility I work at. Up until recently, Lanie lived in our locked memory care unit. This is something that most bigger places offer, because think about it: people with memory loss tend to wander, but don't have the skills they need to keep safe while they wander around. They might be trying to get back to a house they lived in 40 years ago, and not realize that they need to watch out for cars when they're trying to cross the street. So a locked unit may sound harsher than it really is. At my facility, it's not even physically locked; you enter a key code to enter or exit. If you fail to enter it right, it sets off an alarm and one of the aides from that unit comes to see what's up. If you're an old person escaping, they talk you into coming back. If you're a new employee that forgot to enter the code, they laugh and turn off the alarm. Even if you did the same thing earlier that day. Oops.

But back to Lanie. Lanie is a skinny little old lady who walks with a walker and whose apartment is sparsely decorated. It features Jesus and Baby Dolls prominently. Lanie is generally content to just sit in her living room, looking out the window, or maybe flipping through a magazine or catalogue. When it's time to eat, one of us gets her and walks her to the dining room, seats her, and orders whatever we discussed with her earlier, since she'll blank out when it's time to tell the server what she wants.

Occasionally, Lanie gets hungry a little earlier than normal and stalks the halls crankily, complaining about how they moved the elevator again and she can't find the dining room in a crazy place like this.

One of my job duties is to take turns with the other aides passing out evening snacks for the diabetics after the nurse has done blood sugars and insulin injections. This keeps anyone from bottoming out overnight (hopefully) and is usually a pretty fun little chore, especially if I've managed to snag anything unusual from the kitchen to make it more exciting. The night they gave us Activia instead of Yoplait yogurt was a big one, let me tell you! Although we staff were all a little worried we'd be up to our elbows in poop the next morning.

Lately, the last few times I've been wheeling that snack cart up and down the hallways around 8pm, Lanie has popped out of her room looking for all the world like a geriatric CIA agent in some combination of a nightie and another garment. One night she had jeans aka "dungarees" on under her nightgown. My favorite was when she had on her pink trench coat over it, collar popped and chin low.

Lanie summons me with a loud "PSSST!" on these occasions, gesturing impatiently for me to come huddle in her doorway with her. I abandon my snack cart mid-pass, and walk over quickly to her. What Lanie has to say on these occasions is usually some variation on how "That room is a mess and I'm LOCKED IN there, and I can't get it straightened out!" Never mind that she's out in the hallway and therefore not locked in anywhere. Lanie's got something in mind and she wants it done now.

I usually start troubleshooting with "Do you need to go to the bathroom?" followed by closing her blinds (always a big relief) and pulling back her covers (usually gets me a "THAT's the stuff! Good girl!"). If Lanie is still feeling locked in, I check to make sure things aren't in unusual places. The other night, she'd partially disassembled her air conditioner. Not because she was too hot or too cold, just to unlock herself, you see. So I put it back together, which earned me a hug and the privilege of hanging up her pink trench coat.

I don't know much about Lanie or what she did with her life, but I like to imagine that maybe she was a great chess player, a spy, or someone who worked underground in tunnels. She's got a low-pitched gravelly voice and intense eyes. I can see her formulating strategies and melting around corners and into shadows. Lanie may just be getting unlocked in her apartment now, but I bet she could crack safes before. Maybe that's why Lanie's not in the memory care unit anymore; those doors couldn't hold her.

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