It’s become a standard call.
“30,” dispatch says. “Subject with dementia. Refusing to go to the hospital.”
I’ve handled that a million times. An elderly person, terrified and lost inside their own heads, unable to recognize what had once been so familiar and so comfortable. They do fight, and it is physical. But I believe it has less to do with not wanting to go to the hospital than fighting desperately to go back to a time when they didn’t need a hospital.
When I get close to the address, I frown. This is starting to feel like deja vu.
When I pull up in front of the house, I know I’ve been there before. But I can’t remember why. Sadly, it happens that way sometimes. A cop will remember the address, or the face, or the vehicle, but not really know why. Eventually, there is always a cue, some bit of conversation or a smell or color, that reminds.
This day, a man came out of the house.
“Haven’t I been here before?” I ask.
He nods, a somber look on his face. “Yeah. My mother.”
[I had a direct link here to the original post. Apparently, Word Press is smarter than I am so do this: type Cop Stories, with a space, in the search box on the right side and then go back a few pages until you get to Sunday, July 8, 2007. Then read that entry.]
This was the same house and I immediately tightened up.
I didn’t ask how she was. I didn’t need to. How he’d answered the question let me know. Mom was dead, probably had been for three years.
With a grim nod, I walked past the ambulance and into the house. His father – the woman’s husband – sat in a chair, a slightly angry look on his face. This was his house and it didn’t matter what the two EMTs said to him. He wasn’t leaving.
Because it wasn’t just his house, it was his life. He and his dead wife had been there, according to the son, for something like 50 years. This was the only house he’d ever known in his adult life. Everything had been centered in this house. He and his wife, his children, his grandchildren, his farming and hunting, his taxes and holidays and birdhouse building and yapping dogs and meowing cats.
And now they wanted to take him away.
It didn’t matter that we just wanted him to check in with his doctors, that we’d have him back before the afternoon was out, that it was still his house and still filled with the memories through which he tried to swim everyday.
From where he sat, we wanted him gone and he was having none of it.
“Fuck you, asshole.”
But I talked and talked, I cajoled and joked, I coaxed and threatened. I talked harder than I’ve talked in a while. Eventually, the EMT and I got him to agree to go see his doctor. He stood him up and walked him to the ambulance.
During that walk, when he was friendly and joking again, I said, “I was sorry to hear about your wife.”
He looked at me, the smile gone from his face, and said, “Who?”
“Your wife? I was here a couple of years ago. We had a nice conversation. Do you remember that?”
Anger suffused him. “Don’t talk to me like I’m a baby. I’ve never seen you before in my life.”
I looked at the man’s son, whose face broke while he listened to his father.
“I’ve never been married.”
What could I say? In his head, there had been no wife, though he seemed to recognize that he had children. In my limited experience, patients usually had fairly good recall of the old memories, but had trouble with the new ones.
But for this one man, in this one moment, there was no wife. She’d been erased as cleanly as if she’d never been there.
And what does that do, metaphysically? Does his lack of memory for her mean she didn’t really exist? The son remembers, the daughter remembers. But the grandchildren are too young to remember a woman who died three years ago.
And none of them remember what made that woman his wife and their mother. What are those details? Were her eyes were puffy in the mornings? Did she whistle ‘You Are My Sunshine’ while making pancakes or mow the gigantic yard from north to south while her husband did it east to west? Did she wear a particular pair of shoes because her children thought she looked beautiful in them even though they ruined her feet?
If the only person who remembers those things suddenly doesn’t anymore, what does that mean?
Is the nature of our being how we perceive ourselves? Or how others perceive us?
We loaded the man into the ambulance and I lingered, taking too long to cinch that gurney belt or close that door, checking with the driver where they were going, checking with the man one last time.
I was stretching out his departure as long as I could. I knew I was doing that.
And I knew why.
Because I wanted that Hollywood ending. I wanted to see him perk up, his eyes alight, and tell me to have his wife lock the house up. Or ask me to have her bring his best brown worsted suit to the hospital.
I wanted some spark of memory to flash in his eyes.
It never happened.
The ambulance left, the son in a car behind, and I went to my next call.