Our Visit with Ellen

Yesterday’s visit with Ellen was different than usual. As I think about it, the last few visits have been a bit different. I looked back and know that I made a similar comment in September. Both Ellen and Kate are changing. I have come to accept that I can’t predict Kate’s behavior as well as I used to. It is only natural that our visits will also be unpredictable.

Ellen lives in a facility dedicated to memory care and is divided into three “neighborhoods,” each with about twelve residents. They are free to move about from one neighborhood to another during the day but not outside the facility itself which is locked. We usually find her sitting in her wheelchair near the lounge with a television or in the dining area. Last time and again yesterday, she wasn’t in either place or her room. We asked one of the staff if they had seen her. She left to find her. In a few minutes, she returned with Ellen. Although she has been in memory care for two years, she has always recognized us. This time she was unusually excited to see us.

We pulled her up to a table and took our seats. We had only talked a few minutes when she tried to tell us something that we couldn’t understand. I finally understood that she wanted to go back where she had been. It seemed very urgent. We offered to take her, but she wanted us to wait and said, “Back in twenty minutes.” After she was gone, I looked over at the staff member who had brought her to us and explained that she wanted to do something in the other neighborhood. She offered to go get her, but we told her we knew our way around and would find her.

A few minutes later, we found Ellen in her wheelchair beside another staff member who was on the phone. Ellen seemed eager to talk with her. The three of us chatted while the staff member continued her conversation. We were able to gather that Ellen thinks the world of this person but never learned why she wanted to see her so much right then. When she got off the phone, she told us she needed to tend to something else. The three of us headed back to Ellen’s neighborhood.

On the way, Ellen appeared to be looking for someone. I think it may have been the staff member she wanted to see before. As we passed by the clinic, Ellen stopped and opened the door and looked in. Two or three staff members were there, and the one Ellen was looking for came out. She nicely explained that she had to take care of something and walked away. At the same time, I saw that someone else was delivering ice cream to each neighborhood for their afternoon treat.

We went back to Ellen’s neighborhood and sat together at a table where all three of enjoyed our treat. We talked a little while before Kate looked at Ellen and said, “We’re going to have to leave now. Then a visitor we had seen on one other occasion stopped by and introduced himself. There was a woman with him whom I assumed was the person he was visiting. That began a lively conversation, at least between Kate and the man and the woman and me.

When we finished, Kate looked at me and said, “I want to go home.” I knew it was time. We had been there an hour and twenty minutes. That was probably our shortest. We are usually there close to two hours. We recently went over that time when the music lady was there. We were all enjoying the group singing and dancing.

The drive home was not pleasant. It rained all the way, and the traffic was heavy. As sunset approached, it seemed unusually dark. The traffic was moving at seventy or more when a message popped up on the dash, “Passenger Seat Belt Unbuckled.” I looked over to see that Kate disconnected it and was letting it ease back into its stored position. I told her she needed to put it on. She didn’t know what to do. I explained that I couldn’t drive and help her. She asked me where it goes. I put my hand on the connector and touched her leg to show her. She still didn’t know what to do. I pulled onto the shoulder and got her fastened, and we were off again. We were back in town by 5:30 and stopped at Panera for quick bite. I was glad to be off the road and home.

I don’t intend to stop our visits to see Ellen, but the challenges are increasing. Except for the initial greeting, I’m not sure Ellen enjoyed it that much although she didn’t want us to leave. I’m going to keep an open mind about the future.

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