At the tender age of twenty-eight, I was hired at a state hospital where I was to care for mentally impaired people: all ages, shapes and disorders. My goal, at the time, was to be a psychologist. I have felt for many years that studying the field would be cheaper than the therapeutic costs. I surrounded myself, on purpose, with those who needed therapy and drugs much more than myself and with those who knew how to care for them. Almost three years later, I decided to chuck that idea of becoming a psychologist. I blame it on Grandmom.
I was new to the geriatric female ward, but at the same time felt like this was a good place to be; maybe I could help some woman, some how. I already had come to the conclusion that when a person loses their mind, they lose a layer of goodness and the executive functioning to being nice. Out of all the time and patients I came in contact with during my stint at the hospital, only one woman, though unable to function at all mentally, woke up each morning singing, Jesus Loves Me. She always had a smile on her face, and she never once deviated from gentle behaviors.
About 30 percent of the women on the geriatric ward were there due to dementia caused by alcoholism, compared to 90 percent of the males, same age range. These patients were hard to work with as far as simple tasks such as dressing, eating, eliminating. I vowed that alcohol would not be my bane even before I had hands-on experience with the direct results of how effectively brain cells can be destroyed. This experience solidified what I already knew about drinking and living. Really, the two only mix on occasion. Occasionally, I will mix a margarita, and not just because I have the mix, and the occasion has to be one other than Saturday.
The women of the ward were an interesting mix themselves. One was a Whiz Kid from the early days of TV game shows. She never married, was productive in life, but sadly developed Alzheimer’s disease and because she had no family, ended up with me as a caretaker. I will never forget her long gray hair, and those beautiful blue eyes. Her mind was stuck on one idea, which was a good one; she wanted to go home. I often became a family member to her, and I carried on conversations as well as I could to give her a moment’s solace; often a moment of peace would immediately turn into anxiety and what I wondered to be terror. She had no idea where she was, who she was, why she was.
She wasn’t the one who changed my course of study. I attribute my decision to the five foot three inch woman who resembled the grandmother from my daughter’s Gingerbread Man book. One night I saw her sitting by the locked door to the outside, her head covered and her arm bent into a firm V to hold the strap of her empty purse. I called the tall, red-headed wiry woman who was the head-tech of the ward to ask about the patient. “Is her head covered?” I replied, “Yes.” “Does she have her purse?” Yes, that purse was locked in her arm. “Call for back-up from the ward upstairs and leave her alone until they get there.”
So, this unassuming lady with delusions of Jehovah was a threat? Really? Back-up?
We had a new worker on staff that night. A young Asian girl who was about 75 pounds and all of five feet, maybe. I was told to call her over and meet the head tech by grandmom. We surrounded her, and she buried her head deeper under her scarf and clenched her arm around that purse strap. “I thought you said we had to wait until we got back-up. Why are we here? We are just upsetting her.”
I think I was known as a capable worker, which meant I knew how to execute my holds and my take-downs. The head-tech surmised I was back-up enough.
“When I tell you…grab her right arm….. NOW!”
I missed her arm and before I knew it, the kicking and screaming grandmom was on the floor, courtesy of my ability to take-down. I had her legs down and her left arm, while the head-tech held down her right arm. The new girl helped out by screaming and jumping up and down.
What does a lady do when she is pinned down? She bites! When the head-tech told this very angry grandmother to stop biting, the biting became more intense, so, the tech grabbed grandmom’s face and popped her teeth out. At that point, her whole body went limp. She lost. She went quietly to her bed where she was quietly placed in two-point restraints and where she quietly begged Jehovah to let her go home.
The next time I read Gingerbread Man, I could not get this visage of popping teeth out of a fighting, squirming grandmother out of my mind. Bless those who do take care of our mentally ill folks. It is not an easy task. I decided counseling was a better fit for me; talk therapy as compared to taking-down grandmothers is, well, less physical and indeed, less stressful.
How do I feel about that? Better!