I pulled up to the iron gates, which failed to open. Where was I going to park? “Visitor Parking,” was a sign to my left. I pulled in and found a spot. I approached the iron gate meant for people to enter and exit through and found that it too was locked. I pressed the call bell.
I waited ten minutes, occasionally pressing the bell, leaning back against the iron bars and looking at the beautiful blue sky, crossing my fingers and hoping that none of the residents stumbling about on the street within the gates would find me and come to the bars. I had just finished the last episode of Season 3 of the Walking Dead and I swear, sometimes Alzheimer’s patients seem all too reminiscent of zombies. My imagination would take me places at that point.
A woman who looked younger and rather coherent walked towards me with a key, passing aimlessly wandering residents, and inserted the key into the gate. “Oh thank you,” I practically illuminated with my great relief, but she didn’t respond. She breezed right past me to her car parked behind me, but I was able to catch the door in time and slip through. I made it past barrier 1.
Barrier 2 lay in front of me. I walked quickly, quietly, trying not to attract attention to myself, avoiding the confused residents who I really didn’t want accompanying me inside the building. The door before me was a single, large wooden door with one of those long bar handles that you push to open. It too seemed locked. Or maybe it was stuck? I tried again. No, it was definitely locked.
A doorbell was on my right. “Of course. I’ll ring it and somebody will come.” Well, let me tell you something. A GENIUS installed the doorbell to that particular Alzheimer’s facility. From outside I could hear the all too recognizable “DIIING DONNG” of a regular doorbell that people might find in their houses. A resident came to the door (of course), and began trying to open it for me. Where was the receptionist?
I stood there…very uncomfortably. Should I watch the woman as she tried to escape to greet me? I felt awkward staring at her through the side windows, struggling to get the door open, and I turned away for a moment, looked at my feet, the bench beside me, the flowers that had been carefully tended to; averting my eyes seemed to be the best option. I turned back to the door, and at the window, I saw her standing still for a moment, gazing at my face, and her eyes, wild with confusion and intensity met mine, and she felt compelled to try to open the door once more. This time, it triggered a loud door alarm.
At the facility I work at for my nursing clincials, the staff comes running like a small S.W.A.T. team every time an alarm goes off. At this particular facility, however, nobody came. It was just me, and this confused woman trying to let me in because she heard the doorbell. The door had a safety mechanism that involved it opening after fifteen seconds, signalling an alarm. It swung open, and the resident then hit the door and shouted at it, “I’m tired of listening to you scream!”
She looked at me. “Can you turn that dang alarm off? It always does this!” I glanced at the code panel beside it. There were no instructions. Usually these places have a code that all the staff knows, and I certainly didn’t know it. “I don’t know how to turn it off,” I replied. “Why don’t you come back inside?”
“No, I am happy here. I wanted to go outside anyway.”
Great. I went into the hall to find some staff. There was nobody around and I heard my Grandmasaan’s voice from a room down the way a bit. I went to her, thinking some staff might be there. I was let down, of course.
“Hi, Grandma,” I said, smiling at her. Before she could respond, a white haired woman who had been standing beside her, gazing out of a large panel of windows turned to me. “Oh, hi, Dear.”
“Oh, I meant THIS Grandma,” I said, turning to my real grandma, who laughed.
“I’m so glad you came for me,” my grandma said. She seemed elated. Somebody who was sane, she was probably thinking.
The white haired lady turned to me and asked me, “Can you open this door for me? I don’t know how. I have been trying to get out there all day.” I looked at the panel of windows. (There was no door, for the record).
“I don’t know how to open that door either,” I told her. “It is a tricky one, that’s for sure.”
She sighed. “I guess so.”
“Well, Grandma, let’s go,” I said, helping my grandma up.
The white haired lady looked at me, “Oh good. Where are we going? I don’t know where I am supposed to be.”
Oh my gosh. YOU ARE NOT MY GRANDMA. “I gotta stop saying, ‘grandma'” I told myself.
The white haired lady then proudly declared, “I’m following you. You look like you know where you are going.”
“No, actually, I don’t. I have no clue where I am going,” I said quite honestly, hiding the frustration inside.
“Well, I’m following you.”
“No, you belong HERE.”
“I’m following you,” she insisted, a little more determined this time. So, okay, it was decided…She was following me.
I turned to MY grandma, saying her Japanese name, making sure, very loudly and clearly to all who were in the room, that I had come for her, and only her. “I want you to wait here while I get your things.”
“Ok,” she replied tentatively, confused.
Oy. I had one old woman who thought I was her granddaughter hot on my tail and one escapee outside with a door alarm that was still going off. What had I done?
I turned to the lady behind me and pointed to a chair. “This is a good place for you. This is where I was going. To this chair. You can sit here.”
“Oh that is a FANTASTIC idea!” she said, beaming. “I’ve been trying to open up that other door all morning and I really need to take a seat.”
“Good. You stay right there and rest,” I said, turning a corner and nearly sprinting to a door that had just swung open and had several staff coming out with their lunch pails in hand. “Oh I am so glad I found you. I am here to pick up my Grandma and take her home. Can one of you help me? There is nobody at the front desk.”
“I was on my lunch! Sorry about that,” one pleasant young woman apologized. I walked with her down the hall, explaining about the door alarm and the escapee. I passed the chair where I’d left the lady who I thought she was my grandma. The chair was empty. Then, we passed my REAL grandma who was not in the seat I asked her to take, and instead, she was standing in a doorway staring at me expectantly. “I’m going to get your things,” I said. “I will come right back. Wait there some more, okay?”
“Okay, I will,” she replied. I saw the white haired woman behind my grandma in the room with the big window trying to open the “door” again. Her hands were running along the smooth glass of the panel of windows that had a nice view of the barred-in front of the facility, with its green grass, lawns, and flowers, all smiling in the sunny day.
The receptionist turned off the door alarm. The escapee who had answered the front door for me had now propped open the door with a giant potted ivy plant on a trellis and was proceeding to rip the tendrils from the plant. The receptionist said it was okay for some of the residents to take a walk outside, so the escapee was fine there, pulling the tendrils off the ivy. She wandered off shortly, and as I was signing a release for my grandma’s medications, I heard the escapee outside calling, “Piper??? PIPER?????”
“Did you bring a dog?” the receptionist asked me.
“No. There is nothing out there,” I replied.
“PIPERRRR COME HERE, PIPER!”
“Oh…” the receptionist peered out the door again before returning to her computer screen. “I’ll open the big gates for you so you can bring your car up front for your grandma,” she informed me.
As I walked out, the escapee walked in and, with great sadness, reported that she could not find Piper.
I pulled up the car, and the escapee who had been calling for Piper approached my car and began tapping it everywhere. I locked the door and left her tapping my car. I got my grandma and her bag, and began helping her in (with the escapee still tapping my car. Safety checking it, she informed me). Once my grandma was belted in, I heard the escapee declare, “This feels loose!!!!” I turned away from my grandma to look at what she was doing to my vehicle. The spoiler was moving slightly under the escapee’s grip, and she then said, “I’ll help you by just taking this off. It’s too loose.”
“It’s okay, really,” I assured her. “It’s always been there and so far, it hasn’t hurt anything.”
I turned back to my grandma only to find the seat belt strangling her throat. “Oh, sorry Grandma. I wasn’t paying attention to you. I will just lower this down for you.”
Once she was buckled, I left her door open and circled the vehicle to put her walker into the trunk. As I was getting it in, the escapee approached my grandma and began attempting to engage her in conversation.
Panicked, my grandma started calling out my name. “GET THIS LADY AWAY FROM ME!!!” I peered around the corner, and the escapee spotted me. She turned to my grandma and “whispered,” “There is somebody BEHIND you! Over there!” She pointed at me.
“WHAT? WHERE!!??” my grandma cried out.
“It’s just me,” I replied, smiling at the lady. She touched a hand to my grandmasan’s shoulder and said, pointing to me, “Oh don’t worry, it’s just you!” she looked at me and smiled back.
“Oh my word. It will be a miracle if I make it out of this place.”
I returned inside to finish up with the receptionist and get the invoice. As she handed it to me, the escapee had returned inside, went to another part of the facility, found a weighted stuffed animal door stopper, and proudly delivered it to the receptionist, letting it drop onto a pile of papers on the woman’s desk, scattering and smashing them.
With the invoice in my grasp, the escapee followed me to my car while I attempted to put it inside on one of the back seats.
She was tapping my vehicle now, trying to remove my antenna. “It’s loose!” she exclaimed.
It’s.an.antenna. She was wiggling it back and forth. “So where are we going?” she asked me.
“WE….are not going anywhere. I am going to take my grandma home.”
“Oh good. Well, this thing is all safe to go now,” she said, giving two pats to the passenger door.
“Thank you.” She stood with a hand still on my car as I proceeded to open the driver’s door. I couldn’t risk running over a resident when I pulled out. What to do, what to do?
I walked around the car and pointed to a chair on a nearby patio. “Why don’t you sit in that chair over there?”
“Why?” she asked.
“Because it is a nice chair. Have a seat.”
“What is a seat?”
“SIT. Sit in the chair.”
“Yes, THAT chair.”
“No, that is a BIG chair. I can’t sit there.”
I sat in it. “It is a good-sized chair. Perfect-sized See? Now, YOU sit in it.”
“I’m going with you.”
“No. No you are not.”
“Yes, this car is a very hard. Not loose at all.”
“I am glad. Glad my car is not loose. I need it to drive. Okay…” I glanced helplessly at the receptionist who was inside laughing.
She came out with a clip board and called the resident over. “I need you to review this for me!” she called out to the resident.
“Oh! Finally! Sure, I will review that for you. What am I reviewing?”
“Just this paper,” the receptionist replied.
“Good. I’ll review it to see if your head is screwed on straight,” The escapee car tapper declared, hurrying inside.
I gave the receptionist a grateful look and she was motioning at me with her hand to pull out. “Go go go!” she was saying.
It was my only chance. Would my grandma and I escape with our lives?
I hopped in, started the ignition, and proceeded to high-tail it out of there.
As I pulled forward, I saw the white-haired lady who thought she was my grandma, standing just like before at the panel of windows, and, as thought it was a horror movie, her palms were planted on the clear, cool surface, her face pressed up against the glass, eyes wide, mouthing the words, “HELP ME.”
Dear God…get me out of here.
I stepped on the gas, the gates opened, and as we passed through them, I turned to my Grandmasan and shouted “WE’RE FREE, GRANDMA!!“
“FREE!!!!” she shouted back to me, laughing.