REVIVING THE MEMORY
Despite the nonprofessional training for the staff, looking after the Alzheimer’s residents, many of them tried their best at helping the residents to utilize whatever remained of their cognitive abilities.
Many types of games and activities were planned out by the facility to get the residents busy and to help them practice those things, which they used to do at home.
Games like bingo, cards, game of ludo, and snakes and ladders were often played by the residents with the cadre of staff who were called activities coordinators. Most of the care managers participated in these activities. It was often great fun for Ogbuebe whenever he sat down to play the game of ludo, which he couldn’t remember when he played last as a schoolchild. He often felt excited revisiting those things, which he did over three decades earlier and which the stresses of academics and medical practice had never allowed him to participate again in. The first day that he sat down to play ludo with a resident and another care manager looked so odd to him. Indeed, he had almost forgotten the rules, and he had to watch closely to be retaught by a man who was supposed to have lost a great deal of his memory. It was pleasantly humbling for Ogbuebe since it made him realize that even people who were of the impression that their memories were intact could find that they were not whole after all. Mr. Jackson, who Ogbuebe had seen more than once, came out naked on the corridors, was sitting there on the table playing the game of ludo with Ogbuebe.
“You don’t cross the home line when you get to it,” Mr. Jackson had told Ogbuebe who, apparently, had forgotten some of the rules of ludo. That teaching session from Mr. Jackson made Ogbuebe realize that he needed indeed to study more about the selective functioning of the brain in that dreaded disease which he had assumed he knew well enough about.
Mr. Jackson displayed unusual mastery of the game of ludo. Each time he inverted the little cup to let out the dice, he would so attentively scrutinize the dots on the dice that any careful observer would believe that his entire life depended on the reading. Despite the fact that he often spilled his drinks on his laps from his trembling fingers, Mr. Jackson’s fingers were surprisingly steady each time he grasped the cup, containing the dice for the ludo game. He would shake the dice in the little cup several times and nod with joy as the dice turned out to be “a six.” He would then exclaim, “Oh boy!”
If the dice, however, turned out to be a single dot, Mr. Jackson would shout, “Bullshit!” He would then roll his eyeballs and stare at the cup as if the latter was the cause of the poor turnout of the dice reading. On one occasion, he got so angry with the cup that he squeezed it very hard to break it. Luckily, however, the cup was made of hard but pliable plastic and would not break.
Mr. Jackson was a civil aviation pilot. Nothing fascinated him as much as books with photographs of planes. He also liked staring at films about acrobatic displays with planes.
He would often be seen discussing issues relating to planes and the art of flying with Mr. Cooley, another resident whose room was adjacent to his.
Mr. Cooley was a retired very heavily built weight lifter who had won several international weight lifting laurels in his time. Mr. Cooley’s chest span was almost three times the chest span of most other male residents in the unit. Triple extra-large (XXXL) shirts and pants hardly ever fitted him. The circumference of his arm was more than the circumference of Ogbuebe’s waist, and the latter who was of rather small frame was always wary of being gripped by Mr. Cooley whenever the weight lifter was being helped with his shirt.
On one occasion, the shirt, which appeared too tight, was being removed; and Mr. Cooley, who did not want the shirt removed, gripped Ogbuebe by the arm. It was as if a vice was clamped on Ogbuebe’s arm. Ogbuebe uttered a sharp cry for help. Luckily, Mr. Cooley let go. Ogbuebe learned his lesson. He, however, always prayed that Mr. Cooley would never have cause to get angry with any of the residents to the extent that he would need to grip their arms. Sometimes, Mr. Cooley would, on his own, decide to march along the corridors for exercise especially when he appeared in a happy mood. He would usually refuse to walk out to the gardens to do the exercises.
Whenever Mr. Cooley marched, the building would appear to reverberate. All residents who witnessed him, marching along the corridors, would give way as he approached. One of the frequently changing care managers was wheeling in the lunch trolley when Mr. Colley was on his exercises one afternoon. He had not met Mr. Cooley since it was the care manager’s first day at work. Before the approaching care manager could give way fully, Mr. Cooley had come crashing into him. Both the care manger and the full load of food and drinks on the trolley went crashing on the beautifully carpeted hallway. The noise of the crash was deafening. The care manager was thrown off the hallway into the adjoining lobby, and the plates of food and jugs of fruit drinks went flying in different directions. Mr. Cooley continued with his exercises, sometimes jogging and sometimes running, oblivious of the accidental collision. He only slowed down briefly to remove the food stains that had splattered on the back of his massive palm. Jogging or running along the hallway was not allowed in the facility. But who was it that would dare to stop Mr. Cooley?
The care manager was only slightly hurt in the arm. He had the bruises dressed by the facility’s resident nurse. He left the facility soon after the dressing of his bruises and never returned to work after that day. Perhaps he weighed the merits of the eight dollar fifty an hour job against the risks of encountering the possible anger of the likes of Mr. Cooley. He must have felt that quitting was the wiser thing to do. A replacement was hired three days later.
The replacement for the traumatized care manager was Ms. Crowbarr, a pretty-looking lady who had made Duvan’s head turn and who had made the latter more loquacious than usual. Ms. Crowbarr quit after a mere forty-eight hours on the job. She must have given some critical thoughts to what a collision with Mr. Cooley would do to her tiny frame.
Despite his age of eighty-nine, Mr. Cooley still walked straight. And despite his trembling fingers borne out of early Parkinson’s disease, he could still jog with some jerky movements. He could still grip fairly tightly to what he wished to grip. Whenever there was some maintenance work going on in the unit, he would hang around the workers and would ceaselessly offer to help in difficult situations like in loosening nuts and in lifting materials. Even when his offers were politely rejected, he would still hang around the place where the job was going on. Sometimes, he would choose to defer his meals until the workers were done with their job.
In spite of Mr. Cooley’s moderate memory loss, he was always cognizant of the need for deference to the ladies in the facility. He was the only male resident who would give his seat to any other female resident who did not have a seat in any gathering. He would immediately, even with his jerking
movement, spring to his feet and stretch out both palms toward his seat to any lady who entered and did not have a seat. Despite his own relatively poor physical condition, he always treated the ladies as if they were fragile little eggs who must be adequately protected from cracking. He had tremor at rest but was steady on his fingers whenever he wanted to perform a physical function with his hands. He could easily pass for a modern-day Robin Hood. He would stretch out both hands in protection for Jerry, another Alzheimer’s resident who also had Parkinson’s disease. It usually took Jerry upward of five minutes before he would be able to steady himself in front of a seat to sit down. Jerry would approach the chair with measured steps. He would then stand in front of the seat and stare for a minute or two at it. He would then take another minute or two to steady himself in front of the seat. Finally, to sit down would come on with a bang.
Mr. Cooley easily recognized Jerry whenever the latter came shuffling by.
The latter always dragged his feet on the floor as he walked. He also always made some cooing noise as if in a constant chuckle from his throat. Even with all reverence for the residents, Ogbuebe always, at the sight of Jerry, remembered Okoye-nta—the elderly head of the village council back in his home. Okoye-nta was a traditionalist. He did not go to church and was the chief priest who always killed the chickens and the goats that were used in sacrifice during the annual Ikeji festival in Ogbuebe’s Umunta village in his country, Mungeruun. Like Jerry in the Alzheimer’s facility, Okoye-nta always made cooing noises in his throat. The villagers said that it was because Okoye-nta always held back and ate some of the meat that was supposed to be dropped for the idols that the gods, out of vengeance, constricted his throat and made him produce cooing noises in his throat. The subsequent ridicule by some mischievous children in the village was said to be Okoye-nta’s punishment from the gods for his eating the meat that was supposed to be for them. That was many years back and in a faraway country across the Atlantic. Jerry has never been to Umunta. He could never have held back any meat meant for any gods. He did not even believe in any gods or any form of multiple deities since he was Jewish. Ogbuebe’s comparison of Jerry and Okoye-nta did not therefore apply. It is possible that Okoye-nta also had Parkinson’s disease. There were no physicians in Umunta to make the correct diagnosis. The cooing sounds from Okoye-nta and Jerry were similar.
Anytime Mr. Cooley saw Jerry coming, he would immediately get close to an empty chair and stand behind it. As Jerry rotated himself to sit down, Mr. Cooley would lightly hold him on both shoulders and gently sit him down. He would, thereafter, pat him on the shoulders and then get back to his own seat. Unlike what he would do for the ladies, however, Mr. Cooley would never surrender his own seat for Jerry. If there was no vacant seat as Jerry came cooing, Mr. Cooley would simply look around and shrug his shoulder. But his eyes would hardly deviate away from Jerry until the latter had a seat. It would be obvious that he, Mr. Colley, was eager for a seat to be made available for Jerry.
Another usual beneficiary of Mr. Cooley’s protective instincts was Josef, a ninety-two-year-old holocaust survivor. Josef was petite in size and was a very intelligent man despite his age and had moderate memory loss. He was often sullen and, most times, would like to be left alone. He talked little and often clutched a book, which he had written some eighteen years earlier about how he survived the holocaust and how he passed through many concentration camps and was finally able to escape to America after having been taken as dead by his Nazi captors. Joseph’s most prized possession appeared to be that book at the back of which was his photograph as a young man, with the photograph of his lost family at the background. Josef also had early Parkinson’s disease even though his tremors were not as marked as the rigidity aspect of the disease in him. He would walk with measured steps and would often reject the wheelchair even when this was offered with good intent. He would wave aside the wheelchair and offer his gratitude in slow-muttered sentences nonetheless. Josef spoke fluent German and Hebrew in addition to English. He was the only surviving member of his original family, the rest having been exterminated during the holocaust. His efforts at raising a family in America did not appear to have been very successful, and he appeared to have channeled his efforts into his manufacturing business, which had done immensely well.
As soon as Mr. Cooley saw Josef coming out of his room on any occasion, he would rush off from whatever he was doing and move up to the latter to offer him assistance to the chair. Mr. Josef would always follow Mr. Cooley. Ogbuebe’s experience in the Alzheimer’s facility was immense. He saw the comical, and he saw the utterly serious. He witnessed the joys in caring and the peace of mind that came with humbling oneself in assistance to people made helpless despite their previous-privileged positions. He saw men and women whose situations in life were no longer amenable to rescue with money. He saw the thoughtlessness in wanton human acquisition of material wealth. He saw the peace of mind that was an invariable accompaniment of doing good. He saw long-serving care managers like Danessa and Tullia, people who did not necessarily earn much but who still—from rendering good and dedicated service and caring for the residents—found almost-complete contentment as could be judged from their discussions and attitude to the residents.
Ogbuebe often wished that he could find the same kind of peace which these dedicated staff, Danessa and Tulia, manifested. Unfortunately, that level of dedication was rather an exception than the rule among the staff of a unit, which housed a cross section of America’s rich and famous. These were men and women who, emasculated by the demon called Alzheimer’s, were
Ogbuebe felt that if the generality of the people were to fully know what it really costs to get to the loneliness of old age in God’s own country, they probably would pray not to get very old. But nobody prays not to live till old age. The specialty of geriatrics would die if people do not live till old age. A lot of drug companies especially those who produce geriatric drugs would go bankrupt if ageing were to be done away with. But these realities notwithstanding, getting old in America from Ogbuebe’s observation, is laden with problems. And these problems, much as the state, tries hard to ameliorate them are very daunting and very fundamental. They are, from Ogbuebe’s observation, greatly tied to increasing failure of the family system in God’s own country.
From Ogbuebe’s observation too, it is mainly the families from South America, the Philippines and Far Eastern extraction, which appear least affected by the fast-emerging tendency toward disastrously disintegrating family system in America. Ogbuebe’s mind was troubled.
Despite the obvious knowledge that he had acquired in the Alzheimer’s unit, Ogbuebe often wondered whether he was not whiling away useful time. He asked himself whether, indeed, he could fully utilize the knowledge that he felt he was gaining in the Alzheimer’s unit. He wondered whether he was putting his original professional talents and training to optimum use since the work that he felt that he was doing could easily be carried out by people who did not have much-formal training. He asked himself whether he was not wasting the hours that could be better utilized enhancing his profession in some more urgently needed place rather than in a care facility where no form of specialization was required