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Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Emperor’s New Clothes

You all remember the Danish fairy tale of the Emperor who was swindled by two alleged fashion designers, right? They promised to make him a handsome suit made from the finest of fabrics that only the smartest people could see. After putting on the imaginary suit, the Emperor was too ashamed to say he looked naked, because that meant he wasn’t the brightest bulb in the kingdom. So he pranced through town naked as a jaybird. The townspeople also were afraid to say they couldn’t see the suit for shame of being called stupid.

This fairy tale was one of the first things to come to my mind a few days ago, when I found one of the residents parading through the hallway naked. At the nursing home, where I am working on a temporary basis, I’ve learned, sometimes you have to let people live in their land of make-believe. Other times, you have to try to bring the person out of the situation.

Before approaching the naked little jaybird, I noticed she had her socks and a pair of stolen slippers on. Did I mention she is a kleptomaniac? Story for another day, I suppose. Looking around the hallway, I spotted a laundry cart. I grabbed the first thing my hand reached to cover her. It was a pillow. Using it like a shield, I covered the resistant lady’s baggy bits, and tried to explain why being naked was not such a good idea.

She looked at me dumbfounded as I held the pillow against her body and said, “Honey, it’s so cold today. We really need to get on something a little warmer.”

Angrily she said, “God damn it! How did you find me? I took that crap off so I could get out of here.”

It dawned on me that she wasn’t like the Emperor at all. She thought taking off her clothes would make her invisible. And now she was angry because I still could see her as she tried to make her great escape.

Comfortingly, I said, “I’m sorry I ruined your plan. It was your socks and Edna’s slippers that gave you away.”

Looking down at her feet, and back up at me repeatedly, she finally laughed, and said, “Those stupid things.”

I can’t tell you I wasn’t worried that she’d strip those off too, because I was sure that was her next move. Thankfully, she agreed to come with me to get on something warmer.

One of the symptoms of her disease is wandering. She loves to go outside and is always trying to escape. Several times a day, she reaches for the door, and I go running down the hallway after her. If she pushes the door before I get to her, an alarm will sound throughout the building and a voice will come over the intercom system saying, “The East entrance alarm has been activated!” It repeats this until you punch in the security code and shut the door. Once the escapee is back inside, the alarm is shut off and the door is closed, I have to say over the intercom, “East door secure. All clear.”

Sometimes she can get that door back open right in the middle of me calling out the all clear. My coworkers laugh at me on days where this happens often. If the intercom phone were closer to the door, it wouldn’t happen so often. But hell, it’s halfway down the hall. I do a lot of running back-and-forth there!

Yesterday, she tried another approach. She stole toothpaste off of the CNA’s cart. Undetected, she ran off to her room, smeared the toothpaste all over her face, and came out in tiptoe fashion.

My unwelcome approach went a little like this, “Oh, my gosh! What is that on your face?”

“God damn it! God damn it! And God damn you!”

“I’m sorry. Please don’t be angry,” I flashed my big ol’ puppy dog eyes at her with my lip pouted.

She put her hand on the side of my face to console me, “Don’t cry. I didn’t mean to yell at you.”

Now stroking my hair, she said, “You have good eyes.”

I smiled at her and she smiled back.

“Can I ask why you have toothpaste all over your face?”

She laughed at me and said, “Your eyes aren’t as good as I thought. It’s camouflage, not toothpaste.”