Demented Patient

Johanna Shapiro, PhD

My roommate
on the orthopedic ward
Is about 80
Yesterday she fell and broke her hip
while she was doing the laundry
She reached too far for the detergent
And down she went

The next day
after she returns from surgery
she has what the nurse informs me
is post-anesthesia dementia
Basically, she knows who she is
but she can’t understand what happened
to her

She can chat perfectly lucidly
about her children
(one here, one in Oregon)
her eight grandchildren
(they are really something else)
and her dogs
(a black lab, a German shepherd, and
a stubborn dachshund)

But she can’t understand what happened
to her
She can’t grasp that she’s in a hospital
When dinner is delivered
she acknowledges it is pretty good
but then insists she’ll go to the refrigerator
and make something better
I persuade her we should just eat up

She pulls out her IV repeatedly
and tries to get up to go to the bathroom
She is very worried about not making it
to choir practice tomorrow
and wonders how her children
will find her

Periodically, in the middle of one of our
amicable conversations
she will suddenly blurt out
“But what happened to me?”
At first I try to explain about the laundry
and the detergent
but then I fall silent
How can I answer that question?

Periodically she cries out
“I’m not supposed to be here”
and “What am I doing here?”
“There’s been some mistake”

The nurse explains she is demented
and moves her closer to the nurses’ station
But secretly I don’t think she’s demented at all
I feel just the same way
and I’m asking just the same questions
Only I can’t say them out loud