7.15 am: my alarm clock went off. Usually I might struggle to get out of bed and I might even stay for a bit longer. But not on that day. I had slept on the sofa as Izabela (my stepmother and carer who I was replacing) was still sleeping and was due to leave the job permanently in the morning after Dorothy’s family came over to say their goodbyes. I could not imagine the magnitude of the awkwardness if Dorothy was to find me sleeping in the living room. I was still not clear about her position on me coming to stay in Izabela’s place let alone sleep in her sofa bed without her consent
After making my bed I quickly ran upstairs where Izabela was still in bed calmly rubbing her pregnant belly. She gave a good sense of security and although I was nervous as anyone on their first day at the job I did not panic or even think I might not be fit for the job. I had done some respite care for a boy with Autism before, and I had a degree in Psychology, so whatever came my way I was bound to be able to handle.
Soon Dorothy’s family began to arrive and I was surrounded by women who can talk even more than me! That is not something you see everyday. They are Dorothy’s sister and her nieces – Rebecca is the one who also lives at the house and is legally responsible for Dorothy, so in short: my new boss. From the floor I sat looking at Izabela – the only person I really knew in that room and she was about to leave. But I tried not to think about that and enjoy the fact that soon I’d embark on an adventure of a lifetime. After a lot of chatting, swapping of goodbye cards, presents, hugs, kisses and perplexed looks and smiles from Dorothy everyone decided it was time to leave. All at once.
Only now can I imagine how overwhelming that whole situation must have been for Dorothy. Lacking enough memory and possibly face-recognition to even recognize her own niece who has cared for her for several months, she has just settled down watching TV, is used to a quiet life and suddenly has a house full of loud women talking about things that she cannot understand or remember for long enough to follow. And suddenly again they are all gone.
Anyway these people were leaving now so Dorothy was bound to settle back down and be happy for the rest of the day. But no, when I walked over to the front door to wave goodbye to Rebecca and the guests Dorothy looked at me with the most defiant and amazed look as I locked the door and demanded:
-“What the hell are you doing?! Who the hell do you think you are to lock my front door in my own house? Give me those keys right now or open that door now! I am leaving for home.”
-Ah…eh…hmm…well… – I replied in complete shock and fear for my life. She WAS home! What was she talking about? Did she not think this was her home? Did everyone suddenly leaving make her think it’s bound to be her time to head off home too?
-You see, it’s a bad habit of mine, I can’t relax unless I always lock the doors behind me.
-Yes, but I must go home now and I need the door opened. Open it right now please!
“Please??” I thought. That did not sound like a sincere please to me.
My heart was pounding, my throat suddenly dried up and my hand couldn’t quite hold on to the keys as it did before. I could not believe what was happening. Never did I guess I would be verbally assaulted this way. I was under strict instructions to lock all doors and not let her out alone. I wasn’t ready for going out with her either.
The two truthful reasons as to why I was locking the door were that she can’t go out on her own lest she gets lost or ran over by a car in the process, and that I was told she wasn’t allowed to go out. Either of these answers should have settled that if only Dorothy was aware that she had dementia and if I hadn’t been told by Izabela that “Dorothy hates being told what to do”.
Not knowing what to do I started digging myself a hole, sounding squeaky and forgetting my words – English is not my first language and under stressful situations such as job interviews, public talks and now this incident I sound like I have barely scraped an intermediate certificate for speaking English after cheating on every test.
Desperately I mumbled that I needed to go get something upstairs and cowardly run up to my room. Like a child I burst into tears, and instantly felt sick with myself. It had been 10 minutes on the job and I was already breaking down! “I know, I’ll just sit here until she tires, forgets about the whole incident and it will all be fine.” I thought to myself. But the clippity clop of shoes pacing by the front door begged to differ. Random facts about dementia started running through my mind: as forgetful as they can be, demented patients have a stronger memory for emotional information. And ‘oh boy’ was this emotional?
After 10 or 20 minutes of composing myself and re-thinking the pros and cons of this job I prepared to go back downstairs. Would she be waiting for me, knife in hand??