Fay and Jeannie are best friends. You might not know it if you approached them in the hall.
Jeannie would be looking down at the floor, maybe peaking up at you with her head down and her eyes raised. A kind of Princess Di look. Fay would look you right in the eye unblinking to the point of discomfort, not in a mean way, just in a “I’m taking you all in” way.
Fay is just under 5 feet tall and a solid 85 pounds, is missing half of her right foot and her left hand is in a permanent fist which gives her the look of someone looking for a fight. She is 85 years old but strong enough to pull a sink off the wall or stack two bedside tables on her bed. We know, we’ve seen it. She has an insatiable curiosity about doorknobs and door handles and sets our alarms off on a regular basis. But mostly she likes to wander the hallways. She is well known and well loved in the facility by both staff and residents which has earned her the nickname Mama. When she gets tired in the afternoon she has a left sided list to her walk and starts hanging onto the handrails. That’s when we walk her back to her room and try to get her to rest. For her that means sitting in a chair in her room or out in the hall clutching a stuffed cat that’s as big as she is. New staff members who think of her as a tiny old lady get a hearty surprise when she squeezes their hand too tight or punches them because they don’t know how to talk to her in just the right way to make her want to cooperate.
It’s a fine balance.
Jeannie speaks a kind of English that sounds like the gibberish of a toddler although every once in awhile she will speak as clear as day. Like when she cusses you out. She has a rare sense of humor which she displays by patting our butts as we walk by and then snickering at us. She is often seen walking around the facility with PPE on – masks, gloves, shield, the whole works and sometimes with a stethoscope around her neck. She is a collector of things. One week when the residents kept complaining about their TV remotes missing we were stymied until Amalio, our maintenance man walked up to me with a shopping bag in his hand. In it he had about 10 remotes that he had found in Jeannie’s drawers. Now when anything is missing we just check Jeannie’s room. Jeannie is a kind soul who walks into just about anyone’s room and just sits with them. She is never a bother and most of our other residents just wait quietly until she decides to leave. They say she keeps them company. She steals the nurses’ list of vital signs or sometimes the days’ schedule and if we are really lucky and patient we are able to wrestle them away from her undamaged. But not without a long string of cuss words and then a chuckle or two. She has a twinkle in her eye that makes her look like she is always planning something sneaky and makes you wonder if she really has dementia or is fooling every last one of us.
Sometimes when I am rushing down the hall to my next meeting or to discuss something with my unit manager one of them will grab my hand as I try to pass them. They keep walking expecting me to slow down to their pace and when they smile up at me what else can I do. I slow down and walk with them the rest of the way down the hall. Not only do my feet slow, but my mind slows and I breathe again and I enjoy that moment of love and friendship that they are so generously offering me.
Roommates for the past year they get along quite well. Although you never see them talking to each other or even spending a lot of time together, you get the feeling that one would have a hard time without the other. Thus their nickname “the twins”.
One day Fay wouldn’t leave her bed. She refused her meals and we had a hard time rousing her. We suspected a stroke so we called 911 and sent her to the hospital. For the next couple of days we worried like a mother worries over a child. Then about 3 days later we got a phone call telling us that Fay was being discharged back to our facility. As she came through the door on a gurney we celebrated,following her down the hall to her room. I stepped up to the gurney and said “Fay, you’re home!” She grabbed my hand with her death grip and her eyes got misty as she smiled up at me. Jeannie didn’t come around to greet her or seem to care that she was back. We settled Fay in and all went back to work.
That evening as I stood at the end of the hall I saw a most enchanting sight.
There were Jeannie and Fay hand in hand, Jeannie ever so slowly leading Fay back to their room. Neither was talking but then there was nothing to say. The twins were reunited.