Pecking Order

I visited my mom first thing this morning, arriving in time to help her pick out clothes, brush her hair and help her with her new denture. (Apparently that assistance hasn’t taken effect yet.) I reminded her to brush her teeth, helped her find her glasses which had fallen on the floor (thank goodness she didn’t step on them!), and then walked her down to her table in the dining room and sat with her for most of the meal.

S, the friendly and talkative lady at the new table, was absent this morning. It is definitely a “lower functioning” table, especially without her. J, the lone male at the table, is a very nice guy but he looks perpetually lost and answers every question with “I don’t know” or “I have no idea.” How are you feeling this morning, J? I don’t know. How are your eggs, J? I don’t know. The other woman at the table, C, gets so confused so quickly that she has difficulty following a simple, single-step instruction like “Eat your eggs.” She also gets very easily agitated and argumentative. This morning was quite the drama, with C refusing to stay at the table and eat her breakfast because the bacon was burned and the eggs were cold – only to wander off and come right back two minutes later, asking why she hadn’t been given any breakfast. When told that was her breakfast on the plate, she started yelling about how she wasn’t going to eat someone else’s food. She gets upset when someone tells her what to do, but she’s hopelessly lost without direct instructions and complains that she doesn’t know what’s going on because nobody tells her anything. It was a Who’s On First comedy of aggravation.

I can’t help but feel like my mom’s been stuck riding the short bus and that it’s not fair to her. Yes, she’s got her own increasing cognitive issues but I don’t feel like she belongs with this group yet. She put up with it with good grace, for the most part, but at one point Mom looked at me and asked quietly “Why did I get stuck with her for a table mate?” I told her it’s probably because they know she’s kind and patient, and it takes a lot of patience to deal with C.

It’s a little disconcerting because I’ve observed a distinct pecking order at these places. The higher functioning residents tend to look down on, avoid and/or laugh at the ones who have trouble with basic activities or wander around lost. I suspect it’s motivated, more than anything, by fear of their own declining abilities. But Mom was just starting to make friends there and I don’t want her to be shunned now because she’s been classified “lower functioning.”

Oh, and get this… We were sitting outside the Med Room waiting to see the doctor on his monthly visit, and the Egyptian couple from her old table walked by. The man, F, stopped and asked how she was doing. “I miss you,” he said. “I don’t understand why they had to break up our table.” Seriously? She’s been upset on a daily basis about this upheaval, which was all brought about because YOU complained about her, F… but now you miss her? Good grief.

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