It helps to have friends in high places.
Friday afternoon, I went with my daughter to visit my dad and as we were walking in, I held my breath, said a silent prayer that this visit would go well, and let my breath out again. As usual, I wasn't looking forward to it. It is painful to watch my dad in the condition he is now--lethargic, unable to walk on his own, and barely able to communicate. And he recently had yet another fall, leaving a nice bump on the back of his head. Thankfully, no concussion.
As we approached the main entry to the assisted living facility, there was an unusually large group of non-Alzheimer's residents sitting outside in rocking chairs. They all smiled as they saw my daughter and greeted her, reaching out to touch her. I wasn't in the mood to greet anyone as my thoughts were on my dad, but I made myself smile and greet them briefly as we walked by.
Once inside and signed in, outwardly I was smiling and greeting the employees and residents there, but inwardly the human part of me was screaming, because I didn't want to be there. I didn't want my dad to be there. I wanted him back in his cozy home, so I could sit with him in his living room, and have a normal conversation with him again.
We found him in the dining area again, in a new wheelchair this time, sitting at a table with another resident, a set of play tools set out before them. My dad was simply looking down at his hands, which were trembling. He seemed to recognize me this time, or at least gave the impression that he did. But his gaze kept going downward to his hands again, where it stayed for most of our visit. My daughter began playing with the tools, and I put my arm around my dad's shoulders and asked how he was feeling. He didn't understand the question the first couple of times, but then finally understood and replied with something resembling, "Pretty good."
Then I noticed he kept doing something with his hands in relation to the long sleeve shirt he was wearing, and figured out that he must have been warm and wanted to take the shirt off, so--seeing that he had another shirt on under that--I helped him take it off, which was quite the feat since he wasn't sure what to do with his arms. It was then that I realized that the shirt underneath that one was also long-sleeve, and a thick one at that. Under that, he also had an undershirt on. No wonder he was warm, even with his tendency to get cold easily. Outside, the temperature was in 80s, and the air conditioner was only doing so much to help.
Not long after that, he began trying to take off the second shirt, so I helped him take it off, which left him in just his undershirt, but then he was too cold, so he wanted to put the long-sleeve shirt back on. So I helped him get it back on, then it wasn't long before he was trying to take it off again. This time, he was trying to pull it over his head without unbuttoning it. After no success at trying to gently convince him not to take it off again, I figured a distraction was in order, so I gathered my daughter and we took my dad for a ride. This time, he had nice leg and foot rests, thanks to the new wheelchair.
One long wheelchair ride later (including a trip outside to the courtyard area), I went to look for someone to help me transfer him to an easy chair, and that was when I saw a friend. A friend who used to work for my dad many years ago, and who had worked as a sitter for my dad recently after he had just come out of the hospital. A friend who looked to be working as an employee there now. And indeed, she was! I was thrilled. I knew her to be a very detail-oriented type person who was good with the elderly, and had been good with my dad when she was his sitter. She would notice the little things that a resident might need. This was an answer to prayer.
My friend came to help me get my dad into the easy chair, but just as we were about to take him out of the wheelchair, the fire alarm went off. It was very loud. Both my daughter and I had to cover our ears. This was my chance to see if they would wait to evacuate the residents in that unit, or do it right away. A family member of another resident had told me during our last visit that they had waited to find out if it was just a drill first, and it had concerned me. Then I saw my friend jumping into action, coordinating with the other employees on shift in that unit, and everyone was evacuated immediately. So I had my answer. Either the woman the other day had her information wrong, or something had changed.
I was impressed with how quickly they managed to get all of those residents out. They only had a couple of glitches, which were quickly worked out. I wheeled my dad out myself, with my daughter by my side. They lined all the wheelchair residents up in a row along the sidewalk, and had the non-wheelchair residents sitting on benches or standing alongside them. Once they were all out, one of the employees did a roll call by visually checking to see if all the residents were there and checking them off with her pen.
Only one resident was combative, a woman, who kept trying to go back inside. An employee blocked her, body to body, linebacker style, saying a firm, "No!" It was the same employee who was doing the roll call. It was almost humorous to watch. Finally, after the persistent woman wouldn't give up and the employee was tired of playing linebacker, the employee took her firmly by the arm and took her for a walk down the sidewalk. Being a large woman can have its advantages.
When the fire drill was over, everyone was taken back in and things went back to normal. We left with my dad settled in comfortably in an easy chair. I will rest easier now in-between visits, knowing that my dad has a friend in his corner now who will have a personal interest in his care, and that when the fire alarm goes off, he--along with all the other residents in that unit--will be evacuated immediately.