Back in my hospital CNA days, I worked the night shift. Each of the rooms on the med-surg unit where I worked had a 365-day calendar hanging on the wall to let the patient know what day it was, so one of the things I did each night as I made my rounds taking midnight vitals was to tear the previous day’s page off each calendar to update it for the new day.
During one shift, I was assigned to “sit” with a somewhat confused elderly woman. She had wrecked her car, and done an impressive job, judging by the photos her family had brought in of what was left of it. She was in the early stages of dementia, but blissfully unaware of the frequent deficits in her cognition, and my task was to keep her safely in her bed where her injuries could heal, since she thought she was perfectly fine and wanted to get dressed and go home. The primary topic of our conversation that evening centered around how everyone in her family had suddenly lost their minds and started acting as though something was wrong with her. This annoying state of affairs had continued in the hospital, where the staff was treating her just like her family had been.
“They act like I’m stupid!” she told me. “They ask me all these silly questions.” Switching to an ingratiating, patronizing tone, she listed them for me: “‘Can you tell me your name?’ ‘Do you know where you are?’ “Who’s the President?’ ‘Do you know what day it is?'” She rolled her eyes in exasperation and said, “Duh!!!” in exactly the same sarcastic way my kids had said it as teenagers, which very nearly cracked me up. With great effort, however, I managed not to smile, and maintained what I hoped was an appropriately earnest and sympathetic expression.
She leaned toward me then, lowering her voice to a conspiratory tone. “And THEN, do you know what they do?” she asked. I shook my head, not quite trusting myself to speak just yet, and she went on, her eyes widening. “In the middle of the night, they sneak in here, and they CHANGE THE DAY. I’ve SEEN them!”
Tearing the pages off those calendars always made me feel a little guilty, after that.