Saturday, July 14, 2012

Hayley's quandary

A true story

It was the middle of the night, and Hayley was staying with her elderly neighbor, Phyllis, who had Alzheimer's and needed 24/7 care.

Suddenly, Phyllis began talking in her sleep. "She's going down there," Phyllis said. Hayley kept quiet, hoping that Phyllis would go back to sleep. Her vivid dreams were almost impossible to wake her up from and snap her back to reality.

"Why's she going down there?" Phyllis continued. There was a short silence. Hayley was almost asleep again.

"She just fell!" Phyllis exclaimed.

"Mmmmmm..." Hayley murmured.

"She just fell!" Phyllis repeated, urgently.

"Who?" Hayley asked.

"Mama," Phyllis said.

Hayley hoped Phyllis would go back to sleep, but she knew from experience that these dreams usually went on and on. Telling her it was a dream did no good, so Hayley thought maybe if she feigned sleep it would help. But Phyllis kept on.

"She needs help," Phyllis said.

Silently, Hayley begged, "Please, please, please, let's just go back to sleep." She had to work the next day, and sometimes these dreams could go for an hour before she could get Phyllis to calm down and go back to sleep. It looked like it was going to be one of those nights.

"It's getting dark," Phyllis continued. "She's hurt. She's half in that stream. She'll die if she stays there all night."

"Mmmmmm..." Hayley groaned, hoping to hint that it was the middle of the night and time to be asleep.

"I guess she'll die then," Phyllis said in a melodramatic voice. She sniffed and sounded like she was choking back a sob. "Well, she won't feel anything after she's gone." Hayley knew that what Phyllis was seeing was real to her. A wave of compassion washed over her, a deep sadness at witnessing the mental trauma that the Alzheimer's created for Phyllis.

A minute later she felt Phyllis gently prodding her. "Won't you run down there and help mama?" she begged.

What should she say? A number of possibilities rose in her mind, and she rejected them all. "Your mama died before I was born"? No, too callous. "You're just dreaming"? No, she had been around in circles arguing that one in the past. You simply could not convince Phyllis once she got into this state. "Your mama is fine"? No, that would sound incomprehensible to Phyllis. Finally she came up with what would sound as compassionate as possible. "I would if I could," she said.

"Well, I'm old," Phyllis retorted. "I can't run down there. But you're young. Why don't you just go down there and help her?"

Hayley leaned over and switched on the bedside lamp, hoping that the sight of the bedroom would help Phyllis to wake up. It usually didn't work, but she thought it wouldn't hurt for Phyllis to see the sincerity in her face as she answered.

"I really would if I could," she said. "But I can't." She added to herself, "I can't get into your dream." She knew as soon as she said it that it sounded nonsensical to Phyllis. But what else could she say?

Phyllis still wasn't giving up. "You could just run down there and help her," she coaxed.

"This is getting nowhere," Hayley realized. She decided to just tell Phyllis the truth.

"Phyllis, your mama's fine," she said as convincingly as she could. "She's in a safe place [heaven, Hayley thought to herself], and she's happy, and nothing is the matter with her."

Hayley could see that this speech didn't get anywhere, and she tried her best to console Phyllis, but to no avail.

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