Henri: Trapped and Fading
I arrive at the VivoCare Residence shortly before my scheduled 11:00 am invitation. An employee greets me at the car and escorts me through a side door. Previous to being a care home dedicated to patients with Alzheimer's disease or dementia, it was Life Up Long Stay Resort & Spa. It is my understanding the original main entrance is no longer in use. Not knowing what to expect upon my arrival, it is refreshing to hear the bouncing ball, the laughter, and see many familiar faces as we enter a large room.
After saying hello to Debbie, my host, and her caregiver, I cross the space and sit in the only available seat in the erratic circle of chairs. The delightful enthusiasm partially relaxes me, but I remain somewhat agitated. Everybody appears to appreciate the organized games - except for Henri. Sitting lethargically to my right, he catches me off guard. I am not interacting with the same man I remember from VivoBene.
About the Henri, I once knew:
Handsome, relatively young, and effortlessly stylish - that's Henri. Invariably I am mesmerized by his warm, welcoming smile - even when slightly coy. He often joins me on my walks around the grounds of VivoBene - mostly silent, but at times I hear a faint giggle or a sigh. Occasionally he grasps my left baby finger and squeezes tightly. We have a unique method of communication.
He loves being with people and is usually an eager participant no matter the activity: painting, feeding the fish at the lake, or simply sitting with his friends relishing the sunshine. He enjoys helping the caregivers with certain chores - especially any duty involving the restaurant. He easily controls the cumbersome food cart: strong, willing, and prepared to assist.
About the Henri next to me now:
I do not receive a nod of recognition as I take the seat beside him. Instead, his head remains lowered - his chin resting uncontrollably on his chest.
He is predominantly motionless and oblivious to the action surrounding him. I try not to stare, but it is obvious he is only a slight shadow of the man I interacted with at VivoBene. Is he asleep? Where did his passion go? Where did he go?
Taken aback by his gaunt, expressionless, and listless appearance - I am heartbroken. Playing with the others, I continue to keep a keen eye on Henri - hoping to detect a spark of life. He likes me to rub and tickle his back gently. I do so with extreme caution - nothing - not even a tinge of a reaction.
Perplexed and not educated in the world of dementia, I maintain a calm and allow Henri his chosen quiet space. The organizer of the play session brings everything to a close. Debbie and I go to a nearby table to color. Henri slithers away.
Soon the caregiver ushers us to the veranda for lunch. One informs me that VivoCare serves three buffet-style meals per day. A drastic difference to my dining experience during my stay at VivoBene.
I attempt to keep pace with Debbie, but she walks more swiftly than I. And Henri? I do not know what happened. I see a man trapped and fading. However, my heart flutters as I catch a glimpse of him affectionately holding and gently stroking the guinea pigs one by one. For a brief moment, I see the man I once knew not so long ago. Do I see a coy grin sneaking out of its prison as he discovers a new home with the animals?
I am a guest at VivoCare, and as anticipated, I am not at ease. As for the transplanted patients - I hope they have the freedom to roam with an assigned caregiver as they once did at VivoBene. Yes, I found the missing shadows - but now what? My inquiries meet blank stares combined with vague and confusing responses. It is as though this hidden secret world will remain forgotten - these patients cannot advocate for themselves, and those who could fight for them choose silence.