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Found - Now What?

Found - Now What?

Henri: Trapped and Fading
What Happened?

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.

Photograph by Stefano Pollio

  • Post author
    Debra Levine

Comments on this post (8)

  • Oct 25, 2020

    Dear Debra,
    We know, that you are an artist and a poet, and still you paint the reality with clear and vivid colors. It could brake our heart if it were not already broken. We absolutely must go on with our efforts together with other reporters. Thank you so much for your persistence. You can count on us.

    — Esther Heidi Kunz-Schiffer

  • Oct 23, 2020

    My Dear Debra, I read every post but do not always respond., for that I apologize. Having known my dear husband in the lost world of dementia your words have many meanings. I too have to agree with another poster. Your friend Henri is most likely overmedicated. The reasoning for it is individual to the patient. Dementia is a world where one stays, then fleetingly leaves then returns for longer periods after each time out. Their realization is that something is very wrong and they become terribly agitated and difficult to sometimes control. I watched my husband go in and out of this nether world for eight years. Finally medication made the care givers job easier. It just made me sad. He still smiled when I brought him cookies or smoked salmon sandwiches which we would share. The medication makes them less paranoid as well, supposedly. I doubt it. I am hoping your therapy is going very well, and soon you can be back to your life as the smiling Debra I remember. I think of you so often. Xxoo Cynthia G

    — Cynthia

  • Oct 22, 2020

    WOW! You shared with me the confusion that goes on inside the silence. At least that is how perceived it. I smile knowing you are in a country that you do not speak their language, and I smile also because you went into VivoBene and you do not speak the language of their patients. You truly walk among the living just being Debra. I applaud you handsomely.❤️

    — Marilyn

  • Oct 21, 2020

    You are so kind and I picture Henri. What can we do for him. And my heart goes out.
    You are so wonderful. I love you and prayers

    — Norie

  • Oct 21, 2020

    Excellent Deb you certainly have a way with words! What a heart you have

    — Natalie

  • Oct 21, 2020

    Excellent Deb you certainly have a way with words! What a heart you have

    — Natalie

  • Oct 21, 2020

    I absolutely love the picture that draws me excitedly in to see what you have written this time.  I go down to read your blog and come back up to stare at the picture over and over again and begin wondering if this is a person between worlds - or a person screaming to to be heard, to be found? Your description(s) are captivating. My mind jumps to your character, Henri, I begin to wonder if he is “lost” or over medicated? What family member is watching over him? I feel your heart and how you want to help these people that seem lost. Thank you so much for caring—-it touches my heart. Love you. Carolyn

    — Carolyn

  • Oct 19, 2020

    How wonderful you are for caring about these lost souls. And not only caring but visiting them as well.
    The setup at Vivo care and the website leaves a lot of questions unanswered…The truth will out…

    — London boy

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