Saturday, February 3, 2007

Old People part II

Mr. and Mrs. Nashif were from Lebanon. Mrs. Nashif knew English very well, but had Alzheimer's. Mr. Nashif had picked up English through his job as a blacksmith, but had no formal schooling in it when he was a child, so he was losing his ability to speak and understand it. Mrs. Nashif acted as our translator, but her Alzheimer's sometimes made that very difficult.

Many of my coworkers tried to communicate with Mr. Nashif by speaking English very loud and slow. I never understood this approach.

I decided to have Mrs. Nashif teach me a few basic phrases in Lebanese so I could better communicate with Mr. Nashif. She would tell me a phrase like, “Shu ba dek al hemem” (“Do you want to go to the bathroom?”). I would write it down phonetically and try to repeat it back to her.

But learning foreign phrases from a person with Alzheimer’s is a strange experience. If I said it wrong, she would just sit there with a puzzled stare. If I said it right, she would light up, thinking I knew Lebanese, and she would excitedly speak to me in her native tongue. This could happen several times in one sitting.

Mr. and Mrs. Nashif would also forget they were in a nursing home, and think that I was just coming by for a visit. Mrs. Nashif would say, “Come in, come in, Honey! Sit, sit. Would you like something to eat? How is your mother.”

Mr. Nashif would say, “Where is your father, Honey? I need to speak with him.”

They would say, “I love you too much, Honey. You are a good girl.”

Sometimes if my rounds were done, I would visit the Nashifs and try to forget that I was in a nursing home.

Tomorrow, I'm getting back to politics.

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