They Have to Do What I Say

They Have to Do What I Say

by Dawn Corrigan

When I stop at the Villas this evening my grandfather is agitated.

“Thank goodness you’re here,” he says, “she’s trying to get out of the bed.”

The Villas is the assisted living facility where my grandparents live. Up until this week, they were together in a one-bedroom apartment on the first floor, in the “Minimal Assistance” section. But in the past four months, my grandmother has broken both hips and undergone two months of rehab. Yesterday we moved her to a room in the “Secure Unit” on the third floor.

Last night was the first time in 43 years my grandparents slept apart. This may partially account for my grandfather’s agitation, though he’s also right, even with the two of us standing there watching, she’s trying to climb out of the bed. She seems surprised that her left leg won’t do her bidding.

She’s also wearing some shiny satin flowered PJs I’ve never seen before.

“Sexy, Nan,” I say.

A staff member comes in and shows me the alarms. They don’t just have the bed rigged, there’s a motion sensor on the floor, too. The alarm sounds whenever anyone walks by.

Nan is lying in state in the middle of Fort Knox. The motion sensor alarm sounds every time I go to kiss her, or lean over to adjust something on the bed.

When the staff member departs, my grandfather and I start the ‘You have to be a good patient’ lecture.

“You fell ten times,” I tell her, holding up my ten fingers.

“Oh my,” she says.

“You have to do what they say,” I continue, “otherwise you’re going to wind up crippled for life, and you’ll never get out of that bed.”

My Nan nods in agreement with me.

“They have to do what …” she begins, but I can see she knows she has it wrong.

“They have to …” she starts again, then shakes her head. She’s trying, she really is, but identity is fighting against her, even through the dementia. My grandmother is who she is. She isn’t accustomed to following orders.

She tries again. Slowly.

I have to do what … they say.”


– refers from the first stanza of Cal Nordt’ s poem What I’ve Forgotten

  1. Tender w/o sugar traps. Honest yet respectful. Well done.

  2. My grandmother never had dementia and died at 93 from heart failure, but this does remind me of my mother-in-law, who does have dementia, and also a very strong will. She escaped one facility by climbing an eight foot wall and another by memorizing the code she saw nurses enter on the security keypad, and so we had to take her in to our home, where she’s been much less of a problem. This is a very nice vignette, Dawn.

  3. Glad to see the discussion starting!

  4. Thanks, Cal. It is amazing to me how much of my grandmother’s strong will, which was always her defining characteristic, persists, even as the dementia takes away so much else.

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