Now that our infirmary here is almost empty; we only have three out of our ten rooms occupied at this time. Our work schedules have changed a bit along with this development. I now work two night shifts. One is from 11PM-7AM and the other is a twelve hour shift, 7PM-7AM. Not much work do be done, but the men who are there still need to be looked in on and one of them, William, has to be changed three times every shift. At the beginning of the shift and also at 12AM and at 5:30AM, so it is pretty easy actually as far as work goes.

William can react in any number of ways when he has to be awakened in order to clean him and also make sure that he is comfortable. Much of the time he is really too sleepy to do much of anything. He just lets me do what needs to be done and then it is over; it takes about 10 minutes max. Then he can be in a bad mood and fight me the whole time, which extends the time, taking as much as 30 minutes and if he has a surprise for me, perhaps longer, much longer. The above two don’t bother me much, I can handle it ok, though at times, when he is angry I have to dig a little deeper for more patience. Then, there are times when he is confused.

This morning when I was doing my last check in, he was confused to say the least. I always tell him what I am doing and try to move slowly especially when turning him onto his side. There is a great fear of falling off of the bed, so I always tell him “William no need to worry, you are not going to fall”. For the most part this helps, even when he is angry. When confused he just tells me he does not understand what I am saying, nor does he know who I am, nor where he is at and also in his own word, “I don’t understand why you are doing this”. He does not fight me when confused, just lost, like a child in a mall looking for his mother. When he gets like this I try to be more empathic on where he is at. The space he is in when confused must be very anxiety provoking. It saddens me, but the talking softly to him seems to help.

William is present in all of his different moods, he is just not present to the actual moment with whomever is with him at the time doing their jobs. He seems at times, to think I am “Jimmy”, who is obviously a very old friend from way back. Once I was called Marty, and the other staffers also get renamed from time to time. Rose for example at times is mistaken for his mother. Then there are days when he remembers me; “Markey” he says and shakes my hand. One day he even told me that he loves me, for we go way back as friends. I have known him since 1990. That was a good day.

Today, around 4:30PM, when I went into the infirmary, I asked where William was. Elsie told me that when Peter Damien and she where cleaning William, he was in a fighting mood, so after cleaning they left him in bed. I went in to see how he was doing. He was singing; some days he never seems to stop and he has a nice voice in a ‘jazzy’ sort of way. He seemed at peace and again shook my hand, all the while singing away. I like to hear him sing, for he seems at peace when he does it. Only once, though I am sure there have been a few other times over the years, did he sing his frustration and anger when I was present. We were in our little chapel (it was about three years ago, and he was not singing as much as he does now), before the Tabernacle and he let loose. He was asking God why he had to go through this, where was he….it sounded like one of the psalms of the ‘suffering servant’. Again all I could do was to simply be with him, for in the end that is all that can be done for any of us. Then, sooner or later his mood changes and the preceding one is forgotten. Each moment is lived to its fullest, no matter the emotion there is no holding it back, no repression there, all filters that keep most of us in check are now gone for him. Probably not a bad thing, he gets it out and then he moves on to something else.

It is hard to tell how much short term memory he actually has. For his inner landscape changes so much that I think he is simply bopping from one experience from his far past to another; a kind of time travel. One day I asked him what year it was and he said 1966, then a day later he thought it was 2000. Yet in spite of the confusion and memory loss, I sense William still there and from time to time when his eyes light up with recognition it is a fine day for me.

Mark Dohle

Mark Dohle

I am 62 years old and have lived in the Atlanta area since 1971.  I am Catholic and my faith is important to me, yet as I age the mystery continues to deepen, so I read broadly and try to keep things somewhat open ended. I work with the aged and the dying. I was in the Navy for four years and I guess I am life of center when it comes to politics, but not too far left. Actually, I am kind of a political moron.

I am the third of  11 children; ten still alive, one died in in 1958, three days after birth.