I was in the waiting room of my doctor’s office. My younger daughter had gone in and asked if I’d wait in the waiting room. Sure. Our doctor shares an office building with a bunch of other doctors and soon I noticed a tattooed youngish woman wheeling in an older woman in a wheelchair. The woman in the wheelchair was very pleasant-looking, Grandma-like, in a green shirt and black leggings. She didn’t seem all that old to me, late 60s maybe. The younger woman was clearly her caretaker and was soon filling out a form while patiently answering the older woman’s questions. Their conversation fascinated me.
What am I doing here? asked the older woman, looking around almost casually. You’re here to see the doctor, said the younger woman. What for? asked the older woman. Just a check-up, she was told. The older woman then asked about her own mother and was told that her mother wasn’t there. My mother was a beautiful woman, she told her caretaker. She was, replied the caretaker. You look just like her. The older woman smiled modestly. Thank you, she said. There was a pause for a minute or two. Then the older woman asked, What am I doing here? You’re here to see the doctor, said the younger woman. What for? asked the older woman. Just a check-up, she was told. Almost the exact same words. I realized that I had never seen anything like this before in real life. It was like a scene from a play about Alzheimer’s. I caught the older woman’s eye and smiled at her. This felt important. She smiled back at me, quite warmly. I wondered if she wondered if she knew me or not. She then talked to the younger woman about her husband and the younger woman said that she had never met him, he’d passed away years before. Then the older woman began to say a prayer, very quietly, so that I couldn’t hear it entirely, but I did catch the words Jesus Christ a few times. She seemed to be repeating the prayer over and over. Then there was a silence. And then: What am I doing here? You’re here to see the doctor, said the younger woman, still filling out the form. How many times would she have to answer that question? How many times does she have to say the same things again and again? How did she have the patience for it?
Finally, a nurse stepped out and called for Anna. The younger woman went around to the back of the wheelchair, but before the older woman was turned and wheeled into the doctor’s office, she was sitting facing me and I caught her eye again and smiled and she smiled back and waved goodbye to me as her wheelchair was then turned around. I felt my eyes fill with tears.
Who was Anna? What had just happened? In that short time, I felt like I’d finally had an understanding of what Alzheimer’s was like. I had read and heard about it, but I had never witnessed it so clearly before. But now that I knew, I wasn’t sure what to do with this knowledge. There seemed to be so much that I had seen in this tiny scene: fear, despair, impatience, patience. But what was I doing there? Just paying attention, I guess.