So this last weekend I was back in Houston to help with the Center for Counseling fundraiser and had some extra time on Saturday. I decided to go by and see the elderly lady that I visit with and look in on from time to time. When I called her, she was absolutely thrilled that I was coming by and I told her I'd be there "in a little while." When I knocked on her door, she answered it--wearing only her house slippers and latex gloves!
After I helped her get into a housedress, we had a very nice visit. She was high on enthusiasm and low on delusions, so that helped. Her delusions have remained very stable in the 8 or so years I've known her and I have wondered if maybe they are not age-related. Fortunately, most of them don't cause her distress and they are pretty entertaining for the rest of us. She believes that she is a Romanoff descendant and will receive a large inheritance any day now, that her head is shrinking (she'll squeal, "Look at me! My head is the size of a walnut!" but it doesn't seem to bother her any), that her neighbors come in and cook on her stove (again, doesn't seem to be a problem), etc. She "knows" everything about all her neighbors and tells long stories about the lives of strangers--it's very entertaining. And I love her laugh--she is the only old lady I know who cackles!
What's amazing, though, is how sharp she is. She remembers everything she learns on PBS and on the news and can hold forth at length about just about any topic. She remembers things about my family and about her own past. She was a holocaust survivor (documented at the Holocaust Museum where you can see her name on the wall) from Lithuania as well as a Ph.D. in botany. She worked for years at the medical center before retiring when she went blind in her late 50s.
Unfortunately, due to her disabilities, she lives in literally filthy conditions and there's not much anyone can do about it since she is unable to get along with caregivers for long and the agencies end up "firing" her. I used to take her food but can't now, of course. This is where her resilience and resourcefulness kick in, thankfully, since she has the ability to get almost anyone to do almost anything she needs. She remembers phone numbers (since she's blind, she can't look them up) of almost everyone she's ever talked to on the telephone, including government agencies, lawyers, and the media.
On the one hand, it is truly sad what life is like for the elderly who literally have no family or real friends. On the other hand, it has been delightful to know such a remarkable person.