Residents of the dementia care facility (DCF) are dealing with different levels of severity when it comes to their declining mental faculties. Some are quite sharp and very aware their surrounding; if you were to encounter them in any other setting, it may be difficult to tell something was wrong. Others are incapable of remembering details of a conversation that just occurred and the most severe struggle to communicate their needs.
Joe Football bridge the gap between these two types of residents. On the one hand he was able to communicate clearly, but on the other, Joe had no idea where he was, or for that matter, when he was. Although there was the unmistakable look of confusion in his eyes, he managed well and would in some moments appear jovial.
Although Joe was a regular in the halls around the Rec room, he did not come in so we never got a chance to converse. That all changed this past Super Bowl Sunday, when I decided to spend the first half of the big game hanging out with Rufus and his friends at the DCF. I walked into a room more crowded than usual with the game on the big screen. Most of the usual suspects were there, but I immediately noticed Joe was sitting in the room, eyes glued to the screen, reacting to the plays as they were unfolding. I set Rufus in the lap of one of his regulars and proceeded to the table where Joe set with another gentleman.
I introduced myself and asked Joe if he was enjoying the game. If gave an enthusiastic yes, never really turning his eyes from the screen. When I asked what team he was rooting for, he hesitated, and I saw that look of confusion that I see on the faces of many of the other residents whose condition is most severe. I realized at that point that although he was excited, and recognized that he was watching a football game, he had no idea who was playing. He finally answered that he did not have a team to root for, and that he was just hoping for an exciting game.
Although many of these residents short-term memory is non-existent, their past memories are still intact. As the game carried on, I asked Joe if he had a favorite football team. No longer did I see a look of confusion in his eyes, but rather one of recognition and a sly little smile crept across his face. "I am a Buckeye fan," Joe said, "the best team in the land." Well, it just so happens that I am a Buckeye too. I was born and raised in Cincinnati by parents who are OSU alumni; suffice it to say I came out of the womb bleeding Scarlet & Gray.
Joe and I spent the rest of the first half discussing our shared passion for the all things Ohio State. As the conversation progressed It became increasingly clear to me that Joe was not living in 2014. He talked about players and coaches from the 1940's & 1950's and did not recognize any of the big names I had grown up watching.
For Joe, it was sometime post World War II and he was still living in the small town in central Ohio where he grew up and raised a family. He talked about his job at the radio factory and going to the local high school football game on Friday night. This is a common phenomenon and I have learned from the DCF staff not to correct these fantasies.
From that day forward, I would walk out of the Rec room to say hi as Joe passed by doors on his stroll around the facility. As we shook each others hands, I could sense that he was struggling to remember how he knew this young guy who seemed to know him, but he could not place his finger on it. He would just say, "Hey there young fella," and I would say, "How about those Buckeyes?" Joe would always respond the same way, "They are the best team in the land."
I found out on my most recent visit that Joe had passed peacefully in his sleep earlier in the week. The passing of one of our regulars is always difficult, but there is a certain sense of relief that I experience when someone like Joe no longer has to deal with the day-to-day confusion and uncertainty. Besides, I know a Buckeye fan never dies, because we are from Ohio... O -- H