Jolene squatted down, working Kate’s spindly arm through the sleeve of a her brown cardigan, as Nancy click-clacked into the room on too high heels.
“Hey, Jolene,” she chirped, looking down at the nurse’s aide. “Is Kate writing again today?” She laughed as she dropped an envelope onto Kate’s dresser and walked back out, click-clacking her way down the rest of the hallway.
Jolene shook her head and looked at Kate. “Something’s gonna fall off that girl, she keeps shaking it like that.” She laughed at her own joke, but Kate didn’t respond. She sat silently staring out at nothing as Jolene’s stubby fingers fumbled with the small buttons on the front of her sweater.
When she finally finished dressing Kate, Jolene grabbed the sides of the chair and hoisted herself up, breathing hard from the effort. “There now, Mrs. Kate, don’t you look pretty.”
She carefully rested Kate’s arms on top of the wheelchair tray and rolled the chair out of the way. Working quickly, Jolene scooped up the pajamas and towels she left on the floor while she was dressing Kate and dumped them into the wall hamper with a big sigh. Thank goodness she was off for the next couple days. The nursing home was short staffed for more than two weeks now and there was just too much to do. Already this morning, she was behind schedule and she still had five more residents to wash and dress.
“Breakfast is coming, so I’m gonna take you to the Sun Room,” Jolene said, swiping her hair up off her forehead. She gave the room a quick once over, flipped off the light, and wheeled Kate down the hall to leave her with the others.
After her weekend off, Jolene came back to find three more residents assigned to her morning rounds. She wouldn’t fight it this time, though; she learned there was no sense to that. The work had to be done and the residents had to be taken care of, but maybe it was time to look for another job.
Half way through her rounds, Jolene came to Kate’s room and expected to find her doing the writing thing she did. Instead, she found her trying to get out of her wheelchair.
“Whoa, hold on, Kate,” she said running to her side, hoping to reach the old woman before she fell. Jolene never knew what she’d find her Alzheimer’s patients doing, but Kate was never a problem. She spent her days silent and still. Only her hands were in near constant motion, writing something that wasn’t there. An imaginary pen moving line by line across an invisible page kept Kate busy and quiet, even as residents around her screamed or threw things.
Jolene tried to settle Kate back into her chair, but Kate fought her, pushing her away and trying with all her might to break free of her hold. Jolene was surprised, but she held on. “It’s okay, honey. It’s okay,” she repeated over and over until Kate quieted down.
She stepped back to catch her breath and saw Kate trying to get up again, but this time she noticed Kate was reaching toward the letter Nancy dropped on her dresser days ago.
“You want your letter,” Jolene said, finally realizing the problem. She picked up the letter and gave it to Kate, who immediately relaxed and sat back down.
“Oh, Kate,” Jolene said with a big sigh. “I can’t believe this entire weekend and nobody read you your letter.”
In that moment, Kate’s vacant stare was gone. Her eyes were clear and pleading as she looked directly at Jolene. For the first time, Jolene felt Kate’s presence, and she got a glimpse of Kate, the real Kate, the one held hostage behind the foggy curtain that kept her shut in.
Jolene bent down to eye level. “You want me to read your letter?” she asked quietly. A little smile relaxed the skin around Kate’s mouth and she handed the letter to Jolene.
There was a long list of duties that needed Jolene’s attention, and she figured she’d be written up for taking the time to do this, but she put all that aside and instead pulled up a chair and read Kate her letter.
When she finished and folded the letter back into the envelope, Kate leaned forward, reaching out her shaking hand.
“You want the letter?” Jolene asked, handing it to her. Kate reached past the letter and touched Jolene’s hand.
“What is it, Katie? What’s wrong?” Jolene put the letter down and took Kate’s hand in hers.
“Oh, you’re welcome, honey” Jolene said, understanding now what Kate wanted. She squatted down to eye level again. “Next time a letter comes in, I’ll read it to you right away. Okay? I shoulda done it Friday, but I’m not too bright sometimes,” she said with a little laugh. Kate didn’t respond. She was lost again behind the curtain, but she kept a tight hold on Jolene’s hand.
“Wow, Katie, you’ve really got the Vulcan death grip, there.” She rubbed Kate’s hand in hers, and she looked at the little lost lady who sat silently writing every day. Kate’s grip relaxed under Jolene’s touch, but she wouldn’t let go until Jolene put the letter in her hand.
When their morning routine was finished, and the room was neatened up, Jolene saw Kate had taken the letter out of the envelope and was looking at it. She kept hold of the letter as Jolene wheeled her down the hall into the Sun Room for breakfast.
When her shift was over and she had her coat on ready to go home for the night, Jolene thought of Kate and decided to check in on her one last time. Kate sat quietly in her wheelchair under the dim reading lamp in the corner of her room. In one hand she held her letter. In the other hand she held her imaginary pen and wrote across a page that wasn’t there.[picapp align=”center” wrap=”false” link=”term=hand+holding+letter&iid=249795″ src=”0246/7c40b4fd-cb95-4a6c-8120-4068a9bac82b.jpg?adImageId=8025722&imageId=249795″ width=”500″ height=”338″ /]