I visited Faye to help her figure out her insurance and how much a trip to the neurologist would cost. At 93, she was experiencing some memory loss and frustrated with herself. A family reunion coming up in Dupree, South Dakota, also had her nervous.
“What if someone comes up and I can’t remember their name?” she asks.
“At 93, you are allowed to forget names,” I tell her. “I don’t remember the names of the people I went to highschool with, especially when I’m stressed.”
“I just get so anxious about the trip…when I can’t remember words I get even more anxious.”
We talked about how deep breaths could help. How oxygen dissipates adrenaline and stress hormones in the blood, and could calm her down. Faye told me that she only takes deep breaths in the morning before her glass of room-temperature water to start the day. I tell her she’s in great shape…for being mostly blind and hard of hearing, suddenly realizing that anyone who meets her at the reunion is likely going to introduce themselves anyway.
“I just don’t know,” she says. “I think I’ve reached the snapdragon part of life.”
“What does that mean?”
“One part of me has snapped and the other part of me is draggin’.”
She goes on to tell me that her secret is eating three meals a day and not snacking in-between.
“Little snacks make you more hungry.”
I help her call the insurance company and find out that she has a $40 copay and they will do a consultation before they schedule any testing such as an MRI. She asks me to make a note very specifically in the upper right-hand corner of the page. This way she knows where to look when she puts the paper under her Magna Screen, a device that magnifies the page over 200 percent. She taught me this trick — when you can only see one word at a time, it’s useless to make notes in the middle of the page.
Faye also thinks it’d be useful to have a volunteer come help to help her hem her pants which, she says, come in two sizes: too long and too short.
I sit down to look at her little Singer sewing machine — it’s just like the one the quilting ladies use. Her son messed up the tension. I tell her that we’ll find a volunteer and maybe even bring her machine to a technician. She knows she could still sew if things were set up right — and that would pass the time. Dealing with all this insurance stuff is no way to make the minutes pass.
Faye is unbelievably candid and adventurous for not being able to see, hardly being able to hear and having all of her teeth removed at 20-years old. She says she fell in love, got married and hopped on a train to California with Orson, her husband. He went off to fight in World War II and she worked for the military making bed frames on an assembly line. Her job was to move hundreds of steel bed frames hanging from a belt down the line to be sanded. That was how she lost the tip of her right pinkie finger, slammed between two beds. Only part of the nail was saved, a little piece growing out of the fingertip. She worries that using a file could make it fall off and she seems horrified at the thought…this from a woman who lived with a man who became alcohol-dependent and violent and tells me that women these days shouldn’t be so picky about men. I tell her she could just put a band-aid on the finger if she’s worried about it and she agrees.
I ask if she will call me after she meets with the neurologist. I can tell she’s worried and ask what she’ll do if she does have some cognition issues.
“If they can’t figure it out, I’ll just learn to live with it,” she says, in the words of so many from her generation. She comes from a time when you didn’t demand that society accommodate you and any assistance you receive is icing on top. And you certainly don’t apply for help from the government but I’m hoping for another visit because I think she’d qualify.
I put my hand on hers and say goodbye. She follows me to the door of her trailer. Standing in the doorway, staring blankly ahead, she smiles and waves as I pull out of her driveway.