One of the times Bo was in the hospital last month, there was a man in the bed next to him who was constantly agitated and calling for “George!” I would sit on our side of the room and listen to his desperate pleas for hours until he would finally wear himself out and fall into a restless sleep.
He was an old man with a broken hip and a broken mind. The nurses tried, but he lay in the other bed unattended and unvisited while we cared for Bo day and night. No one was there for him except an occasional nurse who changed his soiled bed and tied his gloved hands to the bed rail to keep him from pulling out his IV’s. My heart broke.
I listened and listened until I started putting his story together, and then I realized that he was reliving an incident in World War II.
“George! Help me, George. Don’t let me go. Take my hand. I’m slipping, George ….. I love you, George. You’re my best friend. I’ll help you, George. I’ll be beside you. Take my hand, George! Don’t let them do this to me! Don’t let go of my hand, George!”
And it went on and on … always the same scenario that increased in volume and desperation whenever a nurse tried to move him. He was in pain, and movement exacerbated his agitation.
Later, when I mentioned him to our Hospice nurse, she said that veterans, especially of World War II, came home to try to pick up their lives and didn’t talk about their horrific war experiences, but at the end their stories come out. When dementia sets in and their world flips upside down, the memories emerge. It happens often — another nightmare of old age and dementia.
When I looked this up, I found an interesting website that actually discussed the connection between war experiences and dementia.
” … the incidence and severity of dementia, when coupled with PTSD, creates special and tragic consequences for veterans. The combination of PTSD and dementia can result in horrifying WWII and Vietnam flashbacks that victims are living through time and again. The veteran can become aggressive, even dangerous towards family, caregivers and themselves.”
The author of the site discusses a man whom she met while visiting a veterans’ home: “…. For a few moments, he was a kindly and gentle soul. Then, sitting at the dining table, he suddenly clutched his side and began shouting, ‘I’m hit! I’m hit! Oh God, save me!’ He thrashed about with complete realism of severe pain. And indeed, 66 years after Normandy, he was still in terrible pain. He required a pair of caregivers on constant supervision at all times, at great financial cost.”
And as we left the hospital to bring Bo home, that man still lay in his bed, in pain and pathetic, still calling to George to take his hand.