Panic in the Tunnel: A Caretaker’s Journey

A caretaker’s life is littered with unexpected stressors that can bring her or him to the brink. Case in point? An event that happened on our recent trip to the western coast (we live in Rhode Island).

Now, Seattle, Washington is a big town, indeed. Millions of residents…thousands of restaurants and eateries. Some offer food that I have, quite frankly, never heard of before (think Pho…pronounced Phuh). The choices are endless.

On our last night of the trip, our family (8 of them) treated Paul and me to dinner at a lovely restaurant, handily equipped with long plank tables to accommodate our 2 younger ones (one is an 8-month old baby). Candles flickered, while heating lamps, nearby, pumped warmth to combat seasonal coolness. Ours was a festive scene.

But Paul needed to use the men’s room, and being from little old Rhode Island, I never thought restroom access could be a problem. I saw the sign on the opposite wall—“Restrooms.” They appeared to direct right down that hallway. I pointed him in that direction.

After 10 minutes, he hadn’t returned. I got up to check. I followed the sign and then realized the horror: The first door was only the beginning of a maze of tunnels and doors leading to an eventual restroom. In fact, one needed to remember the 5 digit code that was posted on the first door leading down that hallway. That code would allow a customer entry into the eventual restroom. But you’d need remember it all the way, as you walked—something a cognitively-impaired person could never do.

I panicked. “Paul…Paul…Where are you?” I called out, my voice echoing against cream-colored walls, an inner chamber of confusion. Doors everywhere, with no names on them…(think “The Shining” without the ghoul.)

I thought about what could have happened. Different buildings apparently share this locked restroom and the corridors went to each building, all interconnecting. There was no differentiation (this set-up, in cities, especially those with big percentage of homeless, is “the norm.”) Which door led to the restaurant? Where was he? I began hyper-ventilating.

I finally saw the restroom door. It had the punch-the-number lock on it. I knocked loudly. He wasn’t there. He couldn’t have accomplished entry, anyway.

Where was Paul? I feared he’d taken a wrong turn and was out on the street, not knowing where I was or how to get back. Or in one of the other buildings. How would they contact me, if someone found him? (he long ago wrestled off that ID bracelet I’d gotten for him). What if the wrong person found him?

Hurriedly, I raced back along the corridors and entered the restaurant. I told them about my husband having Alzheimer’s and fact I’d lost him as he tried to use the restroom. They sent workers to search. I ran outside and looked up and down the street. I was terrified.

Finally, I saw him. Our grandkids had him. They’d fanned out and gotten him.

A simple enough task in any other locale—using a restroom—had become a monumental horror to me and my partner who is cognitively-challenged.

Such is the world of the Caretaker.

***Photo above is of Paul on terra firma, woodland paths where we’re both infinitely more comfortable.

***To insure you get future posts on our shared “Caretaker Journey,” pls sign on to my website, right here (top right hand of front page of colleenkellymellor.com.) And do feel free to Comment below. I love to get your thoughts on your own experiences. Did you ever “lose” your charge? What happened?

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