Caregiving for video chats sounds deceptively simple with my daughter, Lynne, diagnosed with moderate to severe dementia from Alzheimer’s disease. She’s confined to her small apartment in an assisted living facility under strict precautions due to the Covid-19 virus pandemic, so every day I bring her a note card and schedule a video chat.
I asked for a time from one of the many different people who serve as concierge on the revolving 24/7 shifts. They are now swamped with added procedures daily, including most recently, scanning the forehead of every person entering the building. My request posed no problem. “Let’s check her phone. Is it black or white?”
We keep it at the front desk with her name on it, so we don’t have to search for where Lynne leaves it. I said, “Neither. Her name’s on it.”
“Neither of these has a name.”
“It should be plugged into the flashing pink and white cord to charge it.”
“We have the cord, but it’s not plugged in.”
“It’s probably still in the apartment and needs to be charged.”
“OK, I’ll call and have somebody bring it down. What’s the password? Can I disable it so it’s easier to use?”
“Yes, that would be fine.” I felt foolish. They’ve written it down somewhere, but it’s a constant roadblock for new caregivers. There’s no reason to struggle with it. I’ve emptied her phone of sensitive data. Why didn’t I think of that?
I called the desk at 1:15 pm. The same concierge answered. “I couldn’t disable the password because I needed her thumbprint.”
“She still has her thumb. Have her do it with you.”
“I just wrote in on the phone.”
“That’ll work. That’s the same as disabling the password.” Why didn’t I think of that?
I called her phone. The caregiver answered but couldn’t turn on the video.
I couldn’t help her. Instead I saw a closeup of my 78-year old male face. Awful in a fuzzy video chat screen. Pale skin, wrinkles on my cheeks, big ears, stray eyebrow hairs, droopy eyelids, saggy eye bags, lower lip hanging open. I almost hung up on me.
The caregiver gave up. “I can’t turn on the video. Why don’t we call you?”
“OK, call me. I can turn on my video.
“What’s the password?”
“It’s on the phone.”
She called and I clicked on video. Perfect. My picture shrunk and I saw her beautiful smile under salt and pepper hair streaked with gold. I heard their laughter. The video camera went into constant motion. I saw closeups of her ear, the blonde streaks in her hair, her fingers.
“I don’t need a closeup of your ear.”
“Oh. OK, better?
“Yes, much.” As we talked I saw unobstructed views of Lynne’s smile, her face, her hair, the ceiling, the refrigerator, her shoulder, her ear, her face, cabinet door. At least they weren’t my face.
The screen went dark. I saw a message that she turned off her video.
“You turned off the video.”
“Oh, how do I turn in on?”
“I don’t know.”
The caregiver showed her how to turn it on. Lynne and the caregiver in her white mask peered into the camera before the caregiver left for another call.
“Oh, there you are,” Lynne said. “I can see you again.”
I updated her on how well her sons were doing. She turned it off again. She found the way to switch it back on.
We talked about her brother and sister and nieces. I told her a few days ago I’d yelled up at her open window on the third floor, but she didn’t answer. Next time I’ll try to bounce a pickleball off a window.
She laughed. “Dad,…”
Soon, her voice sounded tired from the effort. “I should go now,” she said.
We hung up. It was a good call.
I couldn’t throw the pickleball at the window because canopies covered the sidewalk to keep people dry and forbid throwing pickleballs at the window. Maybe I’ll get a small drone to fly in her open window to deliver her note card.