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August 30, 2005

Viktoria

During my early 20's, I worked as a nursing assistant in one of the local skilled nursing facilities. In case you haven't figured out by some of my other 'life' choices, my particular specialty in this turn on the hamster wheel is in service, and taking care of people. In one form or another.
I especially loved working in the nursing home. Being a history fanatic/geek, when I had a few minutes, I would sit and talk with the residents who still could. Reading about history is one thing, but hearing it, from folks who have lived it, just gets my heart a racin, and my blood a pumpin.
I loved all the residents. Even the ones who would become combative. They couldn't help themselves. Senile dementia, Alzheimers, Parkinsons, and many other 'old people' disorders really takes it's toll on previously vibrant, intelligent, mild-mannered folk.
We had one lady, Viktoria, who just grabbed my heart the very first day I started.
She was a work/concentration camp survivor. I'm not sure which camp she was in, but I do know that she was a young woman (late teens) when she was forced into a camp. Her arm was tattooed with a number, and she had been the subject of either some 'medical' experiments, or had been
tortured cruelly. Her poor body was scarred from head to toe. She had had her internal female parts removed, thus never giving her the opportunity to have children of her own. Her limbs had been broken several times, and in several different places, and the left side of her head was slightly sunk in. I can only guess it was from a beating that she had received. I only know the information that I do because I spoke with a cousin who had come to visit her. She liked the way I took care of Vikki. The Nurses said she was mentally 'lost' back in the camp, and most of the time she was. She would scream out in Polish, "Leave me alone!" , "That hurts!", "I'm so cold" and a few other phrases. (I only knew what she was saying because one of the other residents, Peter, told me)
Vikkis dementia gave her the opportunity to scream out against those who hurt her, and would have killed her had she done so in the camp. That's what I believe.
The Nurses said she didn't understand english; I never believed them, and it certainly never stopped me from talking to her. Vikki responded to me. Sometimes, she would lower her screaming to normal talking level while I was talking to her, other times she would reach out, but then quickly pull her hand back. Not always, but she had moments.
One night, after her shower, I was brushing her hair when she grabbed my hand and pulled me closer to her. One thing about Vikki, she may have been tiny, but the woman was STRONG. If she was really agitated, she would lash out at whoever was around, and was well known for putting a hurt on the male aides and Nurses. (she wasn't very fond of men) She would go after us ladies as well, but as a rule, men did NOT take care of Vikki, AT ALL!
We all knew to not let Vikki get her hands on you. But that night, I didn't pull my hands out her grasp. I let her pull me in closer. I knew it was a bit risky, but I felt she was trying to 'talk' to me, or convey something to me. Hell, I was more than willing to take the risk if only for a glimpse of ..... I don't know what, but I damn sure wan't about to stop her!
She didn't disappoint.
She pulled me in closer, lifted her head slightly, and stared at me for what seemed like forever with totally clear eyes.
I saw her. In that brief moment, Vikki was granted some clarity, and a chance to be the warm, loving woman her cousin told me she was, not the screaming, tortured soul who now resided in her body. I saw life in those eyes. It's hard to describe, but it was incredible, and I was there for it.
It's not often that someone with such diminished mental capacities breaks through their hell to re-connect with the real world. We never did have that 'connection' again, but I treasure the moment we did.

One of the highest honors I have ever received was that day; the day Vikki chose me.

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