‘Could you please call the police for me?’
That’s how the conversation between an old man named Rolf and me started this morning as I was at the end of my morning walk with Mork (the dog). I asked him why he wanted me to call the police, but his answer was vague. He kept on walking slowly with his crutches two the nearest door at the apartment complex we were standing next to. A few meters behind him was his wife, or ex-wife, what the correct term is I still do not know as they both had two different stories. She also asked me politely if I could call the police.
‘He is my husband and suffers from dementia. He thinks that everyone is trying to hurt him so he just started walking and doesn’t want to talk to me or to come home.’
I could see the pain and confusion in her eyes and they matched his in a way that made me want to cry.
I called the police while this woman tried to make Rolf stop pushing random doorbells, and Rolf was irritated because he just wanted to get in contact with some politicians wife. After a short conversation with the police I handed the phone over to her and she filled in all the gaps. At the end of the conversation they asked her how they could get in contact with her and she hesitated. She had a home number, but not her cellphone with her.
‘Tell them to contact this number. I will wait with him.’
The words came out of me as the most natural ones there were and I was instantly a little nervous. I’ve never dealt with dementia like this and not someone who is somewhat aggressive as well, but someone had to help them both and even though it was a bit scary, I really wanted to.
She thanked me and told me she was going to go home and wait for more information or for Rolf to come home. They lived just about a hundred meters from where I met them, but with those bad legs of his it must have taken some real determination to get as far as he had. Determination and fear.
The woman left and I was suddenly alone with a very lost man.
‘Do you want me to help you down the stairs? We can sit down on that bench and wait for help if you’d like?’
His expression was blank and I had to ask him the same question three times before he agreed and came with me. We sat down on the nearest bench and I was grateful for the warm weather and clear skies.
I asked him how he was feeling and the answer I got was one I never would have guessed.
‘They’re trying to kill me. She tried to poison my drink yesterday and today someone came to her home to give me an injection but I prevented it. I broke the syringe!’
I’d heard about dementia and paranoia going hand in hand for many but to see it for myself like that was very disturbing and my heart ached for Rolf.
‘I have diabetes you know, but what they tried to give me wasn’t insulin. It was poison! I have a lot of money you see, and they’re trying to get their hands on it.’
We talked about the events but I could sense that he was getting steadily more scared and frustrated so I decided to change the subject. That’s when he told me about the war.
‘I used to cut men’s hair for a living. And I remember when the nazi’s came. Oslo wasn’t too bad in the beginning, but it got scary after a while. They occupied the schools so their soldiers had somewhere to most of the kids had to be homeschooled.’
His face changed when he talked about the past and especially the war. A clarity in all the memories even if they weren’t all good memories.
We waited together and talked about his life. From time to time his paranoia came back to him and he needed to convince me that he wasn’t crazy, “because that’s what everyone thinks.”
The police sent an ambulance and they arrived after about twenty minutes or so. Twenty minutes where I got to know a young man that cut hair in an Oslo occupied by Germans. An old man who believes with all his heart that all the people he used to trust are now trying to murder him. I got to know Rolf.
Three men came in the ambulance and talked calmly with him before he climbed into the car and was taken away to an emergency home to get the care he needed.
On my way home I met his wife/ex-wife again and I told her everything that had happened as I walked her home.
‘I can’t live like this.’ she told me with tears in her eyes.
‘No. It’s not doing any of you any good. He needs help and you need to feel safe, even if it’s hard to let go.’
She smiled at me and thanked me again for all of my help. I told her to contact me if she ever needed anything and then we went our separate ways.
The hours of my day came and went for me as it did for everyone else, and my thoughts went to Rolf quite often. I went for a walk to the store and stopped by this bench, the one where I got to know him just a little and I stood there filled with thoughts.
I thought about how unfair it is that our own minds can trick us like that. I thought about lost love and forgotten friendships. About the people that lose loved ones not to death, but two diseases that takes away memories and common thoughts.
I stood there and felt grateful for everything and everyone I have in my life. I was grateful for getting to know and help Rolf and his wife. For his stories and for his trust in me as a complete stranger.
I sent him my wishes for wellbeing with the wind and promised to appreciate all of my memories, the good and the bad.
It was an unusual morning, spent with a man and he talked about the war. I hope I’ll never forget it.