The day my father escaped from the nursing home

Like every afternoon, upon arriving, I parked my car in the shade of the first available tree during those torrid days of July. And like every day, I felt that stab of concern in my stomach and in my legs the urgency to get there as soon as possible and receive that huge smile and see his dancing eyes. After wishing the receptionists a good afternoon, I climbed the stairs three at a time, and already smiling I opened the door to the hall in which he tended to stroll as if instinctively aware of my arrival. When I didn’t see him I went straight to his room.  He wasn’t there.  He must be in the bathroom.  Not there either.  Pinching a snack perhaps – I had been told that on numerous occasions my father snuck into the kitchen and stealthily snuck a few cupcakes into his pockets, he always did have a sweet tooth- Nothing.

And he left…..

            Even today, two years later, I still feel the same hammering in my head as that day and I am unable to remember everything that happened clearly although it is undoubtedly engraved in fire, second by second, detail by detail, on the universe of my subconscious.

My father wasn’t there and no-one had a clue about where he might be.  Incredulity, anxiety, paralysis, every cell in my body wanted to waken from this hideous dream, this nightmare that could not really be happening to me, it couldn’t be, it just wasn’t fair for my mother.

We had taken my father to this home so that my mother could rest for at least a few weeks.  Anyone who has a family member with Alzheimer’s will understand better than anyone the gradual exhaustion of the principal carer, that person, in our case my mother, who without expecting anything in return spends every hour of every day, year in year out, providing the care and attention that their loved one with dementia requires. Every week a new need, a little worse, a little more tired ….

Needless to say those more than 10 hours during which my father was gallivanting around the streets of Madrid on that hot July day, were the very worst of my entire life. Many images crowding in, the constant presence of my family and friends, many kilometres at the wheel, hundreds of streets and corners covered with hope in our hearts and also with the fear of finding something we didn’t want to find.

The adventures of Facundo

Where could my father be, that short and slim gentleman with advanced Alzheimer’s, a rebel from the moment he came into this world, some 76 years ago, disoriented, without identification and without a cent in his pocket? The harder I tried to put myself in his shoes, the more baffled I became.  Dad, where did you need to go?  What is driving each of your steps?

If my brain had of been lucid that afternoon, I would have listened to the voice of my intuition and known that my father needed to do what he did, that his heart was marking out the rhythm of his steps. Thanks to clues obtained by the incredible people around me we found out about the adventures of Facundo, my father.

Firstly, and after hiding behind a large pot plant next to the main door, my father managed to sneak out of the home by blending in with the visiting relatives coming and going – this was recorded -.  This is where his adventure began and although we do not know the exact order, he made two stops at sundry bars where he ordered, drank and failed to pay for a beer or two. Since his early retirement, more than 15 years ago, my father’s social life had been reduced to a two hour morning walk – a ritual he never missed – and a subsequent aperitif in one of the bars in the neighbourhood he had lived in all his life, my neighbourhood, where he would converse with the usual neighbours, always through his most well-developed sense, his extraordinary sense of humour and his jokes.

So that July afternoon my father did what he knew best, what had been imprinted on his brain from so many years of routine: walking, chatting with others, telling jokes and drinking his little beers. No more and no less.  As basic and as obvious as that.  But for more than 15 years, after the walk and the aperitif, my father always went home.

So that day, after his stroll, his funny stories and his beers, my father needed to return home. According to witnesses, he approached a taxi driver waiting for clients and asked him how to get to Calle Narváez. It was in that street that my father had his first home upon arriving in Madrid from Córdoba (he must have been around 14 years of ages) and where he lived with his mother and his sisters until he married, some twenty years later. This street was more than 10km from where my father was.  So he must have become disoriented and just continued walking.


I need to go home

He was brought home from the outskirts of Madrid by a taxi driver, an angel, who chose not to look the other way that early July morning and who chose to take the time and trouble to find out who this lost man of fragile appearance was, who wanted to GO HOME but without knowing any further details than that.

No hero was ever received with such happiness and of course with so much love than my father, Facundo, when he climbed out of that taxi. Surprised to see so many of his loved ones, as soon as he put his foot on the ground he blessed us with one of his most impressive smiles, which for a brief moment left us all speechless and with our hearts leaping out of our chests, more alive and thankful than ever.

Even today there are many questions about what happened during those ten hours that we will never have answers to. How did he manage to get on the metro? Was it a coincidence that from of the Moncloa lines he chose the one that would take him to Villaverde Alto, where he had his first job? What was going through his mind all that time?  Did he miss us very much?


At the end of the day, my father did what we all would have done

Facundo is no longer with us to tell us any more about that day, but he did what anyone would have done: fleeing from a place he didn’t recognise and in which he felt very uncomfortable, to doing what he knew best and which would bring him greater wellbeing, to them return to his nest, his home, where he felt secure and surrounded by love. His heart ultimately led him home.  People with Alzheimer’s are still people.  Just like us, those of us who are deemed to be “sane”, they also need to feel loved, safe, recognised and integrated.  Although they express it in a different way. It is in fact up to us to want to recognise these needs and know how to listen to them.

Susana García