Lady Jane Jackson and the Secret Service During the years I nursed the sharp-witted, wily, and willful woman I call Lady Jane Jackson, she lived alone on the cluttered second floor of
an aging brick townhouse in a Washington, D.C., neighborhood within sight of the Capitol dome. Lady Jane's domain was a museum of her life. Photographs and murals covered every inch of wall. Knickknacks, cosmetics, and pill bottles coated every surface. Clothing, much of it formal, bulged from every closet and drawer. Small, dark, and bent, Lady Jane seemed almost lost in her surroundings. But small was only an illusion.
From the beginning, I found my conversations with Ms. Jackson so amazing, so instructive, that I began to write them down--just as if I were laboring over one of those process recordings I used to chum out during my student days. Eventually I even asked Lady Jane's permission to bring my tape recorder. Uninhibited performer that she was (soprano soloist, preacher, non-stup talker possessed of 70-odd years worth of anecdote and opinion), she not only approved my request, she supervised the taping.
Although she had first contracted with me to "come out and check my pressure once a month," it was clear she would need more, much more. She'd had a major stroke some years ago and had chronic, debilitating everything. She slept in a chair because she could not get in or out of her bed unaided (in any case, the bed had long since become as layered in artifact as a rich archeological dig). And even though she could barely nav- igate the narrow halls of her flat holding on with her good arm to the back of a wheeled secretarial chair, she did not concern herself with the trash, dirty dishes, bags, books, shoes, and household miscellany that littered her path in any direction. She liked pretty things and lots of them, she often said with pride.
Though her health became increasingly fragile, her habit of command never failed her, and she worked her caregivers hard to the end. At her funeral, the preacher was heard to say, evenly and with no hint of malice, that Lady Jane had personified that well-known scriptural injunction, "Ask and ye shall receive."
But let it be said that Lady Jane was also a giver. She gave me hell. She gave me colorful descriptions of myself at my best and my worst. She gave me a memorable collection of process recordings. And she paid me $1 a visit whenever she remembered.
Listen in on a typieat encounter with Lady Jane:
I 'm here in the bathroom. Where are you?
Oh, not too long. Don't get upset. I was scouring out the toilet bowl when this useless leg gave way again.
I grabbed onto the holder to pull myself up and it commenced to unroll.
Well, dial 911 and ask them to come out sometime-- maybe early next week.
I don't know. Does the house look all right? Is the stove cleaned up? First I got t'check on that stove.
Remember that time yon said if I didn't go straight to the hospital I'd die? Well I didn't, did I and here I am. That shows how much you know. Lady Jane Jackson is just like the President. She has her own secret service. Yon're one of my agents. Now get me out of here.
Ms. Jackson? Where are you?
Good heavens! How did you get yourself wedged in like that between the toilet and the wall? How long have you been there?
You look like a mummy wrapped up in that roll of toilet paper.
I'll never be able to get you out. You're practically dead weight,
Next week! How about now!
You know, when a person in your condition insists on staying all alone accidents are bound to happen. Some people would say you ought to be somewhere else.
- -Veneta Masson
186 Masson July/August 1997 GERIATRIC NURSING