The Psychiatry of a Greek Lady Named Betty
"She'll never talk to you. She'll throw you right out."

That's what the staff at the nursing home tells me about Betty, an 80-year old Greek woman who had a stroke years ago. Betty can say only "Tee-tee-tee-tee-tee." Staff are concerned that she seems to have given up on life. She refuses to eat. When her granddaughter from Maryland comes to visit, she gives her the cold shoulder. She scratched out the face on the photograph of her son, who is with the Army, stationed in the Far East. She has a new roommate whom she hates, because she can't boss her around the way she did her old one, who was more severely impaired.

Something tells me that extraordinary measures are necessary to reach this woman. And so, I take the hand of Cheryl, a warm and caring LPN, hold it high overhead, and lead the way into the room doing a Greek folk dance, the Yerakine, singing aloud in Greek:

    Kinise...yerakine....ya nero...

It is one of those defining moments that make nursing home consultation such a joy sometimes. Betty looks up in astonishment and beams, screaming with delight: "Tee-tee-tee-tee-tee-tee!!!" She pulls us to her, hugging us with affection. She grabs a picture of her husband, pointing to him with animation. "Tee-tee-tee-tee," which means that she used to dance the yerakine with him. I ask her about her son, and she frowns, making a dismissive motion with her hand. I begin to name Greek foods --- moussaka, spanikopita, ouzo, Retsina wine --- and she beams again with delight. When I ask her if she would like to have Greek food here, she frowns and makes her dismissive motion. Cheryl and I take our leave, dancing and singing, and she waves goodbye, "Tee-tee-tee-tee-tee!!"

My recommendations to staff:

  1. Although she is thin, she does not seem emaciated to me and she has lots of energy. I wouldn't worry so much about her eating, although I would bring her Greek food, especially baklava, which is very fattening, and moussaka, which is nutritious and fattening.
  2. She is not clinically depressed, and I don't think she would benefit from antidepressant medication.
  3. Learn a little Greek to engage with her:
         Hello (in the morning) = Kali merra
         Hello (in the afternoon and evening) = Kali sperra
         Good night = Kali nikkta
         Thank you = Effkharisto
  4. Learn Greek dancing. Even if you don't reach Betty with it all the time, you'll feel better when you do it.

--- Michael A. Ingall, M.D.

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