Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Little Bo-Peep and her Lost Sheep

“Imagine, if you will, a peaceful English countryside.  Close your eyes and feel the blessed warmth of the sun enveloping you in a warm embrace as it lights up the majestic scene.  Playing through the trees, a soft, cool breeze softly caresses your arms before hurrying along to play through the lush grass on the hillsides.  And if you turn just the right way, you can hear the distant bleating of sheep searching for their mistress.  Sheep… sheep… my sheep… oh where are my sheep?  I’ve lost them don’t you know, and I’ve no idea where to find them!  I thought if I left them all alone, they’d find their way home… but oh my poor lost sheep!  Have you any bread that I can borrow?”  As the elderly storyteller turned away from the picture she had painted in the distance, she looked expectantly at her audience for an answer.  Only, the grand audience she had imagined turned out to just be her neighbor of many years, Mrs. Mary Higgins.  She looked with confusion back to where her eyes had just roamed and, instead of a magnificent landscape, just saw the wood of her own cottage walls.

“Bread?  Sheep?  Hahaha, oh Mistress Bo-Peep, what stories you do tell!  If I don’t watch it, I might find myself swept away into that world of words you create.  No wonder the children are always circling around, begging for more of your tales!”  Mrs. Higgins exclaimed as she worked.  Indeed, Mrs. Higgins had come with bread and other sorts of food supplies for her dear neighbor of 30 years as she did every week.  It had started out of pity for Bo-Peep when her husband had passed away the previous year, but now Mrs. Higgins carried on because she wasn’t quite sure that Bo-peep would be able to get along without her help.  Oh, she joked that it was all because of her own need to be taking care of the world, but there was just something a bit… queer… about her neighbor Bo-Peep.

“To each his own I suppose, but please don’t let me keep you from your chores my wonderful, industrious neighbor.  These old bones of mine might not be up to what they used to be, but they know how to find the butter and milk the bread if you know what I mean.  Now where did I put that sheep of mine?”  Mistress Bo-Peep responded after a while.  She still wore that look of confusion, but now was rummaging around through some papers she had on her desk. 

In actuality, Mrs. Higgins did not entirely know what she meant, but she supposed it didn’t hurt to humor a little bit of nonsense every now and then.  After all, Mistress Bo-Peep was left to her own devices quite often in her little cottage and that’s enough to drive anyone a little cuckoo sometimes.

After she finished tidying up the kitchen, Mrs. Higgins headed back to her own cottage down the path to work on a few of her own chores, all the while thinking back about her neighbor’s curious tales.   “You know, I just don’t know about her lately.  She’s been a bit odd for years, but now I can’t quite tell if she knows what she’s talking about or if I’m just filling in the gaps in her story.  It’s almost as if she forgets who she is sometimes, what with all that talking about lost sheep and milking bread,” she thought out loud.  “Oh well, I’ll just make sure to keep an eye on her, but for the time being there’s laundry to be washed and rooms to be swept…”

                After the morning had passed into the early hours of evening, she heard the familiar voice of her grandson singing a tune as he strolled along the country path to his grandmother home. 

“Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep,
And doesn’t know where to find them;
Leave them alone, and they’ll come home,
And bring their tails behind them.”

                “What, what?  What’s this you sing about Mistress Bo-Peep Jimmy?”  She asked as he came into earshot.

                “Oh, hello grandmother!  Isn’t it a jolly old song!  Us boys in the village made it up today.  Real quality stuff don’t you think?”

                “Not at all Jimmy.  I thought your mother had raised you better than to go around making fun of your elders.  Now you’re going to go right over to Mistress Bo-Peep and give her an apology this instant!”

                “Aw, but grandmother!  We just put into song what she said herself!  She was wandering all over town today talking to people about her lost sheep.”

                “In town?!  Why I just left her… this morning.  Hmm… and you say she’s looking for her sheep?  Why, she doesn’t have any and hasn’t for over 20 years!”

                “That’s what I said.  The whole town was talking about it and trying to help her because she looked so worried.  She even had the police out looking with her in the meadows and under bridges.”

                “The police!  Oh dear, I must go and find her.” 

                “Well, I’d say you should check the meadows behind town first grandmother.  Did you hear the rest of our brilliant song?  It went
Little Bo-Peep fell fast asleep,
And dreamt she heard them bleating;
But when she awoke, she found it a joke,
For they were still a-fleeting.”

                “Oh Jimmy, no more of that you hear!  Mistress Bo-Peep is already out late and talking nonsense, so I don’t need you to be… why hello officer!”  Mrs. Higgins exclaimed in surprise as she spotted a policeman coming up to her door.

                “Hello Ma’am, just wanted to stop by and let you know that your neighbor is safe and sound back at home.  To tell you the truth ma’am, she was quite distraught earlier as she looked all over town for her lost sheep.  Folks were humoring her at first, until they realized that she wasn’t quite in her right mind.  We tried to help her a bit, but nothing was calming her down until little Mary of Drury came out and handed Mistress Bo-Peep her little, stuffed lamb.  And would you know it, the fleece on that doll was as white as snow?  It calmed Mistress Bo-Peep right down so that she would let us accompany her back to her home.”

                “Why, thank you officer!  Thank you very much!  She hasn’t done anything like that before, but you can rest assured, we’re going to be keeping a much closer eye on her in the future.”


                Now that’s where our tale ends, but for years after it was said – if you listened just right as the wind passed by, a jolly tune could be heard from the little cottage down the road where Mistress Bo-Peep and her little sheep resided…

“Then up she took her little crook,
Determined for to find them;
She found them indeed, but it made her heart bleed,
For they’d left their tails behind them.

It happened one day, as Bo-Peep did stray
Into a meadow hard by,
There she espied their tails side by side,
All hung on a tree to dry.

She heaved a sigh and wiped her eye,
And over the hillocks went rambling,
And tried what she could, as a shepherdess should,
To tack each again to its lambkin”


In all seriousness, dementia in its many different forms can be a very difficult disease not only for the individual, but for their loved ones and friends as well.  Dementia is the true villain of this tale because it robs the mind of reason and takes away the ability to think clearly.  It can change your very personality, memory and perception of the world around you.  With medications, its progression may be slowed, but not cured.  As a nurse encountering families and patients struggling with dementia, just keep in mind the struggle that people are going through to understand and cope with the effects of dementia, as well as the difficulty our patients face with losing their capacity to reason.  

Image Source blog.psprint.com

Medical Morales to Remember:

  • Delirium (see Yankee Doodle Delirium) – acute, usually reversible brain disorder characterized by clouding of consciousness and a reduced ability to focus and maintain attention
  • Dementia – general term for cognitive decline, "Dementia isn't a specific disease. Instead, dementia describes a group of symptoms affecting thinking and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning." - Mayo Clinic
  • Alzheimer's Disease - the most common form of dementia; chronic, irreversible, progressive brain disorder characterized by impairments in memory, abstract thinking, judgment, and personality changes
  • Onset is gradual, course is insidious and progressive; medications are available to slow the progress and improve function, but there is no cure
  • 10 Early Signs and Symptoms per Alzheimer's Association - memory loss that disrupts daily life, challenges in planning or solving problems, difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure, confusion with time or place, trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships, new problems with words in speaking or writing, misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps, decreased or poor judgement, withdrawal from work or social activities, changes in mood and personality

Additional Resources:

Can you tell the difference between delirium and dementia?  Have you comforted or worked with a family struggling through understanding Alzheimer's Disease?  Do you have any stories to tell?  

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