To Alice: A Summary
To Alice is about the dignity and grace of simple care – a bed bath, companionship, meal preparation, wound dressing, house cleaning, toenail clipping. For many frail, elderly, and homebound patients, assistance with these simple tasks can make the difference between living in their own homes or living in a nursing home. The novel also deals with boundary issues between a patient and a caregiver. The boundary between providing professional, compassionate care and getting too involved with a patient is often blurred, especially for home care and hospice aides who work with their patients week after week for months, sometimes for years.
The protagonist, Alice Hammond, is a home health and hospice aide for the Providence, Vermont Visiting Nurse Association. Her patients are a logger who suffered a terrible accident that left him homebound, a woman on hospice whose young daughter and husband are having a difficult time dealing with her death, a feisty one-hundred-year-old woman who resists her son’s attempts to move her to a nursing home, a former ballroom dance champion who hadn’t danced since his wife died but is dancing again at age ninety, a young man who uses a wheelchair, who finds love for the first time, and a man whose life fell apart when his wife left him thirty years ago.
The main conflicts involve Alice, a medical school dropout, and a lost soul. She is trying to make sense of her life and move on from a terrible experience in medical school. One of her patients leaves her all his property and $125,000 and leaves his own brother, who cared for him for nearly five years, nothing. The brother is furious. Alice is a wonderful home health aide and her patients love her but she frequently crosses the line between providing professional care and getting too involved with her patients.