Posted by: anniewilson | February 3, 2009

Grandparents are fun!

Depending on how you define a baby-boomer, I think am one. Using the post WWII through 1959 parameter, I just eek in, I was born in 1958. (But, I am having that legally changed to ‘68 as soon as I have the attorney’s retainer.) One way or the other, I can say “we boomers” with some authority. However you define us, our parents are growing older. If we are lucky enough to have them at all, they require, at the very least, our concern. My mother is gone but my father is alive and well. He is as healthy a 70 something-year old as I have seen. But, as a geriatric nurse, I have seen what can happen to healthy 70 year olds. When I graduated from college, all of the nursing students had jobs lined up. Naturally I did, too. I was staying where I was already working as a nursing assistant back in the day when nursing assistants didn’t have to be trained. (If McDonald’s wouldn’t hire you, a nursing home would. I ended up working at a nursing home in high school because I at the time, I didn’t have a car. My best friend, Caryn, did. It was a beat up old ‘69 Camaro that I would love to have today. Anyway, wherever Caryn worked, I worked. So, I ended up at Leyden Extended Care in Franklin Park Illinois.) Up until I took that job, I had wanted to be a teacher. I fell in love with those old people and wanted to work with them for the rest of my life. So, when it was time for me to get a job as a registered nurse, I stayed in geriatrics. As my fellow nursing students and I compared jobs, I told them I would be staying at the Villa. They were stunned. As a nursing student, I loved the subject matter so college came very easy to me. I graduated with a 3.87 GPA. My fellow students were shocked that a nurse with so much potential would take “such a job”. That was the first time I ever remember hearing anyone “dis” nursing home work. I’ve heard it often since. I understand it on one level. It isn’t much of a challenge technically and the nature of the patient population makes it a very routine job by necessity. But on another level…it is nursing in it’s truest sense. These people are such treasures, each of them, and they deserve a gentle hand now and then. Alzheimer’s patients are my favorite although I certainly enjoy the 100 year olds with sharp minds and the ability to tell a story well, from memory. (I had the honor of caring for a man who survived the Bataan Death March. He authored a book about his experience. How neat is that? I became friends with a piece of living history.) Alzheimer’s is certainly a sad disease but there are a lot of sad diseases. At some point, many families need help coping and someone who enjoys that work should be there. I happen to enjoy it. Even when things go wrong in this line of work, you have an amazing story to tell. Sad or funny, they all touch you and keep you going back everyday.When I was 16, I took care of a lady named Belle. She was about a thousand and four years old, had 108 long gray hairs all pulled up in a pony tail on top of her head and she was every bit of 90 pounds. As I passed her in the hall one day I said, “Hi Belle!” She snapped at me from her wheelchair….”Go to hell you schla! ” (I don’t know what that is, it’s just what she said.) I looked at her and said, “Now, Belle, that wasn’t very nice.” She responded, “Shut up or I’ll bite your head off.” I reminded her that she didn’t have a tooth in her head. She looked me square in the eye and said, “Then I’ll gum you to death!!!!!!!” I assume that she’s no longer rolling around anywhere now but she still cracks me up. I love her for that. There’s nothing like a baby or an animal to brighten up an older person’s day. Sometimes, you can evoke a moment of coherency by bringing in a baby. I used to bring my kids in on my days off. It was good for the kids and the residents. There was a lady named Eva who would lie in bed all the time (far too obese to get up) and she always grasped a baby doll in her left arm. One day I took my 8 month old into her room to visit. Eva NEVER spoke. I had never heard her utter a word. I stood next to her bed with my son and asked, “Would you like to hold my baby, Eva?” She looked at the baby and waved her right arm a little as she spoke for the first time in my presence. “No, it might scare him, just hold him where I can see him.” I was stunned. Not only had she spoken, she made perfect sense. What had she been thinking all the months before that, I wondered. I continued to wonder in the following months, I never heard her speak again. As I said, animals can do the same thing. Activity directors often set up times when a certain person or group will bring in different animals. One day they brought in a rabbit. The residents were sitting around, sort of in a circle and the lady was allowing each resident to hold the rabbit for a few moments. A blind lady named Susan was stroking the rabbit as it sat in her lap. “What is it?” Susan asked. The lady told her that it was a rabbit. Susan shrieked, “A rat?” and threw the poor animal across the room. The rabbit was fine but Susan didn’t come to the animal visits after that. Too often, people make the mistake of mis-judging a resident’s “mental capabilities”. I was told that “Jack” had none. I was in his room feeding his room-mate, “John”, who had an I.Q. of 40-something since birth. “John” truly couldn’t speak and I truly can’t NOT speak so I was talking to “Jack”, who, supposedly, couldn’t understand me. At some point he babbled something about Arkansas and I asked him if he knew the state’s capital, more out of just babbling myself than to evoke an answer. “Little Rock! I know it well!” he said as he slammed his hand on the table next to him. I was flabbergasted. He and I went through ALL of the state capitals, he knew every one of them. Well, he only knew the capitals of the 48 states that he was aware of. He and I developed a friendship that lasted until he died. I never made the mistake of underestimating another resident. Another lesson I learned was, never say yes to a question asked in a foreign language, no matter how well you think you know the language. I was working at an Italian nursing home years ago and a sweet little old man asked me something in Italian. I told him, in my broken Italian, to wait a moment. I was busy taking care of someone else at the time. He persisted, I reminded him to wait. He demanded an answer, I assured him “Si!”, if only he would wait one moment. He repeated the question, I repeated my answer: “Si”, and in my broken Italian I continued, “If you can just wait one moment!” He smiled and went to wait. I returned to what I had been doing and finished it. Then I walked back to the nurses station. When I did, I found the old man standing there. He was leaning with his left hand on the nurses station counter, his pants down around his ankles and his “member” in his rapidly pumping right hand. He looked at me with that smile and said, “Ready?” Apparently, I had agreed to something that he was looking forward to…very much. Years later, I worked the evening shift and answered the call light of a patient I had never met. He was as alert as I was and after I did whatever it was he needed me to do, I spoke with him for a moment before I left for the night. When I came back to work in the morning, he was my patient. And, he was dying. Overnight his condition had become so bad that he was drowning in his own fluid. I couldn’t suction his lungs enough to keep them clear. He was in agony. He looked at me and said, “If you can’t make this stop, at least help me not feel it.” I called the doctor. It took a few calls and a few increases in dosages but eventually, I was sitting on the side of his bed, pushing morphine into his vein, a little at a time, until he calmed down. At one point he seemed to be sleeping. I said his name. He opened his eyes and smiled. I asked what was so funny. He said, “My wife left me on my 28th birthday and when she did, I remember praying to God, ‘Lord, whatever else you do to me…just let me die with a redhead in my bed. It looks like my prayer has been answered” “Go for it.” I told him. I smiled as he did just that. Although I knew I wanted to work with these folks when I graduated from nursing school, I couldn’t have ever known how gratifying and fulfilling it would be. Everybody should stop in a nursing home and say hi once in a while. You might get lucky enough to make a new friend who would truly be a valuable asset to your life.

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