Recently during a visit to a local nursing home, where people go when they can no longer live alone, I met a few of the residents. I have returned to visit them and plan to continue to do so going forward. During the time my family member was there, I was able to get a firsthand look at the real day to day functions of a center. (I know not all are the same so please, no negative comments).
The centers get a lot of negative publicity and I realize that some may not be doing the best they can, however the question that sticks in my mind is ---but, are they? Are they doing the best they can with what they have at their disposal?
It’s 7am and many of the residents who are awake are waiting for someone to come in. They are ready to get dressed for the day and make their way to the dining room for breakfast. Those who can, do. Those who need help are at the mercy of the nurses and aids that attend to them. Now before you go down a negative nellie hole, hear me out.
Those who can’t get dressed alone need help, and keep in mind those who do are living in a body that isn’t working anymore for one reason or another. They are limited in their ability to care for themselves and yet in their mind, they are the young men and women who once had soft skin, pretty faces with no wrinkles and were part of the cool kids running around town. Those spirits are still inside the worn out bodies. The image they see in the mirror isn’t the image inside of their spirit. Okay…I got sidetracked.
Now, they are dressed and ready to eat. They wait for the breakfast staff to bring their food and those who can feed themselves quickly eat up the food, leaving nothing but crumbles behind. Those who need some help are sitting at a table with others and nurses/aids are working hard to make sure everyone eats. The other nurses are out working on medicines making sure that everyone gets their proper dosage at the proper time. It’s an eye opening experience watching this happen, which is exactly what I did for a couple weeks.
Let’s move on to after breakfast, now it’s shower time and it’s a schedule, with those who can they get a ride in a chair down to the showers anxiously waiting for their turn. They put their clothes on the bed, with towel, clean socks and shirts, shoes on the top. The aid comes in to offer their service to ensure a fresh clean finish for these elderly loved ones. Now that they are clean it’s time to go outside. Those who walk can, those who need wheelchairs have them and aids help get them outside. Some can roll themselves and it makes them feel some of that independence they once had. This was my favorite thing to watch because you could see ‘them’ inside being proud of what they could do. Outside everyone who can go out enjoy the sunshine, breeze and music. Often families are coming in to see their loved ones and before you know it, you become part of one bigger family caring for people you don’t know and trying to make sure they feel the love, have items they need and overall feel a simple warm hug.
It's almost lunch time and everyone knows the schedule, they hang out with each other as long as they can and finally make it back in for lunch. Same scenario, nurses feeding some, others feeding themselves and sometimes even family are there feeding their loved ones. The gentleman wear their hats, ladies in scarfs and hats bringing out some of their own personality. Lunch, medicines and oh did we forget the bathroom? What about those who need help? Nurses/aids to the rescue again, for each and every single one of them in need. Those who can go themselves, but those who wear ‘protection’ need help because they can’t take care of themselves and they need someone to clean them after a bowel movement or just help them with a clean ‘protection’ aka diaper. Remember, the person they are helping was once able to do this for themselves, I often wonder how they must feel with such a private moment being now handled by someone they don’t even know. Let’s move on….
It's time for games, sometimes bingo, sometimes cards, etc but those who can do. The activity director comes through daily bringing a newsletter or sort, with riddles, wordsearches, and other fun activities for the day. They often inquire as to what you loved one likes to do in an effort to try and include something in their liking. Those who can play, those who can’t just can’t. They have TV, they have books to read, and likely each of them maybe has their own day to day routine (those who are severely disabled).
Let’s go back outside now, to see the birds and flowers, everyone hanging out in wheelchairs and walkers, some in chairs but an ode, if you will to their previous life and the fun teens they use to be. Hanging out as a teen in a cool car, once was their scene, now it’s wheelchairs and walkers. For some, they sit alone until other families welcome them into their fold. It’s one of the most inviting moments I have seen when others include those who are alone instead of singling them out. We could all learn a lesson here….
Ice Cream socials…I stopped by the other day to take some blankets to a few new friends I met there and everyone was outside having ice cream! Music was playing and dancing was happening as best it could by some of the staff. No offense to the staff but they didn’t have moves like jaggar…but their heart was in it. 😊 That's called love right there..
Let’s move on to 2pm bingo. They know it's coming and they love it, and it’s nice to know it’s a thing that they have to look forward to. Did I mention that staff was out there with them? Don’t worry, the other staff inside is still doing medicines, bathroom breaks, diaper changes, feeding them and ensuring they have all the basic needs and necessities that they must have to survive, not to mention the time of just sitting with them and chatting with them learning about their lives.
Now lets not forget those nurses and staff members who run the rest of the place, laundry, medical, eye tests, physicals, hearing tests, and the list can go on and on…and on and on…and well, you get my point. It’s a never ending cycle of caring full time for those who can’t care for themselves. Oh…did I mention the nurses who spend their own money on residents who have no family? Buying them clothes, chap stick, deodorant, lotion and all those basic needs. I found out that some of them have no one to take care of them and these nurses become the family, the only family these people have.
It's dinner time now…let’s do it all over again and this time add in family who come to visit after work. Demanding to know why their loved one doesn’t have their shirt buttoned up or their shorts have a stain on them, or maybe the loved one has chocolate on their face from dinner…perhaps we need perspective here right? Maybe the loved one didn’t wipe their face or maybe they unbuttoned their shirt because they were hot. I’m just saying until you are inside a nursing home you don’t know the whole story.
Let’s move on to bed time and all that entails, clean sheets/beds, pajamas, medicines, snacks, water, hearing aids, eye drops,….need I go on? Yes, nurses and aids are there doing all that and more. Let’s not forget the laundry staff who is washing all the clothes for our loved ones also.
Bed time brings scary times for a lot of the elderly. They aren’t sure what the next day holds and the nurses and aids are the ones who tuck them in goodnight, bring pillows, water and overall do what these elderly people once did for their own children, giving them good night wishes and ensuring there are no monsters in the closet or under the beds. Sometimes, those who are older have hallucinations, causing them to see things that aren’t there. This happens during sundown usually and can last for a while causing scary moments that are real for these elderly people. Nurses and aids to the rescue again.
Living in a home isn’t for the faint of heart because, well let’s be real. It’s not a place like home, family isn’t there most of the time so it’s a place where nurses work, aids work, office staff, laundry staff, kitchen staff, doctors of all kinds and social. Just to name a few. Home is Sunday dinners, weekday family events and seeing everyone you love. Living in a nursing home is tough but one thing I can tell you for sure is that it’s tougher for these nurses and aids, who get so much negativity and the entire staff who get ridiculed, spoken to with such disrespect by others and treated like they are not doing their jobs, is one of the most untruths I have ever seen. Not only is their job to take care of our loved ones, they do it for ALL THE RESIDENTS IN THE HOME…which is a lot. They go without their own lunch/dinner (YES this is true, I watched it myself for two weeks where food is delivered, and it sits…and sits until they have time to eat it). They bathe, care for, administer medicine, trim nails, trim hair, change diapers, clothes, give baths, feed them, pamper them, give them hope, give them nutrition, give them overall their time, their love and their dedication.
Is it perfect? No. Perfect would be if family could keep their loved ones at home and care of them ourselves. But, to all the nurses, aids, health care workers, staff, volunteers, activity directors, wheelchair pushers, to all of you, I SEE YOU. I saw you, your efforts and the wear and tear on you that it takes to take care of our family.
Thank you isn't anything but words, unlike all you are doing... by your actions. Love..that's called love. Not just for one elderly person, but for all of them in each home..each assisted living center...each home. We see you now..and we applaud you and your efforts.
In the end, I met a minister who once likely ministered to so many (yes he also ministered to me while I was there) and a man who loves fire engines, along with a lady who loves to have her nails done (but hides them because she can’t get out to have pretty nails) along with others. I met others also, who changed my life forever. I’ll continue to visit because that 30 minute out of my week is the best 30 minutes, I’ll ever spend making someone’s life better from a brief visit.
In closing, not all nursing homes are the same. I get it, some have challenges more than others BUT one thing for sure is that this one, these nurses, aids, workers, etc they all make a difference every day while we are out here living our lives. They are caring for our loved ones inside, and while some of the residents may have some chocolate on their faces, or their shirts are undone, or their hair may not be brushed, they are cared for. They are..and they are doing it for those elderly people we call family.
My mom always told me that if I didn’t like how something was being done to change it if I could. I can’t change the elderly and their needs, but I can change my perspective on how these places are run, at least this one. To each and everyone of those nurses, aids, workers, etc, Thank you for giving of yourselves, for taking care of those we love most.
PS. Anyone with a free 30 minutes a week feel free to go down and visit. There are plenty of elderly just waiting for someone to pull up a chair and listen to a story. You may just meet that minister or the man who loves fire engines or a lady who loves any kind of jewelry. Butterflies are also popular!!!
Side note: Love can still be found at 93 years of age…and it's by far the cutest thing ever.