This has been rolling around in my head for a couple of weeks. The 2nd week of May is National Nursing Home Week. We did lots of activities to celebrate what we do, involving staff, residents and family members. And I wanted to write about something that always brings a tear to my eye and a little catch in my heart when I remember. Because even though I know there are crappy nursing homes and crappy staff out there, I want you all to know that places like where I work exist, that people like me and my coworkers exist.
I started working at this place in 2005. And my first day there, I was introduced to Daisy. She was one of the very first residents when the building opened. She had a single-digit medical record number. She was mute, had some level of hearing impairment and had been institutionalized for her entire life. She had given birth at least once in her life, so there was definitely abuse in her past. She had no living family that we were aware of. Our administrator was appointed as her guardian and legal representative.
Even though she couldn't talk and had never been educated in any sort of formal sign language, she communicated quite effectively. We learned what her gestures, sounds, expressions meant. She loved to dip snuff, and we always made sure she had enough. I used to sneak a dollar into her hand when I would see her. She would grin, put her hand over her mouth as if to say, "Shhh" and then hide the dollar in her bra. She was very territorial and possessive. She had HER spot, HER table in the dining room, HER stuff.
Somehow, she knew the song Jesus Loves Me. She couldn't sing it, but she recognized when it was played. She would point to the sky, cross her arms over her heart, and then point to herself.
One day, we noticed she hadn't been using her snuff. She wasn't eating well. She looked like she didn't feel good. Tests revealed gallstones, so she was admitted to the hospital for surgery. When they opened her up, they found cancer throughout her abdomen. Our administrator paid CNAs round the clock to go and sit with her at the hospital so she wouldn't be alone, with no familiar faces.
She came back to us and a local hospice agency donated their services to us/her. She lived about 6 weeks and died surrounded by her "family." The CNAs who had cared for her for years. Nurses who had given her meds and made sure she was comfortable. Housekeepers who had learned what to touch and what to leave alone. Social workers who had learned to read her moods and respond with love, compassion, tenderness, even when she was cranky and frustrated.
There was no one to claim her remains, but our DON worked for 2 days until she found an agency that would take her remains for medical research, then cremated her. Her cremains were returned to us, and were buried just outside the window where she loved to sit. I walk by that window and see her tree, and am profoundly grateful to have known her. To experience the opportunity to simply love a human being who had nothing to offer in return but a toothless grin, unintelligible sounds and a pure, childlike faith in the Jesus who she knew loved her.
Every day, I walk in the door with the commitment to give my very best to the people who have been entrusted to my care. To treat each one as I would want my mom or dad treated. And I am blessed far beyond any blessing that I am able to give.
I hope and pray that your loved ones are loved by their caregivers as I love my residents.