Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Home Sweet Home?

Last night, we met for training at a local residential care facility or, as they are commonly known, a nursing home. I walked in trepidatiously, fearful that lining the halls would be elderly people slumped in wheelchairs with vacant looks in their eyes and drool streaming from their mouths. Instead, a group of residents sat around dining room tables enjoying their dinner with their neighbors. As I turned down the hall to the training room, a long corridor of open doors greeted me. Passing each room, my eyes were drawn into their interiors. TV's were blaring in most with a resident propped up in bed eating alone with the company of the evening news or The Simpsons. Some rooms were decorated with personal items- framed photos, books, knick knacks- while others were stark. Many residents were three to a room, with the curtains drawn between them for a semblance of privacy. I caught one woman's eye as she sat in her wheelchair by her bed. I smiled and she returned it. The loneliness and vulnerability of the residents hung in the air as the constant clattering and beeping attempted to beat it back.

I felt badly thinking "I don't want to be one of these people." But it was how I felt. I am a private person, for all my ramblings here. I don't like people in my personal space. I never lived in the dorms- a big reason being that I didn't want to be paired up with someone I might not like and have to live in the same room with them. What if she liked Disney and incessantly chattered? Oh god! I quipped, probably in bad taste, to a couple of other volunteers that if they put me in a room with two others AND stuck me in the middle bed I would basically hurry up and die to get the hell out of there. I am mostly serious though. I don't "do" room sharing about as much as I don't "do" crowded festivals (think: Burning Man) or fruit for dessert. Some things I will not budge on.

I admit that I have judgments about residential care facilities. There is so much bad press about how the residents are mistreated, neglected, and abused. I couldn't help but bring those preconceived notions into the facility. I know that many of the people in their care have nowhere else to go and actually prefer to be in a safe environment where they can get medical care without being in a hospital or that they don't want to be a burden to their families. It is their home. That is just so depressing to me.

*Mom, I promise you won't ever be in one of those. Even if we fight, you will have a home...though I think you'd enjoy living with Dokey much better than with me. I'll
keep working on my bedside manner. ;)

Part of our training last night was on how to feed a patient. When we got back from break there were small individual containers of apple sauce waiting for us on our seats. I don't "do" apple sauce people. I refuse to eat it. Even for the sake of training, I couldn't buck up. I have a strong aversion to apple juice and apple sauce. Let's chalk it up to a childhood thing. So my partner fed me water. As I sat there, eyes closed, waiting for the spoon, I felt so needy and vulnerable. It really helped to put me in their shoes, even for just a little bit. And I was very thankful I wasn't being force-fed apple sauce. Ick.

Of course, when it came time for me to practice on my partner, we broke out into a mad fit of the giggles. I fed her some of the apple sauce and said, "Does it taste good?" right as her face contorted into a cringe of disdain. The organic apple sauce was pretty tart (or as she put it, "The worst tasting apple sauce she has ever tasted.") Needless to say, we used empty spoons from then on. For some reason we weren't given a straw for the water so we lost it again when I tried to tip the cup to give her water. I kept not giving her anything but I didn't realize it and would say, "Did you get enough?" to which she would start laughing. Note to self: Find a straw. It will be easier.

I left the facility wondering how I will handle it if I get placed with a patient in a nursing home. Will I be filled with dread and apprehension each time I visit? Will their neediness and sorrow overwhelm me? This work is hard. So many of us in the training are experiencing profound shifts in our thinking. Sure, we can laugh as we try to move one another from bed to commode or wheelchair to walker or attempt to feed each other apple sauce but we know that all the little gestures from feeding to sitting by a bedside to holding a person's hand can have a huge impact on the patient. And us. This training, and I anticipate, the work, will forever change me for the better. Every day, my heart is so full. Every day, I look at life a little bit different. What is important verses what is just distracting chaos or drama becomes clearer and clearer. This is a ripe time and I am moving deeper into who I am. And it feels fantastic.

13 comments:

Neil said...

A lot of powerful emotions there. My grandmother was in a nursing home, and the place was a little scary. But I kept on telling myself that despite the fraility of the people, they were just older versions of myself. They went out dancing, fucked around, raised families. Thinking this way made me better relate to the elderly and sick as individuals rather than "old people." You're probably learning a lot about yourself during this training.

Anonymous said...

apples are your friend.

Sizzle said...

you are right neil, they are just older versions of us and they all have a story to share. it's a good thing to keep in mind.

yes, apples are my friend but not in juice or sauce form. definitely not then.

Hope said...

I work in an architecture firm that specializes in healthcare so I spend a lot of time in hospitals. My first visit to the demetia ward of a nursing home was awful. There was a woman sitting in a rocking chair rocking a doll, and one guy started following us around. I wanted to cry, but I like to think by designing beautiful spaces for ailing people is somewhat healing.

Lushy said...

I always liked to talk to people at the facility my Nane was at (I was 17). It always struck me how they had such a different view of life on the way out as I did just starting out. I am thankful to each and every one of those people who told me a story about their life. They all enriched my life in different ways.

goldmoon said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who worries about things like this.

gorillabuns said...

i too have a major phobia of nursing homes and pray to god i am shot or die suddenly so i don't have to go into one....

when i volunteered for hospice i went and sat with un elderly gentleman in a nursing home. basically we sat and watched tv because that's all he wanted to do. he kept the relationship detached and that was fine with me.

another woman i purposely visited during dinner at the request of the family. i helped her during dinner three nights a week which was quite hard since she had had a stroke and was paralyzed on one side. communication was difficult and she would get quite upset and sometime cry because she wasn't fully functional. in order to divert her sorrow i would talk with her about her family and what wonderful trips she had taken in her life. places i could only dream of. when leaving i felt a small sense of satisfaction that i was able to at least make her life for the couple of hours i was there more pleasant and hopefully comforting. the people that were thrown in my path i felt were people that i needed to learn something from as well as learn something about myself. i wish you luck and the only advise i can give is sometimes if you can have a level of detachment it might be a good thing. easier said than done, i know...

em said...

When I was in elementary school, they had us go to the nursing home and read to people. Blanche would just sit quietly and stare at me when I would read...and they were always very trite children's books. I always feel very uncomfortable when I think back to it, like it wasn't doing her justice. A few years later, they gutted the nursing home and it just sat there abandoned. I always had this weird feeling like Blanche was still there, sitting in her room, while everything around her had gone to tatters. I wish I would have just talked to her and not read her those stupid books.

I'm glad you'll be able to do so much more for these people...

Bill said...

I think the problem we tend to face in these situations is in thinking the situations are somehow different from the myriad of other human situations. These are people, like anyone else, and while on one hand they may have numerous medical and even mental/emotional difficulties, that’s pretty much a good description of most of us in our 30’s and 40’s and so on.

I think if I were them, assuming my mental faculties are still with me (not a safe bet, by the way), what I would want more than anything else is for someone to just treat me as if I’m alive and worth talking to. I think people make a bigger thing out of age than they need to, and this could make some of these people feel like burdens.

Not that I know what I’m talking about … But I think these people have put decades into living on this planet. Surely they have some interesting stories. Sometimes, maybe you need to go at them with a crowbar, but I think if you can get the stories out of them you can start relating to them more easily and the entire situation starts to feel normal and everyone feels better and more at ease. And if one of you is shitting his or her pants, well – welcome to life. Clean it up and move on. There’s still the end of a good story to be heard.

In other words, people (including ourselves) feel better and respond better when we de-emphasize these things we sometimes make a big to-do about. Treat people like invalids, and they will act like that. Treat them as if they have something of worth to share, and they will respond in kind. And yes, sometimes they may be a bit addled but that pretty much describes most of the people I know anyway, young and old. So what?

Just think, many of these old farts have given head many times. With glee. Consider that.

Did any of that make sense? I don’t feel like I explained what I mean well. But people are people are people.

Mo-Pie said...

Oh Sizzle, we know you like the sauce...

We are with you... this would be hard for most of us to deal with, but we can see what kind of a heart you have. I don't just mean the applesauce hater thing, but you as a whole. I only wish we had more people like you in this crazy and hectic world.

You complete us Sizzle...

...You had us at “Last night, we met for training”...

Bex said...

this training process sounds amazing, the way it forces you to delve so much deeper into your psyche, what an unreal opportunity! props to you, you are such a good soul.

Her Daddy's Eyes said...

This is great! I'm so happy you're sharing this with us. What a wonderful training program.
You are a wonderful, giving, and loving person to be able to do this. My heart would be so heavy that I don't think I could handle it for too long. I guess that's why I work with the little ones, their life being in front of them and all.
I'm so happy for you that this is making you feel closer to yourself and who you want to be. I'm proud of you!! :)
~Eyes

Melissa said...

Hello Ms. Sizzle,

I'm new to your blog and wanted to share a bit.

My grandmother (93) lives in an assisted care facility, and I can tell you that no one is more important than the people who care for her. The things you are learning are fantastic and as a person who relies on the folks that give elder care, I couldn't be more proud of how seriously you are taking this.

I don't mean to sound patronizing, it's just so important what you are doing.

Hope mentioned previously about the design of the facilities playing a part in the comfort the residents take in their new homes, and she's right. Where Nanny lives is a lovely place, and the staff take super care of her.

Wish you the best of luck in this new situation.

Cheers