Day 427: Lessons Learned From the Inside of A Nursing Home

What images come to mind when you think of the phrase nursing home? If you are anything like me some of them are probably pretty scary. When a veritable blizzard of events caused me to the age of 34, reside in a nursing home for almost 3 months I was petrified. However, I would not trade those three months for anything now.Things I Have Learned About Life In a Nursing Home That May Surprise You

1 Not all residents of a nursing home are elderly. I’ve known this in a sort of academic sense because one of my friends from college who had severe cerebral palsy eventually ended up living in a nursing home but since it was quite a distance from me I did not see her when she moved there. My first night in the nursing home I was surprised to discover that my roommate was a 27-year-old woman with spina bifida who had chosen to live there. I choose to believe that she was the universes way of telling me to take a breath and that everything would work out all right in the end.2 Not all residents of nursing homes have lost their self-awareness. For many people the image that comes to mind when they think of a nursing home patient is someone with Alzheimer’s disease or advanced dementia and while there were certainly people there who fell into that category it was by no means everyone. There was Mr. C who still has an outgoing social life in the community due to the fact that members of his church are constantly picking him up so that he is included in church services and other events his church holds during the week. In fact it is uncommon to see him at home on Wednesdays or during the day on the weekends at all. Mr. C is a connoisseur of ties and will joyfully tell anyone that he has over 500, both the more well-known long type and bowties. Some are silly some are flamboyant some are quiet but they all fit him. Someone even gave him a cowbell from one of his birthdays (I didn’t believe it until he showed me) which he rings whenever he feels so inclined. Most of the time you can count on him for a hug and if he asks how are you he genuinely wants to know the answer.3 Even those who need memory care often hold on to aspects of their personality that you wouldn’t expect.”Memory care” is the term that the staff use when referring patients who are losing or have lost the ability to stay anchored in the present. It’s a term I had never heard before coming there but one that I find I like. One memory care resident paints the most beautiful paintings. Another woman dances every time any kind of music comes on and still another was a dancer of a whole different sort in her youth which can make for some unexpected and hilarious conversations which leads me to this point

4 Nursing homes are not depressing all the time.Yes, people die. Guess what folks life is terminal. We are born, we live, hopefully we make the world a little bit better than it was when we found it, then we die that’s how it goes. I overheard someone say “this place is so depressing” to which I responded only if you let it be. There is sadness when people leave us but there is so much love. I would go so far as to say that in any decent facility there is love pouring out at the seams if you know how to see it. If the activities person who brings wine for “happy hour” because a patient asked for it, it’s the staff who get the patient back up after hearing that the activities person actually brought the wine even though they had just laid her down not 10 minutes ago love is the kitchen staff putting thickening agent in the wine so that she can enjoy it in spite of being partially paralyzed and therefore having difficulty swallowing. Love is the nurse bringing me three different sets of adaptive utensils on my first night when I couldn’t eat dinner in the dining room until I found a set which I can use to feed myself and not get food all over the place. Love is when nurses and CNA’s help you dye your hair purple or replace your mouse for the umpteenth time because it broke after you supposedly threw it at your roommate. Love is teasing you about throwing said mouse even though they know what actually happened is it fell off the bedside table one too many times.

5 Nursing home employees are some of the least appreciated, hardest working underpaid people I know.I mean everybody not just the nurses, CNA’s or therapist although they are definitely part of this list. I’m also talking about the kitchen staff and the cleaning staff and the activities staff the presence of kind, thoughtful, caring people are the backbone that a good facility’s reputation is built on. I was taught that please and thank you are magic words and the older I get the truer it becomes I know you may be upset the your family member is living in a place like this but try to remember that all these people are trying to do is help you and that they did not cause the situation which led to your loved one being here. Instead of complaining try asking if there is anything you can do to help you may be surprised at what you find out.

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