Everyone Has a Story

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Alice

This resident does not like for his feet to touch the ground. A bath sheet won’t cut it. Don’t even THINK of bathing him without his shower shoes. There will be hell to pay. 

This resident is afraid of the dark. He sleeps with a bedside lamp.  And you have to watch resident in the room two doors down, because she thinks it’s funny to sneak in and shut the light off.

This resident lost her mother to cancer.  She is a tough cookie and she doesn’t trust others easily, but once I opened up about myself, she began to share her life stories with me. Though she thinks she’s fearless, I know that every rash, every mole, every doctor’s appointment brings back those memories of her mother and she becomes so afraid. She used to refuse to go to her appointments, but once I realized the underlying issue, I was better able to help her walk through her fear.

This resident is smart. Sharp as a tack. Honestly, she is probably smarter than the people who run the facility. She misses nothing. She has lived with Cerebral Palsy her entire life and people seem to think that because of that, there is something wrong with her mind. People who should know better. This breaks her heart and enrages me. I tell her to keep her chin up. The loss is entirely theirs.

This resident is a lifelong bachelor who scraped to put two of his brothers through seminary school. This resident lost her husband at a young age and never emotionally recovered. This resident spent so many years self-medicating his PTSD that he lost everything. This resident was a pioneer for women in the Armed forces and writer.

A caregiver knows more about a resident than anyone else in their lives. More than their doctors, family members, administrators, councilors. By necessity, they have to trust us. We are the faces they see the most. We are their hands in their most vulnerable moments. It is a relationship that requires an incredible amount of trust from both parties.

THIS is at the heart of what we do. It is in no text book. It is not a skill to perform in order to pass the certification test, and yet it is the very skill that allows us to provide a quality of life, to notice when something is “off”, to protect, comfort, safe guard, and care for these people who are living with such difficulties.

Those of us lucky enough to be living outside of institutionalized settings take such simple acts for granted. The ability to be seen and noticed for who we are rather than a diagnosis; the freedom to shower when we choose, to eat whenever we wish, to come and go as we please. 

Imagine, for a moment, if all of those freedoms were ripped away and suddenly you were only seen as a “private pay” or a “two person transfer”; if all anyone knew about you was that you were “difficult and combative”.   Your entire life of dynamic experiences, triumphs and heartbreaks reduced to a three page care plan; the slow and relentless ripping away of your humanity. 

 I don’t know at what point society decided that once a person reaches a certain age or level of disability they no longer have to be treated as PEOPLE if it isn’t cost effective. I only know that it is morally, ethically, fundamentally wrong. We, as caregivers, are in a unique position to stand against this mentality.

Let’s face it. We slip through the cracks. People don’t pay attention to us or how we do our job, unless something goes wrong. There is little leadership and no guidance.  Long term care is a bottom line world. In my experience, if things look alright and appear to go smoothly, the office people don’t concern themselves with the day to day realities on the floor. This used to drive me nuts until I recognized the freedom this actually gives us! They don’t care HOW the job gets done as long as it gets done. I’ve learned what works for my residents and what doesn’t. Most importantly, I’ve learned the value of getting to know those in my care on a personal level; as individuals. 

We are given the gift of reminding our residents every day that we SEE them, that they are valued human beings; that they are bigger than their current situation, more important than their illness, and they truly and genuinely matter. You can’t put a price tag on that. It doesn’t translate well into a bullet on a resume, but it makes all the difference in the world for those for whom we care.  Seeing their humanity will remind us of our own, if we allow it. 

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