As I begin the HS care routine, my thoughts wander to home, to Jenny and the girls. I always get a little tug of homesickness around this time in the shift. The girls are picking out their bedtime stories right now, each gets to choose one book and they pick one together. They’ll gather around the bed of our youngest – along with our little Australian Shepard, Kip – and Jenny will read to them. Then, she’ll tuck them in, kiss them good night, and they’ll drift away with Wynken, Blynken and Nod. Not being there is the hardest part of being here.
Tonight, it’s worse than usual because I’ve been pulled to a unit that I’m not familiar with and I’m the outsider. I don’t know the staff well and I know nothing about the residents in my group, save for the information on my “cheat sheet” and what the other caregivers have time to tell me. For the rest I have to depend on what I can glean from the residents themselves.
Ziggy can’t help me much in that regard. He has a pleasant demeanor and he follows simple cues, but he doesn’t respond to all of my questions and when he does respond it’s with a nod or one word answer. And he seems reluctant to maintain eye contact.
In the dietary column, the cheat sheet states that Ziggy is a “feeder,” an uncomfortably crude way of saying that he can’t eat without total assistance. But the information is accurate, as I discovered at supper time. He loves to eat – that isn’t on the cheat sheet – I couldn’t get his dinner on the spoon fast enough for him. He polished off his tray in ten minutes and accepted a second dessert when one of the regular caregivers offered. For caregivers, there is something satisfying about a resident who likes to eat. And I could tell from the regular caregivers’ interaction with him that he is just about everybody’s favorite. That isn’t on the cheat sheet either.
There is a lot about Ziggy that isn’t on the cheat sheet. You can’t tell a story in box.
He nods as I explain that I’m going to help him on to his bed, but he says nothing. Under the “transfer” column of the cheat sheet, he is listed as 1HH, meaning one human help. He is as tall as I am and not thin, but if the sheet is up to date, he should be able to bear weight and I should be able to get him into his bed without having to ask the other caregivers for help.
I position his Geri chair parallel to his bed, about midway between the head and foot. This leaves room for me to help him stand and pivot 90 degrees, then ease him into a sitting position on the edge of the bed. The next step is to use the edge of the bed as a fulcrum and help him swing his legs into the bed, effectively creating another 90 degree pivot. If all goes to plan, his head will end up straight on the pillow.
I pause after getting him on the bed. I always like to take a moment when a resident is sitting on the edge of bed, whether it’s in the process of getting out or going in. Just to let him get his bearings after the change of position. Sometimes I’ll sit on the bed with him – for just a moment or two – steadying him if necessary.
As I’m sitting next to Ziggy, my attention is drawn to two photos tacked to his personal poster board hanging on the wall over his night stand. Other than the Activity Department’s weekly newsletter, the photos are the only items on the board. In most of the residents’ rooms these poster boards are covered with various personal items such as photos, greeting cards, notes, and assorted decorations. For our residents, these items sometimes serve as tangible, but slender connections to the lives they had before they came here. For us, they provide tiny shreds of evidence of who they are as people.
One of the pictures is an 8×10 of a gorgeous pure bred German Shepard standing in someone’s front yard. A smaller photo shows a much younger Ziggy kneeling next to the Shepard with his him arm draped across the dog’s back. Both photos are faded, dog-eared, and peppered with a dozen thumb-tack holes along the top edges.
From my spot on the bed, the larger photo is within arm’s reach. I lean over, remove it from the board, and hold it up in front of Ziggy.
“He’s beautiful, Ziggy.”
Ziggy reaches for the photo and I hand it to him. He studies it and nods. “Chummy is a good dog.”
Okay, present tense then. I’ll follow his lead and we’ll stay there. “Yes, he looks like a great dog.”
He nods again. “Chummy is a good, good dog.”
“Are you best buddies?”
“Yeah. He’s my dog.”
He still hasn’t taken his eyes off the photo.
“Do you play with him?”
“Yes… he plays.”
“There’s nothing like a good dog. I have one too.”
He looks at me, eyebrows slightly raised.
“Here, I’ll show you a picture of her.” I lean back and retrieve my wallet from my front pants pocket. I slip a small photo of Kip from its protective plastic sleeve. The picture shows Kip with all four legs off the ground, snatching a tennis ball in mid-air.
Ziggy is impressed. “He’s a good dog!”
“Yes, she is,” I agree, but I stand firm on the gender. “She loves to play fetch. We play until I get too tired to throw the ball. I always get tired way before she does.”
Ziggy chuckles, he’s familiar with that story. I hand the photo to Ziggy. He’s still holding the picture of Chummy in his other hand and looks from one photo to the other, apparently comparing the two dogs.
“Ziggy, do you suppose Chummy is more expensive to feed than Kip?”
He grins, “Oh yes, Chummy eats a lot.”
“Kip loves to hunt. One time she ran away and came home with the leg of a deer. And rabbits don’t dare to come in our yard anymore. Does Chummy hunt too?”
“Oh, no, no. Chummy doesn’t hunt.” He hands me Kip’s picture and returns his gaze to his Shepard. “Chummy is a good dog.”
“Do want to hear a secret about Kip, Ziggy?”
He looks back at me. “Yes… what is it?”
“My wife let’s her sleep in our bed.”
Ziggy shakes his head. “Chummy sleeps in his own bed.”
“I know, we’re not supposed to let her on our bed. But we do anyway.” I put my hand on his shoulder and say, “At least there is one thing that we both know…”
He looks at me again, “What?”
“… There’s nothing like a good dog.”
He smiles and nods. “Yes, Chummy is a good, good dog.”
I proceed with his HS care and wonder if Ziggy will dream about Chummy tonight. I hope so.
I also wonder what other connections we could make if I had more time and knew more about who Ziggy is.