Tag Archives: nursing home resident

The Peanut Butter Solution





     Oh no. OH NO…that was my first thought when I saw a spoon inside of the empty jar of peanut butter on Ms.__’s bureau. This was going to be a problem. My mind immediately flashed back to the last time she had over indulged in her favorite food…I didn’t think my scrubs would EVER come clean.

         Ms.___ isn’t allergic to peanut butter. She ADORES it. The problem is it doesn’t adore her. It wreaks havoc on her stomach. Still, she isn’t on the locked unit and is free to come and go as she pleases. Every so often, what she pleases is to go to Walmart and buy peanut butter in bulk.

       Even so, I was surprised that she relapsed on her peanut butter addiction after last time. It was a mess of EPIC proportions. We were short staffed that day and the daunting task of cleaning her, the wheelchair, the floor, and the bed up fell solely on my shoulders, two person transfer be damned. It took over an hour to get the situation under control, only to have to repeat the whole scene again in the afternoon. By the end of that shift, both of us solemnly swore “never again”.

     “So much for solemn oaths,” I thought ruefully as I retrieved the empty container. My frustration must have been evident on my face because she wheeled over to me with such a look of regret that I immediately felt bad for her.

   “I’m so sorry, Alice,” she whispered, “I couldn’t help it.”

       My heart just melted. Here was a relatively young woman, only fifteen years older than me, apologizing for indulging in one of the few joys she has in life. Here I was internally whining about having to clean up a mess that hadn’t even occurred yet. Shame on me for that; for being more concerned about the amount of my work than the happiness of my resident. This woman has been in a wheelchair from childhood, has been in facilities for years and has survived unimaginable losses. If occasionally eating a whole jar of peanut butter brings her more joy than pain, then so be it.

       I thought back to when I first noticed her growing fondness for binge eating peanut butter and realized that it was shortly after losing her husband. The time after that was when a good friend of hers had passed suddenly. I made the connection. Maybe the fact that I had been going through the wringer myself and had over indulged in ice cream despite what it does to my stomach helped me recognize what was staring me in the face. I sat down on the edge of her bed, took her hands in mine and said the words that helped me through my own struggles,

   “Peanut butter is a good temporary fix, but if you ever need to talk I am right here. It’s ok to be scared. It’s ok to feel badly. You are not alone and I am in your corner. Always.”…We all have our peanut butter solutions.

The Value of Vulnerability






It’s no secret that caregiving requires a certain type of toughness. We often discuss the toll that the physical, mental and emotional stress of this career puts on our bodies. It’s not an easy gig and to consistently do our job well requires strength, fortitude, and willingness to sacrifice. Our patience is often tested on every level by everyone and still, we must carry on. So yes, though it may not be listed in the job requirements, toughness is a skill that is needed to perform our duties.

        On the flip side of that is vulnerability. I have discovered that one of my most useful assets in this field has been a willingness to remain in touch with my own personal vulnerabilities in order to better relate and connect with my residents.

       It’s not a comfortable feeling for me, vulnerability.  Outside of work, I adhere to a never-let-them-see-you-sweat-pick-yourself-up-by-the-boot-straps-and-look-at-the-bright-side philosophy of life. I like to take action! After all, it’s hard to hit a moving target.

      There is a certain level of denial in constantly trying to maintain such a mentality because the truth of it is, we are ALL vulnerable. It comes with the territory of being humans. For me, one of the greatest lessons of this career is that I’ve had to get past that intrinsic need to be a Pollyanna in order to truly reach some of my most challenging residents.

       Lonely, sick, hurting, scared people do not WANT to “look on the bright side”. They do not want to “smile”.  They DEFINITELY don’t want to be told that all things happen for a reason and that people are praying for them. As well-meaning as such sentiments are, they lack the substance to cut through the fog of depression and fear that most feel upon losing their sense of independence and, in a very real way, their freedom through no fault of their own.

        I do not know what it is like to live with cerebral palsy. I do not know what it’s like to have suffered a traumatic brain injury, or cancer, or severe mental illness. I would never tell any of my folks that I know what they are going through, because I do not. That DOESN’T mean that I’ve never felt the emotions that they may be feeling. THAT is where the gift of vulnerability comes in handy.

        When I dig within the deep wells of my own personal experiences, painful though that may be, I find a wealth of emotions, good and bad, that I use to empathize with my residents.  I know all too well what it’s like to feel alone, powerless, scared, hopeless, lost, stigmatized and like an outcast. I know what it’s like to feel anger at situations over which I had no control and I know what it feels like to lose your dignity.  I know this through my OWN life experiences and I know the tools that have helped me to get through it.

        This in no way qualifies me to “fix” my folks. I can’t fix anyone. What I CAN do is relate on a deeper level. I can share my experiences when appropriate and I can be open to being emotionally vulnerable to those who, by necessity, are forced to be vulnerable with me.

Sunrise, Sunset



Edison Terrell

I went in to my old work to volunteer with activities this afternoon before work. My last day at this place, but I’ll spare the choked-up emotion for later. Maybe cry into a cup of Americone Dream. Anyway one of our residents was sent to skilled a month ago after he broke his hip, and he looks so different since I saw him I didn’t even recognize him until he started grumbling angrily at the door to the living room. It was the pomp British voice, and the way he called the door a “f____ wanker” that clued me in.

The difference was, in a word, shocking. Disturbing, really. He was a lawyer in his past; not in the best of shape when he moved to Personal Care from Independent Living, but he was walking, talking, and speaking his mind confidently to us. Sometimes he didn’t make much sense, but I took it as part of his charm; the way he vigorously and skillfully defended his own nonsense perception was admirable in its own way, as well as frustrating. Today he’s wheelchair bound, kicking and pulling on already opened doors, grabbing feebly at the air, at the sleeves of his woolly sweater, even at his own hands, like they’re alien things at the ends of his arms. Mumbling incoherently the whole time. He grabbed at a cooler of ice at the nurse’s station and shook it violently until an exasperated aide came to steer him away, then scooted aimlessly around with his eyes barely open. He’s so delusional right now they may as well be closed.

Seeing him in that state shocked me further to the core than almost any other experience I’ve had on the job. He went from a gentlemanly annoyance to a maniacal monster in less than four weeks. The sharp decline is horrifying to see, a fate worse than death. It almost makes me not want to go back.

I know I can handle future residents like him thanks to this experience. Clinical and months of work have shown me that if the shock doesn’t kill you, it’s a recoverable one. There comes a time when you start to question how many more shocks you’re willing to take, though. You start to slowly turn a corner then, if you’re like me. I’m confident I could work almost any aspect of this job after a little adjustment, but is it worth it? Am I so needed that I should sacrifice my comfort and drive to come back and keep being horrified and saddened? Or do you just hold on the good and keep going?

Fran had a mini victory tonight when she was able to put both her arms in her shirtsleeves and take off her pants and briefs before sitting on the toilet without me urging her or showing her how. Little moments like that keep me here. Tomorrow she may be different. She might break her hip as soon as I leave the unit, and maybe an ambulance will zoom into the parking lot while I’m driving away around the other side. It’s pointless to ponder like that in this work, though. In that moment she was exemplary, and I was so proud of her.


My Suitcase & Ruth




Most workplaces want their employees to leave their personal drama at home and come to work with a positive mindset. This is especially true of a CNA. We are reminded frequently to “leave your baggage at the door and smile as you enter.”   I have always taken a small measure of pride in how efficient I can be at packing my emotional “bags” and leaving them to wait until the end of my shift like suitcases piled up on a hotel bellhop’s trolley.

Suitcases are all zippers, straps and heavy nylon materials these days. I remember when suitcases were made of a hard substance and had snapping locks that required both hands to open or close them simultaneously. If such a suitcase had too many items stuffed in it, the thing would spring open letting loose all of its contents for everyone to see.  

My mother-in-law passed away about 6 weeks ago unexpectedly. She was like another mother to me and I love her fiercely. Due to a series of uncontrollable circumstances, I couldn’t go to her funeral. I find myself grieving every day since. Some days are harder than others but like the good CNA I am, I pack the grief neatly in my suitcase and leave it waiting for me in the parking lot while I tend to my elderly residents.

One of the residents I care for regularly has severe Alzheimer’s. She doesn’t know who her children are when they visit, most days she can’t remember how to walk and she can no longer chew or swallow food.   The other day the gnawing pain of my mom-in-law’s death was eating away at my spirit. Ruth (not her real name) was sitting in her wheel chair quietly humming and watching me finish up some paperwork while the other residents were at supper. After I finished my work, I knelt down next to her so we were at eye level. I asked “How are you, Ruth?”  

“I’m fine. You are sad,” she replied.

I didn’t know what to say back to her. My mind was racing, trying to think of something that would have meaning to her and I settled on the truth. I said, “Yes, I am sad.”


“Because I miss my mommy.”

“She died.” Ruth said as a matter of fact, nodding her head knowingly.


Ruth stretched out her hands and gently started to stroke my hair while tears started welling up in my eyes.

She stared intently into my eyes and with her hands still stroking my hair whispered ever so softly, “you are loved”.

The tears ran freely down my cheeks and I found myself resting my head in her lap while she continued gently stroking my hair and whispering “you are loved” over and over. My suitcase packed with grief and regret unwillingly sprang open for Ruth to see and she responded with love. While I cried she comforted me in a way only a mom knows how.  

I’m not sure how long we stayed like that, only a few minutes probably. Time seemed to suspend itself for us. I felt loved and cared for in that small moment. I will never forget what happened between us while Ruth’s mind already has let it go. I like to think her spirit remembers when we quietly folded my grief with love and repacked it in my suitcase minus a few tears allowing it to close even if for just a little while.