Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Tales from the nursing home

Last Thursday, in passing a group huddled around the strapping man slumped in his wheelchair I became the witness.

"You're NOT dying." His wife says; her tone slightly exasperated.
"No really, you are so healthy. Remember yesterday? You were going a mile a minute. We couldn't keep up with you." A nurse cajoles him, hoping to shift him out of his funk.
"Maybe all you need is a little hug." A personal care worker leans over his wheelchair, embraces him, rubbing his back as if to deliver the hug even deeper into his being.
The tightly formed group laugh gently in their attempts to rally his spirit.

I know this man, Lorne. I see him almost every time I come to provide Shiatsu for E, a fellow nursing home resident. It's clear to me that he is not his usual self. He is handsome, with thick white hair; possessing a gentle nature and ready, perfect smile. His upright, strong posture is a testament to the once physically fit, vibrant man that he was and so he looks younger than his 70 plus years. The toll of Alzheimer's insidious progression brought him here a few years ago.

But today, his sense of suffering wafts off of him forming a grey wispy cloud that invades the atmosphere. He sits deflated and crumpled, as if the air has been let out of him. Uncharacteristically, he makes no eye contact.

Continuing on my way down the hall I witness another scene playing out unbeknownst to the group clustered around Lorne.

At first all I see is the backs of 2 paramedics. As I come closer they are the model of efficiency, arranging tubes, other life saving equipment and straps on a gurney. Wordlessly, they step into position for transport. An old woman lays under the gurney's white sheet. The practiced calmness of the team and her quiet, acceptance and stillness make it difficult for me to determine her state of emergency.

It is a few days before the full moon; things are afoot. Terrors and fears are shared communally.

*         *        *
The black charge nurse from the West Indies, the eldest of 19 children, is telling tales, laughing and shaking her head. "Imagine that" she says, "a bunch of them throughout the day, insisting that they have to get to the front door. At one time there were 5 from our house and a few others from some of the other 4 houses all lined up in their wheelchairs waiting for the "bus" but nobody could tell us where they were going." She puts her hand on her hip and nods her head with firm assurance, "Just that the bus was going to pick them up."Then she leans over speaking confidentially, "There was no bus. It was a Sunday." 

It's the middle of a cool, starry summer night in 2009. Moonlight shines brightly through the window at the end of the hall, casting eerie shadows upon the carpet. Some residents are roaming about or sleeping restlessly. Mom's been unwell so I've come to maintain vigil outside her doorway; a big armchair serves as a makeshift bed. Periodically I'm awoken from my light drifting as nurses and staff come and go checking vitals, turning and changing Mom as needed. I'm glad that Gail, one of Mom's favourite nurses, has stopped to talk. She takes in stride all that goes on in the home, in the minds of the residents and is respectful of their other-worldly experiences.

"Of course the next day it was as if nothing had happened. Full moons, yup strange things happen on full moons." She walks her cart of meds, drink and snacks down the hall to sooth another soul who's slipped between the veils. "We notice it and so do hospitals." 

*        *        *
A few days later, Mom's greatly improved and so we're getting ready to head out for a "spin". I bundle her into her chair so that she can grab some rays and hopefully watch children playing in the adjacent park. An enormous stuffed dog has appeared at the base of Mom's bed. Did she take it from another resident? Things "have legs" here and this is quite possible. Though how would she have managed to get him in her room without someone noticing? Maybe it's a gift from her "friendly visitor", Jill.

Power animal totems in nursing home
I need to make sure he's where he should be. In an environment where people own so little, someone would definitely be missing him.

Gail tells me, "No, he's a friendly visitor too. We use him to comfort residents when they seem a little beside themselves. They like his size and softness of his fur. He'll stay with her for a while and when she no longer needs him, he'll go on to someone else who does."

Does she realize she's talking about him as if he is animate, I wonder?

The stuffed animals we give to young children serve as their confidants and protectors. Their soft and cheery appearances make them perfect for snuggling and comfort. But in dreamtime they come to life helping the child fend off any terrors of the night by giving them courage, standing beside them or intervening when necessary. They also serve the elderly who drift from one world to the other and in between.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely post, Nance. You have a great talent for character studies. Many years ago, my mother-in-law was in a nursing home. She'd been a lifelong lover of cats and missed hers terribly. So my husband got her a Beanie Baby tabby that she carried with her everywhere.