If you read my last post, about my first day working as a care-giver at a dementia care facility, you might have gotten the mistaken impression that it’s depressing. It is physically demanding and intellectually challenging, but there are so many upsides to it. The experience is giving me a new attitude about the achievements we take for granted in our everyday lives. When you have to work hard to help someone get dressed, washed and fed, each time it’s done right feels as good as an Olympic medal. I can’t use names, so I’m going to call people by their conditional characteristics in this article.
So far I’ve only worked first shift, which is from 6AM to 2PM. The second shift has been slacking off a bit on Tall guy with Bad Arm (TBA). He’s asleep most of the time, and his disease process is advanced. His bones are brittle, and one arm got fractured just moving him up in bed. It has healed, but it’s still sore, so he will go OH! If you move it the wrong way as you position him. Residents are to be showered twice a week if at all possible. Sponge-baths in bed aren’t really adequate unless they can’t be moved. TBA hadn’t been showered or shaved in a week, and he was pretty stinky. It took three of us to get him into a shower chair without hurting him. He said OH! A lot, but with the warm water flowing over him, we could all see him relax. We spoke to him using his name constantly, as we do with all of them. He opened his eyes and gave us a little nod! It felt like the king had granted us all titles.
Sense of Humor Guy can only speak a few words, but he can do most of his own dressing (with assistance) and feeding, and he makes terrific jokes. He doesn’t observe proper ownership boundaries all the time, but you get the sense it’s all in fun to him. He “borrowed” a sweater from another resident’s room and has been wearing it. When we call it to his attention, he looks up in the air as if to say “Who, me?” The first time he met me, he stared at my shaved head intently, looked at his regular care-giver, pointed at my head, and then made little flapping motions with his arms. Get it? BALD EAGLE.
Nearly all residents who are awake and even semi-alert respond favorably to smiling. They smile back, and their smiles are completely open and without judgment, the way children smile for the simple pleasure of doing it. These people do recognize our intent, and for the most part they recognize our faces too and will smile upon seeing our approach. They aren’t so good with names but eh, neither am I.
Some of the women have retained their taste in what kind of men they prefer. Puff-ball is one of these types. She talks to me like a son. I’m slightly smaller than average. If she sees the chef, who has notable girth and is over six feet tall, she will say things like “Look at THAT guy.” She may smile seductively. She knows what she likes.
Feeding takes time. Believe it or not, it’s the biggest challenge. Therefore when a good result is achieved, we feel good about it. Nearly all of the residents have definite taste preferences. The experienced care-givers are teaching those to me. TBA doesn’t like yogurt. You can ask him. If you offer yogurt, he will give a little nod – uh-uh. On the other hand, ask him if he wants some WINE. He might give you a big smile. Then you can put the straw from the grape juice in his mouth. Whatever works. Our residents have standing “Do Not Resuscitate” orders, but as long as we can get any kind of response, even a subtle one, we’ll do whatever it takes to get them to accept hydration and nutrients. We honor their efforts to live by assisting them.
Everyone responds well to being embraced and touched with sincerity and gentleness. One loves “babies” and likes having dolls and stuffed animals around. I’m doing well with those ladies who like having a young man to escort them to the dining room or to activities. Yesterday we had a sing-along. Imagine people who never speak, but can (and do) loudly singing “In the Good Old Summertime”. There’s always a way in. We just have to figure it out. I’m so lucky. So lucky. I get to love people for a living.