Monday, January 16, 2012

I'm a First Class Back Scratcher

Hello, world of blogging! It's been a long time since I've written on here, I know, and it's about time I started up again! I now work in 2 different long term care facilities, so I guess I've got double the stories to share. I work as a Recreation Assistant in 2 places, one being the place I've blogged about in the past (been there for 4 years) and one being in a home for veterans (been there for 2 years). I get an unbelievable amount of variety between the two, each quirky in its own way. I suppose I have more than 300 grandparents now, I've got closer to 500...

To ease my way back into the land of blogging, I'll share with you something that happened right after Christmas. I was going through the building with some four year old kids from an adjacent daycare, delivering the mail to elders living there. We do this every couple of days, and it's an awesome way to pass the morning. The kids, for the most part, are well behaved and high five all the grandpas, putting a big smile on the guys faces and bringing forward a moment of joy. There's one particular grandpa who always looks kinda grumpy. He's a sweetheart deep down, always greets me with a big "Hey there, honey!" and likes to chat if I've got a few minutes to sit down, but he usually keeps to himself. We'll call him Marty.

Well, we had a couple of late Christmas cards that had arrived late from Marty's family. The kids did their thing, high fiving, fist bumping, screaming at the birds and running around in circles. The usual. We delivered the cards and I asked Marty if we could get him anything before we moved on. He looked up at me with all of his wrinkles, oxygen hissing out of the tubes in his nose, and sighed. "Well honey, a back scratch would sure be great." Sure thing, I thought! No problem. I began to scratch his back in between the shoulder blades. "Lower down," he croaked. I went lower. "Lower down, lower down."

"Am I getting the itch?" I kept asking him. "Where is it?" His face got a little redder, he started to pant, and out came a loud "ohohohohohOhOhOhOHOHOHOH!! AHHHHhhhhhhh. Thank you honey. I think I just had a baby." The kids had stopped their goofing off and were standing in a row, staring, their mouths in a big O. I was just a tad horrified at what I'd done for this man (turning him on had NOT been my intention), and was trying to think of something to say when one little boy squeaked out, "ummm...what's wrong with grandpa?"

"Nothing!!!" I told him. "Nothing's wrong with grandpa, he's, uh, totally fine! Yup he's good. Bye Marty! Merry Christmas! Everyone wave bye to grandpa Marty!" And I ushered them out as fast as I could. As we walked out the door Marty called after us, "Bye honey! Thanks!"

Sure thing, Grandpa. You're welcome.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


I got into work today to find that 4 of our residents passed away over the weekend. 2 of them were on my former unit, where I worked for 9 months.
One was a man who constantly irritated the other residents around him. He had a voice like a foghorn and called out nonstop for someone to come over. He had no family and, seemingly, nothing to live for. His Alzheimers was quite advanced and he couldn't follow instructions. He spent all his time either in bed staring blankly at a tv or sitting in the alcove covered in an ancient knitted blanket that someone had donated. As long as I knew him, the only thing that brought him joy was animals, especially dogs. The second he heard the dog's feet padding down the hallway, heard the panting of breath, he'd be leaning forward out of his chair, trying to see, calling out "hi puppy! Hi puppy!" Anytime someone came in with a dog we asked them to visit this gentleman, and we would be 2 steps behind them with a camera, waiting to capture the moment of realization when a look of pure delight sprang onto his face.
Although he never remembered who I was, I got on with him well and the two of us never had any problems. Oddly, I won't miss him. It was, as some would say, his 'time'.

The other resident, a young woman (mid forties) had no memory deficiencies, no brain injury, just couldn't use her legs. She zoomed around in her power chair, running into walls and clipping people's feet. The way she spoke always irritated me; when I asked a question or suggested something, no matter what it was, she would say no. But it wasn't just no, she had a habit of turning it into two syllables, "NOOOO-wah!" with her voice going up at the end as if I'd just said the most incredibly stupid thing. Every. Time.
"Would you like to join us? We're doing facials today." "Noooo-wah!"
"Hey I made a fresh pot of coffee, would you like some?" "NOOO-wah!" (guess who's trying to pour herself a coffee as soon as I turn my back?)
"[insert boyfriend's name here] is looking for you! Did you see him in the hallway?" "Nooo-wah!!!"
Every. Time. She barely tolerated people, rolled her eyes at everyone, groaned when her boyfriend of 30+ years tried to say or do nice things for her, and wouldn't let anyone get close to her. But she passed away on the weekend. It makes our job easier. No more stepping out of her way when she comes along. No more tripping over our feet trying to move unsuspecting, sleeping residents out of her way lest she bowl them over. No more spilt cups of coffee. No more tv blaring at all hours in her room.

I can honestly say that I already miss her.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

It's just too much sometimes!

Work has been crazy lately. Everything seems to revolve around this "pandemic", and there's so much unnecessary panic and freaking out about it. I'm greeted each day with "And have YOU gotten the vaccination yet?" and looked upon with shock and horror when I say I'm not getting it. When I say "you know, it's JUST a flu", I'm told my skepticism will kill me. People have forgotten that we're "supposed" to be vaccinated not because we'll apparently die, but because there is fear that all the city workers (health care workers, doctors, firemen, etc) will be sick at the same time. I have to laugh when I remember authority figures predicting 90,000 people dead by mid-October. We're passed that and it's gotten, what, maybe 150 people?
On Thursday some residents were discussing with me the media hype surrounding H1N1, and we talked about the vaccination. When they asked if I would get the shot, I said no, and one man said 'WHAT?! Would you rather be sick for a short time or DEAD for a really LONG TIME??" I was secretly pleased at the looks everyone else gave him. Dear World Health Organization, it isn't working. Most people aren't buying this pandemic thing. Give it up.

Some of our folks are in the hospital with H1N1 so far, many more are falling ill each day with it and staying in the facility (all of them alive and recovering nicely, by the way), there's a GI outbreak on the top floor, and other residents are being bombarded with colds and regular flu. It's all being brought in by children and grandchildren who don't understand the signs that read STAY AWAY IF YOU'RE SICK. I know they mean well, just have to bring Grandma her sherry, need to say bye to dad before I leave on vacation - but they don't understand the complications we deal with after they spread all the germs around. On behalf of all health care workers, please please please don't visit a hospital, nursing home, or other care facility if you're not well. You wash your hands and think it's okay, but you're still endangering the lives of so many people.

We also received a new resident who has just about every disease known to man, from STI's to superbugs to everything else. I won't list them all but it's plain scary to be in the same room as her. The very air she breathes is contagious, literally. She isn't allowed to use the phones, our staff aren't allowed to touch her, she has her own personal nurse with her 24/7, she has to wear gloves, a gown, and a mask at all times (we're lucky if the mask part is enforced most days)....and she ISN'T restricted from recreation programs! I don't understand. On the one hand, I know all about the importance of quality of life and happiness, and I learn more about it each day...but on the other hand, I have 249 other residents there, some of them over 100 years old, who have severely compromised immune systems and health problems, not to mention the couple hundred staff in there each day. Why should their lives be put at risk because one person made some really stupid decisions and expects no consequences? This Really. Really. Bothers. Me.

Having said all that, we're having a special evening on Monday. One of the residents I care for passed away during the summer under some special circumstances, and to thank us for looking after him his family is hosting a dance in his name for all the other residents. It will feature a live band playing his favourite music, a chef cooking his favourite foods for everyone to enjoy, and of course the dance. He loved the dances. He loved music. People still really miss him. He lived there for 30-something years, ever since the building opened.
Another lady who has also been there since it opened has missed him terribly, and she was looking forward to the dance with all her heart. One week ago she died.
Sometimes, this is the saddest job ever.

Here's to hoping for a better week coming up!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Nature of Men

There is a lady who lives in the nursing home. She is small, delicate-looking, but is also strong, tough, and posesses an incredibly loud voice. She is somewhat obnoxious, one of those residents who can give you a hard time and bring you close to tears on her bad days.

She's also 'old', in her mid-80's.

Today she called me over and asked, in a demanding tone, "Do you have a boyfriend? Because all men do is sit in caves, scratch their balls, and grunt. One grunt for yes, two grunts for no!"

Sometimes they say the most unexpected things! It was hilarious!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Anniversary Dance

There is a couple at my work, 2 of my 50 charges in my unit. They met after moving in, and fell in love. He has cerebral palsy, and her lower body is under-developed. He can't talk very well, but she is always with him and translates for him. He is sentimental and I helped him make a wedding photo board to hang on the wall. He gave it to her for their first wedding anniversary on Valentine's Day. I helped him make a Valentine's Day card for her. We put it on her tv so she would see it when she got back from the hair salon.

On Valentine's Day we had a dance for all the residents. About 63 of them showed up, as well as some family members and the 5 or 6 staff it takes to pull off a dance. Live entertainment plays up on the stage. Some residents want to dance by themselves, moving around in their wheelchairs, and the other residents we twirl around and wheel around the dance floor. It's a complicated maze, and the rec staff have to be careful not to run people into each other. Our shins are all covered in bruises and cuts afterwards from the foot rests on the chairs, but seeing the smiles and hearing all the laughter is worth it!

The entertainer was playing old war songs. One of the older rec ladies, who was my mentor during my practicum (she's also become my second mom) suggested we each take one of the happy couple so they could dance together for the next song.

It went like a well-oiled machine. No talking, just communication through the eyes. I took him, she took her, and without preplanning we faced each other so the chairs were side to side, with his good arm towards her so they could hold hands. We wheeled them around slowly, hoping it would be a slow dance. The song was "I can't help falling in love with you", by Elvis Presley. Everyone else saw them and, without being asked, cleared the dance floor so it was just the two of them. You could FEEL the love between them, it was so strong. After the song was over she kissed him on the cheek, the only way they can kiss, and everyone clapped and cheered. It was perfect, nothing about it could have gone any better.

I don't think there was a dry eye in the room after. :)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Wicked Scriptures and Missing Teeth

Going in to work today, I thought it was going to be an easy, stress-free evening. The last few shifts last week (fights between residents, residents trying to deck me, residents yelling...was it a full moon?) left me feeling frazzled, more than I knew at the time. As much as I didn't want to work tonight, I was also looking forward to the calm of a Monday evening before immersing myself in the week's schedules and programs.

The rec girls had booked a highland dance school to come and perform for us. As an ex-Irish dancer, I'm not supposed to like Scots, or their dancing, or their traditional dance outfits, but hey - they were about to provide some entertainment and I was grateful.

Evening started off well. Talked to a few of my "little treasures", as they are known by the other staff - some older ladies that I've connected with and really get along with. Some of them I brought to the big room where the dancers would perform, others I tucked into bed and wished goodnight.

The trouble began when I went down to the secure, locked units to see if any of the residents there wanted to come up. These units are where I spent my practicum while I was in college, and love it as I do, I don't get down there often anymore. To get in, or get out, of the units you need to go through 2 sets of locked doors, punching a code into the buttons on the wall to unlock them. The residents down there have severe Alzheimer's and would wander outside and get lost if not watched constantly.

Having said all that, here's what happened this evening:

A very enthusiastic nurse begins naming residents who should go up. I am on my own and can take a maximum of 3 at a time (house rules). So, first Man and Lady #1 are going to come up. Lady #1 is yelling, literally yelling, "WICKED SCRIPTURES! She's preaching wicked, WICKED SCRIPTURES!" Nothing I say can draw her attention away from this blasphemy. Man is oblivious to the noise around him and walks, a few inches forward with each step, leaning heavily on me. After a few minutes we make it to the first door, which I open, and a minute later we get to the second door. We go through. I call an elevator.

Lady #1 has decided she is scared of elevators and it would not be fitting for her friend Man to go on either. In an effort to distract her, I ask her to take care of him. It works. In the elevator, the conversation goes as follows.

Man: I can't go with you.
Lady#1: Get the boy a drink of water!
Man: I need to look after the sheep.
Me: The sheep are doing well, but I'll double check while you watch the dancing.
Me: Who is preaching?
Lady #1: He needs some water! And a blanket. Don't you?
Man: What happened to my sheep?
Me: The sheep are in the barn. We don't have to worry about the preacher anymore, she's gone away.
Lady #1 (her face is turning red): WICKED, WICKED SCRIPTURES!

...And so on. We finally, slowly, make it off the elevator. I notice Man is missing his teeth. I cannot leave them on their own - they could get lost - so we go ALL THE WAY back downstairs, through the first set of doors, find his dentures lying on the ground, we go back through the doors to the bathroom, wash off his teeth, call down an elevator, and start the whole process again. We are still upset about the Wicked Scriptures, and the sheep are missing. I have the feeling that it is going to be a loooong evening.

The dancing has just begun when Lady #1 and Man have been comfortably seated. The music is too loud. I hate bagpipes. It is just after 7:00. I go back downstairs.

Lady # 2 and Lady #3 are really looking forward to going up. The nurse has recruited a few more who would like to see the dancers besides these two ladies, but I have to turn them down. Lady #3 is having some trouble standing. "Just pull on my bum!" By this she means pull the top of her pants up to help her stand. I'm a tiny little thing - a nurse should be doing this - but I help her anyways to save time. Nurse stops us, Lady #3 needs her meds still! We wait. We walk. We get through first set of locked doors. Lady #3 spits pills out on to floor.

Now what? Lady #2 has already proceeded to the second set of doors and doesn't know why she's there. I need to go back and tell the nurse that Ladt #3 spit out her pills, so they can clean them up before someone else thinks it's a candy, and re-administer the drugs. Ladies 2 and 3 are reluctant to have to backtrack, but they come back into the unit so I can tell nurse, who stares blankly. I leave. We go outside, call an elevator.

Elevator comes. Once lady #2 is inside the elevator, Lady #3 says it's time to stretch her legs. She trundles off with a squeaky walker towards the front doors. I apologize profusely to Lady #2 and tell her that, regrettably, we need to follow Lady #3. She rolls her eyes and sighs, frustrated at her friend, not at me, and off we go.

My dear sweet man, the one who said he had a big heart (see first blog entry), is sitting close by. He is lonely and wants to talk about Canadian politics. He is a smart man who knows and understands what is happening in the world these days, but I can't talk right now. He is sad, I'm his friend, I always talk to him. Always. But tonight I can't. He still wishes me a goodnight, and off I go, guilt twinging at my conscience.

When I catch up to Lady #3, she is standing in between the two sets of automatic doors that lead outside. "It's cold outside! I think I'll need my jacket." "But", I protest, "The dancers are upstairs."
"Oh, are they? I thought they were out here."

We move on. Finally get upstairs. Lady #3 is complaining of cramps in her legs and fatigue, and says the dancers had better be worth it. A couple of chairs are pulled out for the ladies. It is 7:35. I am relieved that we have finally made it up. The dancers are booked until 8, so the ladies will still see the second half of the show.

Ladies #2 and #3 sit down. The dance teacher steps onto the stage. "Ladies and gentlemen, we hope you have enjoyed our performance. Thank you all for coming and we hope you have a good week!" Applause. Lady #2 gives me SUCH a LOOK. I can't believe the dancers have cut their program in half. Lady #1 tells me how nice it was. Man asks if his sheep have been fed. Lady #3 would like to know why I bothered bringing her up.

While portering residents back to their rooms, one lost man in the palliative care unit asked for some help finding his room. It took a few tries, but eventually we found it . I helped him into his bed, fixed his oxygen mask for him and tucked a blanket around him. He asks, "Do you know why God made you beautiful? God made you beautiful so you can make old men like me smile."

This man is in this unit because he will pass away soon. He doesn't have much to live for anymore. He's in his 90's. But he reminded my of why I was there - to make old men (or women) like him smile.

You know what? I love my job.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas at work

Work has been crazy busy this month, because of all the Christmas parties being planned and executed, and trying to pretend everything is running as planned. :P It's been loads of fun, most of the staff are cheerful and upbeat, and eager to please.

The rec girls have to plan entertainment/music programs to run twice a day in the main auditorium, which is open to all residents in the building, as well as exercise, games, movies, nail care, music, pet therapy, baking, wood working, and reminiscing programs for each of the 11 units. With Christmas coming up there's a lot of extra decorations to put up, Christmas lights to fix, and extra energy being used to make everything SUPER festive. I don't think any of us will really feel "in the Christmas spirit" until Christmas is over and work calms down again!

An out-trip provided a welcome break. We went to a church in the city that had nativity scenes from all over the world set up, tables and tables FULL of soap carvings, figures woven from straw, crystal, wood, even chocolate!
While we were walking around looking at everything I asked one dear old lady what she thought Jesus looked like in real life. She grasped my arm and became quite anxious, asking "Oh I don't know dear. Let's find him and ask him ourselves!" I tried to explain that we couldn't because he wasn't right there with us, but a few minutes later she asked "where's that man we're supposed to find?" It struck me that although she is a strong Roman Catholic, she had forgotten who Jesus is. Alzheimer's or not, I'd assumed someone's beliefs would always stay with them. And yet, she still has faith, even though she's forgotten what it is she believes in. I wonder how I would respond if I were in that situation.