“Mr. Russell wants to know if you have a room for him,” the hospital discharge planner asked me on the phone. “He was going home, but then he changed his mind and requested to be sent to your facility,” she continued.
I remembered Mr. Russell very well. He was at our nursing home two years ago, when he came to us for a short stay, for therapy.
“We do have a room for him!” I exclaimed. “We will be glad to have him back.”
Mr. Russell was a very pleasant man, a cooperative patient who worked hard with the therapists during his prior stay.
“Great!” The discharge planner exclaimed.“I will be faxing his medical information shortly.”
Mr. Russell arrived to our facility that afternoon. I rushed to greet him. He flashed a enormous smile.
“I’m happy to be here!” He exclaimed. “I feel like at home.”
I was pleased to observe Mr. Russell’s excitement. It wasn’t that often that we would greet new residents and they were that cheerful. The opposite, many of them seem anxious or depressed, or in discomfort. It takes a couple of days for the new resident to start settling down and feeling comfortable with new faces and routines, and to trust that he or she is really in good and trusted hands.
I glanced at Mr. Russell. He looked quite slender and frail. I drew close to him and reached for his hand. “I’m glad you are here,” I said, and smiled.
“Me too,” he replied in a saddened voice. “They were going to send me home, alone, after giving me bad news.”
“What?” I sat on a chair by his side. “Do you live alone?” I asked, now curious about his wife.
“Yes, I live alone. My wife died last year. I went to the hospital because I thought I had pneumonia, but now they have found that I have cancer... advanced cancer.” Mr. Russell focused on the floor. I noticed his eyes flooding with tears. “With the bad news, I didn’t want to be alone. I wanted to be around people I know, and that’s why I asked to come here.”
My heart sank. Mr. Russell had gone through so much since the last time I saw him. He lost his wife, and now he received devastating news about his own health.
I felt as a lump in my throat. I fought back tears.
“We will do everything we can to help you.” I hugged him. “Have you talked with your son?”
“I did. He still lives in California, and he is coming in a week or two to see me.”
Mr. Russell was a social man. He enjoyed the staff visiting with him and engaging him in long conversations about his life in the military and his later career as a computer technician. He talked about his travels and more happy times. But, he was also blunted out about not wanting to pursue aggressive treatment for his cancer because he knew it would just prolong his suffering.
“My Dad is getting weaker,” Mr. Russell’s son said to me during one of our several visits since he arrived from California. He had spent several days with his father, and helped arranged his personal affairs.
It was obvious that Mr. Russell was at the end of his life. Nonetheless, he continued to be cheerful and enjoy the visits of the staff members, at least as his endurance permitted.
“You all are darlings, I love you all,” Mr. Russell said, as I went to see him on a Friday, before I left for the day.
Mr. Russell’s son sat near the bed, and displayed a smile, yet I noticed a shadow of sadness in his eyes.
“You have a loving son, Mr. Russell, and I’m glad you guys got to spend time together,” I said.
“I would have been lost without you all and my son. I am so blessed.”
Mr. Russell passed away that weekend. A nurse told me that his son had left on a morning to get some rest, and as soon as he left, Mr. Russell called with weak voice, but sound mind, asking a staff member to come and stay with him. An aide came to him, talking to him and holding his hand.
After a while, he peacefully died.
“Thank you for all you did for my father,” Mr. Russell’s son expressed later. “He really felt at home.”
I thanked the Lord for Mr. Russell and other residents that left an imprint on my heart. Through this journey I get to know first-hand what is like for residents like Mr. Russell to find their home in a nursing home. Some for a short stay to rehab and to a return to the community; some to live there and be embraced with care and love, and others to find a place of closure and solace.
As a social worker, I've found the nursing home as a place where we grow in compassion, understanding and loving, regardless of the stress and fatigue. A place we savor the goodness of humanity. Every day.
March is Social Work month. Let's celebrate!