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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Finding Inspiration

Her face brightened as she told me beautiful stories about her grandchidren

Wait! I thought. I'm documenting my visit with my patient, not writing a story! I hit the delete key. I stared at my computer screen, and sighed. Then started to type again. 

Patient displayed contentment when speaking about her grandchildren. 

This sounds more professional, I convinced myself. 

That was another moment where I felt the urge to write. Not my social work notes, not my professional assessments. But my stories.  

I was immensely grateful for what was happening right there. That was what I had been waiting for all this time--The miracle of finding inspiration

After a year of inactivity, I'm back to my blog. The place where I can share uplifting and heartfelt stories from my personal and professional journey. The place where I find my muse. 

Thank you for those of you who have waited this long.  And a special thank you note to my blogging friend Steve Elsaesser who I met during a recent vacation in Miami. Steve helped me to understand that inspiration is what keeps the flow of our blog stories or poetry. Because we find solace in word. 

9/27/2015 UPDATE.
My heart is heavy as I learned today that my friend Steve passed away a week ago. Steve was a friend, and a mentor who reached out to many people. Steve will be terribly missed. 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

"A String Of Pearls" by Linda Austin, Guest Blogger

It's an honor to have author and blogging friend, Linda Austin as our guest blogger. Linda's writing has been notoriously influenced by her experience with her mother who struggled with Alzheimer's. Linda brings in her writing delicate and heartfelt reflections of her journey as a daughter and caregiver of a loved one with dementia. 

Please welcome Linda Austin, author of "Cherry Blossoms in Twilight" and "Poems that Come to Mind." 


 "A String Of Pearls" by Linda Austin, Guest Blogger

The little Japanese woman sat quietly in her wheelchair, her gaze downward. As I approached, she looked up. Her dark eyes brightened and a small smile sweetened her face.

“Konnichi wa, Obaachan! Ogenki desu ka?” I said. Her smile grew as I spoke the few Japanese words I knew. They meant, “Hello, little grandmother, how are you?” 

This was my mother, but in the late stages of Alzheimer’s, she was like a small child in a frail grandmother body“Let’s go outside awhile. The moon is out already. We can look for the rabbit pounding rice cakes on the moon.” 

In Japan, the moon is the subject of many poems, and people enjoy sitting outside looking at its beauty. I wheeled my mother out the door of the nursing home and into the courtyard, maneuvering her chair next to a bench. The evening was warm and still. We sat together, holding hands, listening to the sounds of cars and of birds chirping their good night songs. 

I chatted a little about my day, careful to keep my sentences short and simple. My mother’s thoughts were easily lost in the tangles of dementia. She could only say a few words at a time before losing the rest of her sentence, the words like pearls suddenly falling from a broken string. I settled a blanket over Mom’s shoulders as even in summer she felt cold.

I pointed out the moon shining bright overhead and began to sing an old children’s lullaby. “Mikazuki sama, komban wa. Gitchira, gitchira koi te . . .” My mother joined in. I stopped singing and leaned in to listen. She sang the words over and over, smiling in the twilight, remembering all the pearls.

Crescent moon so high
I hear my mother singing
An old lullaby

Linda Austin wrote "Cherry Blossoms in Twilight" to capture

her mother’s memories of growing up in Japan around WWII.  Her latest book, "Poems That Come To Mind" is in honor of her mother and other dementia patients at the nursing home. 

She says that in the midst of the tragedy of Alzheimer’s and dementia, there are moments of great beauty and quiet joy that we must grab onto and treasure.

Visit Linda's website: http://moonbridgebooks.com

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Man's Repentance

                                                              Photo source

Mr. Richardson was praying.  His head bowed, his eyes closed.  It was a quick yet powerful scene as I glanced into Mr. Richardson’s room while walking down the hall.  The room door was wide open, as it was always his preference.  He cared less if people would see him praying, or listening to his gospel music, or watching religious channels on his television.  He kept the door open so anyone was welcome to provide care, or just to visit. 

“I’m devoting my life to the Lord,” Mr. Richardson expressed one day when I was visiting with him in his room.  His voice carried a tone of humbleness and honesty.  “I have made many mistakes in my life.  I can’t change my past, but I’ve deeply repented.  I promised I’d follow His word every single day I have left.”

I was sure the transition to becoming a permanent resident in the nursing home was more challenging to Mr. Richardson than I had anticipated.  I learned that he had lived alone most of his life, after his wife divorced him about thirty years ago.  He said he was a stubborn and private man, difficult to live with.  He traveled all over the United States as part of his job.  He and his family had an estranged relationship, that included two daughters who were teenagers by the time the divorce was finalized. 

“I didn’t lose my family because of my job, or my friends, or my traveling,” Mr. Richardson expressed with saddened words, his shiny blue eyes flooded with tears.  “It was my drinking... I was an alcoholic.” 

For the last four years, Mr. Richardson had quit drinking, with the help of his best friend, Larry, and people from the church he had joined.  His spiritual life became relevant, and an inspiration in his new journey.

Mr. Richardson had moved to another town, closer to Larry, and also to complete medical treatments.  He had recently been diagnosed with lung cancer. 

“I don’t know if I have a month, a few months, or a year to live,” Mr. Richardson said.  “I can’t change the past, and I don’t have much of a plan for the future.  I just live in the present, I go day by day.  This is my home now, and I’m thankful to be here.” 

I did notice Mr. Richardson was adjusting well to the facility environment and the overall routine.  He didn’t appear merely resigned to his current living arrangements.  Mr. Richardson seemed genuinely content, despite his deteriorating health condition. 

Not only his words reflected his repentance, but a gesture I learned later he had pursued evidenced his reflection on life.

Mr. Richardson asked Larry to attempt to locate his daughters, and give them a message. Mr. Richardson wanted them to know how much he regretted being estranged from them for so many years, and he asked for their forgiveness. 

Larry went to Mr. Richardson’s hometown, and although he couldn’t locate his daughters, he was able to connect with other people that seemed fairly optimistic about carrying over the message. 

I never saw anyone visiting Mr. Richardson other than his friend Larry.  I believe Mr. Richardson never heard back from his daughters.  But I was certain he had finally come to terms with what he had done, or left undone.  Mr. Richardson had allowed himself to ask for forgiveness from others, and from the Lord, but equally important, he had found the path to forgive himself. 

“I finally feel at peace,” he said, showing a noble smile.  I observed him as he scrutinized his oxygen tank, and confirmed his tank was full.  He was breathing comfortably.  Mr. Richardson’s lungs seemed well oxygenated at that moment.  As so is his soul, I mused. 

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Blogging From A to Z April Challenge

This will be my third year joining the "A to Z April Challenge." The premise of this challenge is to post something on your blog every day in April except for Sundays.  In doing this you will have 26 blog posts—one for each letter of the alphabet.   Each day you will theme your post according to a letter of the alphabet. For more information, please click here . 

In my challenge, I plan for each post to be a sort of mini-chapter of a story involving an elderly lady and her younger granddaughters.  My inspiration for this story came from wondering, What if Grandma was no longer able to tell stories?

I would like to say a special thank you to Lee Jackson over at Tossing It Out, creator of this challenge, and a great mentor to our community of bloggers. 

Hope you enjoy the story.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

At home... in the nursing home

“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!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Janitor

                                              Photo source

Dan was a quiet man. As he walked calmly, his slender figure seemed almost unnoticed in the halls of the nursing home where he worked. He was our janitor. 

“If you give him more than one task at a time, he gets all confused,” I heard some of my co-workers commenting about Dan. ”He is slow,” one remarked. “He was supposed to clean the ice chest and he didn’t,” another said. 

I knew little about Dan, but I sensed some injustice in my co-workers’ remarks. I felt Dan was merely judged by his facade of a shy, uneventful man. I wondered if anyone had taken the time to learn about his life, his family, his projects, his thoughts, his past.   

Dan normally responded to my greetings with a polite smile. He wasn’t eloquent. Many would say he was a man of few words. The fact is that I never saw Dan stopping his work to chat with others, he was normally doing something, even if it was at his usually relaxed pace. 

A few times when I bumped into him in the lunch-room, I took the opportunity to start a trivial conversation. For instance, I would bring up the latest news in town, or would mention the weather, or food preferences. He was always a pleasant man, although our conversations were normally brief. 

I once read a book about how the FBI profilers analyze people not by their appearance, but essentially by their behaviors. Dan certainly gave the appearance of being unable to multi-task, and needing a supervisor to tell him what to do. Yet in the long run, Dan often accomplished his work, and occasionally, took a TV or a piece of furniture with him to get it fixed at home and return it. 

“Thank you Dan for helping to solve the problem last evening.” I told Dan once, in front of his supervisor. “I appreciate your help in many of those situations.” 

Dan’s supervisor looked puzzled, but said nothing. 

“You’re welcome!” Dan said, drawing a half-smile. 

Later in the day, Dan came to my office. “Thank you for your nice comment in front of my boss. No one has done that before.” 

“Dan, you’re a hard-working guy, even if people don’t notice it, or don’t tell you.” I said with sincerity. “Unfortunately some people are more likely to complain, than to give praise. Keep up the good job.” 

I thought of the many times Dan came to my rescue in the evenings when staff brought me unexpected maintenance-related problems: 

“The telephone in room 514 quit working!” 

“The cable signal in Ms. Johnson’s room is gone!” 

“The toilet in Mr. Hale’s room is suddenly not flushing.” 

“We need a room change right now, there’s a situation...” 

Dan resolved these and many other emergencies, when all of the other maintenance and housekeeping personnel had already left for the day. Dan’s shift was normally extended through the evening. 

Shortly before New Year’s Day, as everyone was preparing for the New Year’s projects and resolutions, I was going through an exhausting day at work, helping some highly stressed families and a few anxious new residents. I hadn’t had lunch, and by the afternoon, I decided to reach for my “emergency lunch”—canned tuna and soda crackers I kept in my office. 

I headed to the break-room to eat my meal. As I walked in to the room, I noticed Dan sitting at a table, talking on his cell phone. I reached for my manual can opener and wrestled with it for a minute or so.

“Excuse my comment, but canned tuna is “poor boys food!” Dan said, with a near mischievous smile.

I laughed. “Dan, it’s been a crazy day. This is my emergency meal since I didn’t bring lunch, and I don’t have time to go out.” 

“I’m just joking.” Dan said, in a respectful tone. 

I was grateful Dan made me smile. That was the first time he showed me his sense of humor. In such a stressful day, those humorous seconds felt therapeutic. 

“I was just talking with my son.” Dan said. “He lives in Texas and wants me and my wife to be there to celebrate New Year’s Eve with him and his family.” 

I sat at the table, devouring my tuna and crackers, and attentively listening to Dan. I was thrilled that he was confident to talk with me about his son. I immediately engaged in an enthusiastic conversation about Dan’s personal life. Dan was a happily married man, with two sons. His son in Texas was a surgeon, with a military career, holding a rank of Captain. Another son lived in the area, and held a management position in a fast-food restaurant. Dan’s wife worked for a local hospital. 

“My wife has worked in that hospital for ten years. You know, she has sent us some people for rehab... she talks to people about our facility.  She knows this is a good place.” 

I was dazed at getting to know about Dan’s family, and their successful lives. I was marveled at learning of his loyalty to our company. It was as though a portal had opened, unveiling shining gems and golden bars in front of me—Dan’s principles and virtues glowed right there. I could no longer see Dan as the bashful janitor people would sometimes make fun of, or harshly criticize. I saw Dan now as a dignified man, a humble gentleman, devoted to his family and work, with integrity and honesty. 

Dan rushed to go back to his job, and as he stood up and collected his phone and placed it in his shirt pocket, I fixed my gaze on him, attempting to say something quick out of the multiple thoughts swirling in my mind, and my evident astonishment. Dan was almost by the door, when I finally managed to exclaim:

“What a great family you have, Dan. Have a safe trip, and a Happy New Year!”

Monday, November 19, 2012

Finding Peace

                                                                                            Photo source

“My Dad is not crazy,” Mr. Martin’s daughter expressed.  “He’s just mad, and tired of not feeling well.”

It’s difficult for families to observe and accept the decline in the medical and mental status of their loved ones.  That, and the possibility of their loved one needing placement in a nursing home, is an overwhelming decision.  But often worse for the families is to learn that their loved one should be committed to a geriatric psychiatric unit (“geri-psych” for short) for evaluation and treatment. 

Mr. Martin had come to our facility at his and his family request.  Apparently, he’d been quite ill for several months, being in and out of the hospital, until his recent discharge to a nursing home in town.  While at that other facility, he reportedly became agitated with the staff, and was shipped to a psychiatric hospital.  

As it turned out, Mr. Martin was found competent, with no reason to be committed to the psych ward.  He was merely angry, yet there was no evidence he wanted to cause any harm to himself or to anyone else. 

Maybe he was just having a bad day, I questioned.

Although the hospital records reflected that Mr. Martin was a short-tempered man, I thought we should give him a chance at our facility.  Maybe a new place and new faces would cheer him up.  Maybe not.  But we were open to the challenge. 

“Mr. Martin and his daughter are very excited,” the hospital discharge planner expressed to me on the phone.  “His daughter said she prayed for him to be accepted at your facility, and she believed God answered her prayers.”

I’d heard of other people “wanting” to come to our nursing home, but that was the first time I heard of someone “praying” to be accepted.  I felt humbled.  I sensed in my heart we had made the right decision to accept the placement. 

Mr. Martin came under our care, with no problems.  I observed the staff trying to converse with him, even though he was not prone to engaging in long visits.  Sometimes, he would determine what he wanted or how he wanted things to be done regardless of the staff and other resident’s needs.  The staff always showed him respect and patience. 

“He is a sweet man,” I once heard a nurse say.  I was pleased to hear her say that. 

I visited with Mr. Martin several times.  He was a practical person and would talk straightforward, again, wanting to keep the visits brief.  He preferred to stay in his room most of the time.

After a few months, Mr. Martin began to show improvements in his overall condition.  He seemed more motivated to get up and wheel himself throughout the halls. His strength was visibly better.  His appetite, initially poor, was now good.

“My Dad wants to receive the Lord,” Mr. Martin’s daughter told me on a phone conversation.  “He has made poor decisions in his life. He was an alcoholic and my mother left him.  Just now, in his seventies, when his health is so diminished, he realizes he needs to atone for mend his mistakes somehow.” 

I listened with empathy.  I was deeply touched with this daughter’s understanding and compassion toward her Dad.  I wondered about the magnitude of the struggles they may have faced in the past.  I guess at that point, it didn’t matter. The most important event was the mutual closeness and trust they had achieved.

“I want to let you know I’ll be there today with our Pastor.  My Dad will be baptized.”

Mr. Martin was baptized.  He seemed more at peace after that.  He actually became more talkative with the staff.  

One Friday, I saw him in the hall, and at first glance he looked nearly unrecognizable.  His face seemed more round as he evidently had gained some weight.  His blue eyes
looked sparkly, his cheeks shone with cerise pink shades, like a blooming garden.  I also noticed his strength had increased by the way he maneuvered his wheelchair. 

“You look great, Mr. Martin,” I expressed as I passed him. 

“I’m feeling better.”  His face sported a gracious smile. Then I turned and saw his slender figure fade down the hall as he was headed to the dining room. 

Feeling good and feeling God, I mused.