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Monday, November 29, 2010

The Piano Teacher

“Are you going out to lunch?”  my co-worker, Gina, asked as she poked her head into my office. 

“No.  I have about twenty resident assessments to complete,” I replied, unable to mask my obvious stress.  

“Do you want me to bring you something?”  Gina offered.  

“No, thanks. I‘m not hungry.”  I glanced at my coffee cup.  “I have plenty of coffee to get me by.” 

“You must have coffee running in your veins!”  Gina exclaimed and laughed. 

Fridays were always stressful days.  Trying to meet report deadlines, chasing down documentation, and completing residents computerized information known as MDSall meant skipping lunch and spending a great deal of time on the computer.  Minimum Data Sets (MDS) are part of the U.S. federally mandated process for clinical assessment of all residents in Medicare or Medicaid certified nursing homes.  

After Gina left, I concentrated on my project.  My mind had no place for other thoughts or interruptions.  I needed to complete the MDS assessments. 

As I tried to maintain my focus, I found myself distracted, not by the blare of the phone ringing, or a person disturbing me with questions, but by the sound of music: piano music.  I struggled between trying to keep my focus on the reports and my curiosity about where the music was coming from.  It took me a few minutes to finally realize that the music came from the dining room.  Then, remembered that a volunteer always visited the nursing home on Fridays.  Lucy played the piano while the residents were having lunch.  

My attempt to stay focused was unsuccessful.  I love piano music.  Since I was a little girl, I always wanted to learn how to play piano.  Today, it remains as an unfinished dream.  

I stood up and headed toward the dining room.  I had to see Lucy’s beautiful and disciplined fingers dancing on the piano keys, commanding the hammers to strike the strings and release an orchestra of music.  I had to indulge myself in the majestic music.  
I walked throughout the dining room.  I observed the residents as I listened to the music. They seemed to like it as well.  Alice, a new resident, especially appeared to be captivated by the music.  With the mouth slightly open and her eyes centered on the piano,  Alice looked blissful.  

I am not the only one enchanted by the piano music,  I mused. 

I returned to my office to continue working on my assignment.  Later that evening, before I left work, I decided to visit with Alice.  

Alice was sitting in her wheelchair in the hall, observing people, and as though in a meditative state of mind.  

“Alice, you look quite relaxed,” I said, as I drew closer to her. 

“It’s been a nice day,”  she said, smiling.  “Did you see the lady playing the piano today? 

“Yes, I did.  That’s Lucy.  Since she retired a year ago, she volunteers to play the piano,”  I explained.  

“When she finished playing the piano, she came to my table, and asked me if I was Alice Chambers. I told her “yes, why?”  She then asked me if I remembered her, which I didn’t.  She said I was her piano teacher when she was a young girl.” 

“What?”  My jaw dropped. “Really?”  I was astonished.  

“I taught piano for a while, before I went to work for a bank.”  Alice said, with excitement. “I used to have four or five students who came to my house for lessons on my piano.” 

“How interesting, Alice!” I exclaimed.  

“Lucy said I look the same.”  Alice grinned.  “I honestly didn’t recognize her at first.  She was just a teenager back then,”  Alice said, shaking her head in remembrance of those days.  

“Do you mean it’s been over fifty years since you taught Lucy how to play the piano?”  I asked, with evident amazement. 

“Hmm... yes, more than fifty years!”  Alice said.  “Who would think that that young girl who cried when she missed a note would now be a fantastic pianist, delighting me in my new home?

“Alice, you are harvesting the seeds you planted fifty years ago. The seeds of music and talent you sowed.” 

Alice smiled.  I left her deep in her reflections of teaching young piano students.  I wished I were one of them. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The North Unit

“Where's Ms. Peterson?" I asked Becky, a nurse aide who was assigned to that floor. "She is not in her room."

She was moved to the North Unit,” Becky replied.  

Residents with advanced dementia and unable to ambulate were typically moved from the front halls to the North Unit. The North Unit was a smaller hall toward the back of the facility.  There, the residents were presented with activities and routines more suitable to their mental and physical declining conditions.  These residents needed assistance with feeding during meals, a lot of one-on-one attention and, in essence, total care.  

“Have you worked at the North Unit lately?” I asked. 

“No.  And I hope they keep me in this hall,” Becky said, with unbridled aggravation thick in her tone of voice.  

It was not a secret that most of the nurse aides took strides to avoid being assigned to the North Unit.  

“It’s a very hard hall,” Becky expressed, and turned, heading toward a resident’s room. 

I shook my head, annoyed.  Being a nurse aide was indeed a hard job, from what I had observed.  But the well-being of the residents should take precedence over the difficultly of the job and what an employee thinks is, or is not, a suitable job for the caregiver.  If working as a nurse aide, a nurse, or a social worker in a nursing home festered unhappiness, then they were in the wrong place to begin with. 

I headed to the North Unit as I needed to see Ms. Peterson.  

As I walked throughout the North Unit everything looked as it should be until I saw a new face. The face of a young man.  He appeared to be a new nurse aide.  I had never seen him before.  

While going about his duties, he looked up and smiled.  “Hi” the young man said to me. “How are you?” 

He has personality, I mused. 

“Are you a new CNA? “ I asked. 

“Yes, I was hired two weeks ago.” He replied.  

“I’m Doris, the social worker.” 

“My name is Andrew.”  
“Strange,” I said, “you have been here for two weeks and I haven’t noticed it.” 

“I have been working night shifts,” Andrew said. “This is my first day shift.” 

“Oh, that explains it!” 

Andrew told me that he attended college, and was enrolled in the pre-medical program. 

He looked like a smart and goal-driven youth.  

“How do you like working in the North Unit?” I asked.  

“I love it,” Andrew exclaimed. I was surprised to hear that. It was not a response I had ever heard from the other aides, both in and out of the unit.  

“Do you really?” I asked, casting a doubtful look from the corners of my eyes.  

“These residents need more care,” he said earnestly.  “So I am learning a lot from them.” 

I was afraid I wasn’t following him.  I frowned.  

Recognizing my confusion, he continued, “If I am going to be a doctor, I want to get to know people with conditions that need more attention and care.” 

“You like the challenge, Andrew?” 

“Hm... I’d say, I like the opportunity!” 

I couldn’t believe the lesson I was learning from a young man.  Andrew was about 19 years old, and he was already on the right path to not only being a doctor, but becoming a good doctor.  He was humble and caring, reaching out for the sickest residents. 

And learning from them.  

“By the way, I am looking for Ms. Peterson,” I said.  “I heard she was moved into this unit.” 

“She was brought in this morning.  I already met her. She is in the activities room, in music therapy” 

I could see that Andrew knew each of his residents thoroughly.  I was certain that Ms. Peterson was happier now.  

I saw Andrew only one more time after that day, as he continued working night shifts.  Six months later, I heard that he left the facility as he was offered a scholarship by an out of state university.  

But even with him being gone, I continued to hear several people talk about Andrew, about his positive outlook and positive demeanor with the residents. 
Andrew left his imprint on everyone’s hearts.  

And I was certain that the North Unit would be in Andrew’s memories. 

His treasured memories, I hoped.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Answer

“A reporter from the local newspaper is here to see Ms. Hicks,”  the receptionist announced.

“What newspaper? Why?”  I inquired, unsure why Ms. Hicks would be having that type of visitor. 

Ms. Hicks was a fairly new resident in the nursing home.  She was one of the most social and fun ladies in the facility.  Her sense of humor and witty conversations delighted every one that spent time with her.

“The reporter said that he had arranged the interview with Ms. Hicks' daughter,  who he says is on her way here.”

I rushed to the lobby to meet the reporter.  He explained that he was assigned to write an article about “The Convent,” a historical building in town that had recently been refurbished and converted into a convention center. 

The Convent had served as an orphanage in the 1930’s during the Great Depression.  Many parents abandoned their children due to their poverty.  Jobless parents with children starving, and worse, with no home. 

The newspaper had tracked down Ms. Hicks as one of The Convent alumni graduates. 

“Ms. Hicks is some sort of celebrity,”  some of the other residents gossiped. 
She truly was a celebrity.

A few days later, Ms. Hicks interview and photos were published in the newspaper.  The article became the talk of the residents and staff, and Ms. Hicks became even more popular than she was before. 

One day I noticed that Ms. Hicks seemed quiet and reclusive.  I decided to check if everything was okay. 
“May I visit with you, Ms. Hicks,” I asked as I entered her room.  She motioned for me to come in. 

“I am impressed about your experience at The Convent,”  I said.  “I know you already gave a great deal of details about what it was like living in there,  but tell me, what do you think about having that experience?

Ms. Hicks began telling me about how her father died at age 40, in a car accident, and how her mother had to take care of her seven children.  Not having a home to raise them, a menial job, and little education, she had no option other than to take her children to The Convent. Four boys and three girls.  Mrs. Hicks mentioned that the boys and girls lived in total separated quarters, and never met. 

“I had the chance to be with my sisters.  I was the youngest one. We had as much fun as we could, but it was hard times.  Especially when my older sisters reached the age they had to leave The Convent.”

Ms. Hicks never saw her brothers from the time she entered The Convent until she was 16 and left the institution. Then she and her siblings reunited. 

“It was one of the happiest days in my life,” she said.  Her eyes became teary.

“And what about your mother?  Did you ever see her?” I asked.

“She visited us once a year.”

“Once a year?”

“She lived 180 miles away, and she didn’t have the money or the transportation to come and see us more often.”

Ms. Hicks told me that her mother had to go and live with other relatives in order to survive.

“We all survived. We got a good education at The Convent.  We worked hard, and learned work ethics.  We grew up with Christian principles,” she proudly expressed.

Ms. Hicks had a successful career in the business field. She had a happy marriage, and was proud of her well-educated and loving children.

Ms Hicks had recently become a widow, but managed  to live independently afterward.  She was at the nursing home for rehabilitation after falling and sustaining a hip fracture.  Her determination and will power were exceptional despite her 83 years of age.  

“One thing I don’t understand,” she said, with soft voice. “All my siblings are deceased.  I am the last one. The only one alive.  Why am I the one to live this long?”

“There must be a reason, Ms. Hicks. You probably have the answer, if you think about it,” I said. “Maybe you’re here to inspire all of us and share your story.  I am sure the newspaper story touched  many other people.  You are an example for others to follow. You are the most courageous and tenacious person I’ve recently met.”

A high pitched voice interrupted our conversation.  “Grandma!” Ms. Hicks’ great-grandson jumped on her lap and hugged her. 

I heard the steps of other people approaching the room door. 

Ms. Hicks glanced at me, with a big smile.

“I think I just found the answer!” she said, as she embraced her great-grandson.