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Friday, July 29, 2011

My book "Home Sweet Nursing Home" has been released!

An A to Z Collection 
of 50-word Stories on Aging and Healthcare

Today’s nursing homes are no longer “rest homes,” but rather vibrant places where residents, families and friends gather, interact, and share heartfelt memories and experiences. Through a 50-word-story collection of vivid tales, Doris Plaster, LCSW, recounts the realities of life in a nursing home from her Social Worker perspective, and that of the caregivers and residents in 26 short vignettes, that are both poignant and thought-provoking.


**Thank you to all of my blogger friends who encouraged me to publish the A to Z April Blogging Challenge. Here is the result.  I will be forever grateful for your support**

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Mother's Letters

Another summer day. The temperature has been warmer than expected.  Patty listened to the news alluding to the scorching weather. Yet the heat wave wasn’t Patty’s chief worry that morning.  
Patty’s health had not been the best in the last couple of weeks.  She had missed a few days of work.  Missing work made her feel uneasy as she rarely did.  Patty was one of those exemplary employees.  As a retired school teacher, she faithfully followed the principles of discipline and work ethic she taught in her thirty years of instructing middle school students.  Now working in social services in a nursing home, the nature of the job made no difference; her principles remained inviolate. 

Patty had never been a morning person.  But she decided to drag herself out of bed way too early this particular day—for no apparent reason.  She opened her closet door, and glanced inside, trying to decide what to wear. It certainly had to be something casual and comfortable. 
She remembered that a pair of lace-up sandals were at the very top of the closet.  She had only worn them once.  Patty stretched to reach the sandals, and with some difficulty, was able to grab them by the laces which dangled over the edge of the shelf.  As she sat the sandals on the floor, she noticed something had dropped from the top of the closet.  She frowned, focusing on an envelope lying on the floor, near where she had placed the sandals. She picked it up. It was a letter mailed to her in 1968. 

My mother’s letter! 
Patty recognized the envelope as containing one of the many letters her mother sent her during her junior year of college.  She sighed as past memories rushed into her mind.  She vividly recalled her excitement when she was accepted to an out-of-state college.  Knowing that she would be away from her mother brought her as much happiness as she anticipated her college experience would bring. 
Mother was so mean...  
Resentment gnawed inside of her, despite the almost twenty years since her mother’s death. 

Patty looked up into the closet.  She had pulled a card box in which she kept her mother’s letters halfway off the shelf in her quest for the summer sandals.  Patty jumped up and grabbed the box with one hand as she clutched the letter against her chest—  unconsciously placing the letter closer to her heart.  
She turned around and fell onto her bed.  Lying on the bed, she began leafing through the stack of her mother’s letters.  Patty pulled the letter from the envelope she held next to her bosom and read it.  Her heart pounded as she carefully read each line.  Her mother’s words rang different to her now.  

Nothing like how I read my mother’s prose in my younger days.  
The letters now bloomed with words of wisdom and love.  Patty’s eyes welled with tears, blurring her vision for a moment.  She wiped her eyes, and continued reading letter after letter.  More tears streamed down her face. Unexpectedly, Patty felt light-hearted. Peaceful. 

Searching for the meaning in her heartfelt moment, Patty realized she may have discovered something she had missed in her mother’s letters. 

These words express my true mother, her feelings about me.  Patty sighed. 

I was too young and immature to understand my mother’s struggles and burdens. Hurtful feelings blinded me from seeing beyond what I believed to be my mother’s harshness.   

Patty felt the loving spirit of her mother that day as she never had before.  While part of her believed it was just coincidence that one of her mother’s letters happened to drop to the floor that morning, Patty preferred to think that it was a gift from her mother to brighten her day.  
Patty thought of how special her mother was every time she grabbed a pen and paper to send her a loving message.  Beautiful words preserved for forty years now.  

Letters genuinely inked with love.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Flower Room

“I want to warn you,” Ms. Gibson’s daughter, Kelli said, cocking her eyebrow. “Mom doesn’t want to be here.”
I remained calm, although I wanted to shake my head. I managed to keep my composure. “Sure, I understand,” I said, nodding.
Ms. Gibson had just arrived from the hospital, after having foot surgery due to a fracture. While Ms. Gibson was being accommodated in her room, I led Kelli to my office to gather protocolary admission information and complete pertaining paperwork.
I still wanted to tell Kelli she wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t already know. Most, if not all, of the new residents do not want to be in a nursing home, even if it’s for a short stay. But she quickly continued talking:
“She will be grumpy and will probably try convincing you all to let her go home.” Kelli’s eyes were wide open, and her hand gestures seemed to add assertiveness to her words.  “She lives alone and I can’t be there every day.”
“Kelli, we will monitor your mother’s adjustment to the facility routine, encouraging her to complete her rehabilitation before she returns to her home.”  
I empathized with Kelli. It’s not easy to tell our parents what to do, even if it’s for the best. Parents want to remain in control, and don’t seem to accept well the switch of roles in their aging years. 
I checked on Ms. Gibson a few times that week. She often kept to herself, preferring to stay in her room—except when going to therapy. 
On a Monday morning, I decided to visit with Ms. Gibson. As I walked in her room, I was surprised at the change in the room decor that obviously occurred during the weekend. Multiple plants—mainly flower plants—had been carefully and strategically arranged in the room, beautifully displayed on delicate wooden plant stands.  The place had a unique touch, a welcoming feeling embraced me as I entered. 
Ms. Gibson was sitting in a recliner, looking out the window. I spotted a beautiful view of the court yard under a sunny day.  Ms. Gibson seemed relaxed.
She looked at me, and flashed a timid smile.
“Ms. Gibson, your room looks great.” I brushed my fingers along the plants in front of me. “I like your beautiful plants and flowers.”  I bent down to smell red roses and purple orchids. Their scents and colors were pleasantly intoxicating, simply indulging. 
I never saw a room in a nursing home with as many plants and flowers as Ms. Gibson’s room.  There was no doubt someone had taken daily care of them. 
“Thank you.” A  gentle smile lit up Ms. Gibson’s face, as if the sunshine had suddenly reflected on her cheeks. 
Ms. Gibson began telling me about each one of her plants, and how much she enjoyed gardening. She then referred to her home, a four-bedroom log home located in a rural area, built by her husband. Since his passing more than ten years ago, she had meticulously taken care of her home, and especially of her garden.  It was a place of solace and fulfillment for her. 
I understood why she wouldn’t want to be away from home. And I also understood what the plants and flowers in the room meant to her. This was her temporary home.  
Ms. Gibson eventually became more acquainted with staff. She seemed to adjust well to the routine of therapy and care. My visits with her became more frequent than planned. I enjoyed listening to her life stories. 
I mused sometimes about what home really means. 

Home is where your heart is

I have heard that quote many times. Ms. Gibson’s heart was there—for the time being. Rather than me trying to help the resident adjust to her environment, the opposite occurred. Ms. Gibson made me feel comfortable, and welcomed me to her place—her home away from home. 
Ms. Gibson finally recovered, and was ready to return to her house. She was happy, but showed no rush in leaving. She took her time saying her goodbyes to other residents she had made friends with, and with the staff she had bonded with. 
I returned to the the room days later, after Ms. Gibson had left. I felt the void. The room was not the same. I missed the plants and flowers, and the delightful conversations with my resident. 
“Is this room available?” My thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the gentle voice of a petite elderly woman, standing by the door, holding a walker.  
“This is Ms. Floyd and she wanted to tour the facility,” my co-worker Melba explained, standing behind the visitor.
“I came to check out the place,” the elderly woman said. “I will have surgery in a couple days and I want to come here for therapy until I get stable enough to return to my apartment.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I flashed a broad smile. “This room is available, just waiting for you.”


Thanks to Tony Sexton at  Senior Advocacy  for inspiring me to write this story, after reading his insightful post on what "Home" means for nursing home residents.

“I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.” 
-- Maya Angelou.

Monday, July 4, 2011

My Patient, My Hero

Hold my hand, lady!” Ed exclaimed as he extended his hand out toward me. “Hold my hand!”
Ed appeared anxious—and I sensed he seemed worried about me. I was walking by his side as he was wheeling down the nursing home hall. I offered him my hand, and he grasped it eagerly while propelling the wheelchair with his free hand, and his feet. We glided down the hall.
“Let’s go to the highway,” Ed commanded. 
His words were clear. Unusually coherent. Ed normally spoke incoherently and non-sensical. His medical records revealed his diagnoses of Dementia and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Ed continued moving forward, holding my hand. 
I realized that Ed was experiencing a flashback of his service in the Vietnam War. Ed had been a prisoner of war, and was kept in captivity for several months. For Ed, the Vietnam War was not just a bad memory, it had become a living nightmare, a dreadful time that Ed relived in his mind over and over, a tormenting past that continued into his present—as if he was the captive of an evil time machine.
I felt Ed’s warm and firm hand. My gaze fixed upon him, trying to place meaning to his vivid gestures and expressions. 

My heart pounded as I started to see beyond the patient with Dementia and PTSD. I started to see the courageous man Ed had been, and continued to be, facing obstacles and dangers. 

I saw a gentleman—Ed didn’t call me “you” or “woman,” he called me “lady” even though I may have been a stranger to him. I saw a compassionate man, trying to “save me” by taking me to a safe place—the highway. 
And most importantly, I saw Ed as a proud American soldier, serving our country with dignity and grit. 

Today, as we celebrate the Fourth of July, our glorious Independence
Day, fond memories of Ed flood my mind. Ed was the first nursing home
resident who first inspired me to write stories of the Home Sweet
Nursing Home. After sharing those amazing minutes in Ed’s world, I
realized I should share with others these heartfelt experiences. 
Ed, a dignified veteran of the Vietnam War, was my hero that day, and has been since then.
This blog is a tribute to Ed, for he extended his hand to me, and lifted
my soul.