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Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Poet

“Is Mr. H coming back to the nursing home?” Nurse Claudia asked, her voice carrying a hint of hopeful anticipation.

“Yes. He needs some therapy,” I replied, handing Claudia a folder with Mr. H’s medical information. 

“Is he staying this time?”

“Oh, no!” I shook my head. “He’s just coming for rehab.”

I knew Mr. H very well. Over a year ago he had been discharged to his home, and, despite his multiple health challenges, he managed to continue living independently.

“Ain’t moving to no nursing home,” Mr. H would say.  “Not yet, anyway...,” he'd continue, snickering. 

Mr. H had a delightful sense of humor. He was always polite and pleasant, even in his times of discomfort, pain, or shortness of breath. 

But one particular fact distinguished Mr. H from the rest of the nursing home residents. He was always reciting poems—his own poems. 

Although he had suffered a stroke several years ago, Mr. H’s memory was unaffected and remained sharp. Quite often, while chatting with others, Mr. H was composing poems in his mind. By the end of the conversation, he would surprise people by saying: 

“Let me tell you a poem I just made up.”

Then, Mr. H would recite humorous and inspirational poems. 

“How do you create your poems so quickly?” I asked him once.

“Don’t know, they just come to my mind.”

“Do you write down every one of your poems?”

“Not always. My hands are getting a bit stiff.”  He raised his right hand, showing it to me. “But I remember every one.”  He tapped his forehead with his index finger. 

Mr. H was now in his eighties. He had written poetry for many years. His interest in writing poetry began while working for a newspaper. He was not a journalist or an editor. He was a pressman. 

“I have a folder with a lot of my poems,” he explained, proudly. “I also wrote short stories. Maybe I'll tell you the one about a little boy?” His smile sparkled.

“Of course!” I was eager to hear the story—and many more.

Later that day, I returned to Mr. H’s room with a note pad and a pen. I placed them on his bedside table.   
"In case you feel like writing.” I glanced at Mr. H and spied a grin on his face.  

Mr. H struggled with his physical condition. His sharp and fast thoughts seemed mismatched with his slow and inflexible body. This time, I was concerned whether he would succeed with his physical therapy.

A few days after Mr. H came to the facility I saw him walking the hall, leaning on a walker. A physical therapist followed him with a wheelchair, in case he needed to rest. 

Mr. H is a fighter, I mused.

“You are doing good!” I exclaimed as Mr. H caught me staring at him. 

“I have something for you,” he said. “Stop by my room later.”

“Sure, I will.” 

My curiosity couldn’t wait and as soon as Mr. H was finished with his therapy session I rushed to his room.

He handed me a piece of paper—a sheet from the notepad I gave to him. 

I opened my eyes widely.

“A poem!” I exclaimed, grinning.

“My get up and go got up
and flew.

Left me sitting here not
knowing what to do.

Then Edison’s light bulb lit
up my mind.

Saying, get up, go to The Maples
where the people are so kind.

And after they have cared for 
you a week or two.

Your get up and go will come
back to you!”

I read it twice. Clearly, a motivational poem. He had found motivation in his poetryor his motivation shone through his poetry. Either way, I had no doubt that Mr. H was an amazing man.

We graciously displayed his poem on a facility board for many others to read. Mr. H successfully completed his rehabilitation and went back home. 

I treasured a copy of Mr. H’s poem. I’ve found myself reading it a few times lately—as my “get up and go” needed recharge. I reflected on the power of creativity and writing. I felt embraced by the soul of the poet. His ageless soul.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Irene's Letter

Irene was a lady of few words. I wondered if it was part of her personality.  Or, perhaps, she had talked so much throughout her life as a school teacher that now she decided to indulge in solitude and quietness. But I knew my thought was false reasoning because the cold hard fact was that Irene had Alzheimer’s dementia. 

Irene had become familiar with her environment and the routine of the nursing home after several years of living there. She wheeled herself to the dining room, and to some of the facility activities. She timidly smiled at others she passed in the hall. Smiling had become her preferred method of communication. When she spoke to others, it was usually brief.

One day, as I was walking by the reception desk, I noticed Irene was writing on a sheet of paper. I had never seen Irene write before. I had never asked her to write anything before, I realized.

I glanced at Elizabeth, the receptionist, and frowned. 

My curiosity grew stronger as Elizabeth flashed a mischievous smile.

I drew closer to the desk, scrutinizing the duo. 

“Irene is writing a letter to her husband,” Elizabeth whispered.

“Is she?” I exclaimed, perplexed. 

Irene raised her head, and handed the piece of paper to Elizabeth. 

“Thank you,” Irene said, with a gracious smile. 

“You’re welcome,” Elizabeth replied in a gentle voice. “I will take care of your letter.”

Irene flashed a wide smile now, turned around her wheelchair, and headed toward the dining room for lunch. 

“What’s going on?” I anxiously inquired.

“Irene came by and when she saw the stack of mail on the desk, she asked me if I had a piece of paper and a pencil, as she needed to write a letter to her husband.”

“Is that right?” I asked, intrigued. “You know Irene’s husband passed away a long time ago.”

“I know.” Elizabeth replied, her voice carrying a hint of sadness. 

“Can I see the letter?” I asked.

I couldn’t wait to see what Irene had written, and especially the message to her husband. I stared at the piece of paper, puzzled.

The hand-writing was unintelligible. 

I sighed and pursed my lips.

“I wish I could read what she wrote,” I commented. 

“Oh, wait a minute...” Elizabeth said, in reflection. “I remember her saying she was going to ask her husband to come over for breakfast.”

“Aw...” My heart reached out to Irene. I couldn’t imagine how much she missed her husband, thinking he was just a few miles away. 

I glanced again at the note, and, all of a sudden, some of the words gleamed on the pale paper, clearly readable:

(Dear John)

(I love you)

My eyes welled with tears. I wiped my eyes and looked at Elizabeth. She was fighting back tears. 

Irene’s  words were powerful proof of her love for her husband. Her Alzheimer’s may have destroyed her brain cells, but not her ability to love and long for her life-long companion. The Alzheimer’s may have silenced her lips, but it had not taken away her faithfulness.   

I treasured Irene’s love letter as a reminder that, unlike what Pat Robertson may think, Alzheimer’s is not “a kind of death.” Alzheimer’s is rather a test of loyalty and commitment to our loved ones. 

Irene’s love for her husband was vibrant and alive. It was not a sad, or a remorseful love. It was a genuine and everlasting love.

Thank you Cynthia over at PrayerNotes 
for crafting this marvelous souvenir. 
Cynthia's blog

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

"Home Sweet Nursing Home" featured on the Examiner.com

Linda Austin is an author and publisher and a board member of the St. Louis Publishers Association.  After recent interview, I received the surprise of this article published on Examiner.com, a local newspaper in the St Louis, MO area: 


Thank you, Linda. 

Photo Source

Saturday, October 1, 2011

"Fill My Coffee Cup"- My Homeless Patient Case

“Are you the Social Worker?” A deep voice interrupted my train of thoughts as I was sitting at my desk, reading through a resident’s medical chart. I raised my head, fixing my eyes on a slender, disheveled man standing by my office door, holding a coffee mug.
“Yes, I am,” I answered with an indiscreet expression of surprise. 
“I’m Mike. I came here last night from the ER.”
“Oh, hi Mike. I was actually getting ready to see you. As a matter of fact, I am here reading your medical information.” I welcomed him and asked him to have a seat. 
Mike was in his early sixties, younger than the average age of our residents in the nursing home. While most of the residents were wheelchair bound, Mike walked the halls at a steady pace. He almost looked like a visitor rather than a resident. 
Mike was my very first resident coming to my office to meet me. Normally, as the Social Worker, I am the one rushing to meet my new residents. I felt a bit ashamed, but I admired his initiative.
Mike sat comfortably. He was pleasant and polite. His hands curled around his coffee mug, taking small sips during our conversation. As Mike smiled, I noticed the poor condition of his teeth. His long hair and beard looked unwashed and unkept. I confirmed what I suspectedMike was homeless. 
I started to get worried about the nursing home not being the most suitable place for Mike to spend the rest of his years. I had observed homeless people going into nursing homes mainly to find shelter and food. But without having a medical condition that requires 24-hour care, they should be in a more independent-living environment.
At times, I felt uneasy seeing Mike restlessly walking throughout the halls, and often going into the dining room to refill his coffee mug. A nurse recognized Mike from another facility, stating that he was gone several times, finding out later that he was “looking for drugs.” My concerns almost turned into paranoia as I started feeling overprotective about our frail elderly residents. 

We closely supervised Mike for a few days. I have no doubt he was aware of it. But Mike surprised everyone.  

He was kind and good-hearted. He was always cooperative with staff and respectful with the other residents. He even started to make friends with them. 
“This is not a motel!” A staff member grumbled one day, looking at Mike comfortably laying on a couch, watching TV, sipping from his coffee mug. 
I shook my head as I thought about how easily we judge others. Yet I went back to worry about Mike’s future. We wouldn’t want to send him back to the streets, or to a shelter, but he was certainly too high functioning to be in a nursing home. 
Amazingly, the answer came from Mike himself.
“I need help,” he expressed weeks later.
I sensed sincerity in his words. All my fears about Mike vanished. I knew a history of alcoholism and drug addiction was a struggle, based on my experience with patients in similar condition. Unfortunately, many of them chose to go back to the old path of addiction and deterioration and, ultimately, of death.  But this time I felt optimistic about Mike's desires to overcome his situation. 
And, as if the stars were lined up on Mike’s favor, one unexpected visitor came to my office to deliver good news.
“Are you the Social Worker?,” A man in his early seventies stood at my office door. 
“Yes, I am.” 
“I’m Roger, Mike’s brother.” He stepped forward, extending his right hand to me. “I live out of state, and came to help Mike.”
I flashed a broad smile, glancing at the well-dressed gentleman in front of me. I saw Roger like an angel sent to Mike’s life. Who better than someone from our own family to lead us into the “path of righteousness” when “walking in the valley of the shadow of death”? 
Roger helped to work out a plan for Mike to go into a residential care facility, one of the nicest ones in town, which so happened to have a subsidized apartment. The facility had only four subsidized apartments, and people would normally be on the waiting list for several months or even a year. 
“Mike is so lucky!” Staff members commented. 
Mike was ready for a change, and everything fell into place, I reflected.
Mike found a home and reconnected with his family.  Mike truly looked like a new man, inside and out. He was now wearing clean clothes. He got a hair cut and shaved his entire beard. He’d already had a dental consult, and a plan was in place for him to get the oral treatment he needed. Nonetheless, his smile was shinier than the stars. 
“Bye, Mike. We will miss you.” Staff members waved at him as he was leaving the facility with his brother. 
Mike beamed, “Thank you for everything!” he said, holding up his coffee mug as if he were toasting his triumph over his homelessness.
About a year later, I ran into a staff member from the residential care facility where Mike lived. I asked how he was doing. 
“He is doing really good,” the woman said. “He is happy and everyone loves him.”
“That’s exciting to hear!” I couldn’t hide my emotion. “Is he still enjoying his coffee?”
“Oh... you know about him and his coffee mug...?” She grinned.
The image of Mike lifting his coffee mug flashed in my mind, reminding me of his victory—his well-deserved victory.
“Of course I know all about his coffee mug!”