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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Happy Thanksgiving

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“Have I said I love my job? I have... haven’t I?” I asked my fellow worker Frances, fighting tears back.  

Frances gave me a sympathy look. “I know. There's too much going on,” she said, shaking her head. 

“I have to confess, sometimes I don’t love my job.” I took a deep breath. “I’m going out for a break. I need to get a fresh cup of coffee.”

As I walked out of the facility I reflected on the events that had unfolded that week. 

It had been a busy week. November seemed to be a peculiar month in the nursing home. It’s a month in which the resident's seasonal mood changes seem more noticeable. Going from warm temperatures to cloudy and cold days appeared to make some residents more anxious, or more withdrawn.
November is usually the month in which many residents become distressed about being in a nursing home, wanting to be at their own homes for Thanksgiving and for Christmas. Even if they are permanent residents, they still wish they were at home.
Families get anxious too. Guilt-ridden sons, daughters, spouses and siblings seem to channel their frustrations and anger toward the nursing home staff. And ultimately, many of the problems seem to end up in my lap. 

Social Services will help you, I hear often. 

Resolving problems means, for instance, taking care of complaints, meetings with families and residents, assuring that residents return to their home in safe conditions, directing room changes to resolve conflicts between room-mates, or searching for missing eye glasses. 

Those would have been normal challenges during that week, if it hadn’t been for Mr. Goldman’s family. Mr. Goldman’s medical condition was guarded. His family had initially expressed their understanding of his poor prognosis.

“We want to take Dad home once his I.V. treatment is completed,” one of his children had said. 

“We want him comfortable in his own home. We already talked with Hospice," a sibling mentioned.

A simple case. Mr. Goldman’s would be in our facility for just a few days. Then he would return to his home with his family. 


Mr. Goldman’s family wasn't accepting his end-of-life condition. Their hopes that he would get better started to grow. And so did their stress. Day after day, week after week, Mr. Goldman’s family's demands and complaints multiplied. 
Several family members visited daily, and would stay with him around the clock. I assisted them during meetings, addressed their concerns, helped with legal documents, phone calls, faxes, etc. Nurses dealt with them daily on medical issues. The physician spent a great deal of time talking to them every time he was in the building. 

One day, Mr. Goldman’s oldest daughter came to me with another request. I told her it would be followed up the next day as it had to do with Housekeeping, and the staff had left for the day. 

“I guess it’s getting late for everybody!” She said sarcastically, glancing at her wristwatch.  

I remained quiet, not knowing what to say. It was better that way.

She turned around and, without a further word, walked out of my office. 

The next day, I spoke with Mr. Goldman’s son in the resident's room. I told him that things were being taken care of. He voiced another concern, and stated he would be talking to the physician. 

“That’s fine,” I said, doing my best to remain polite, and hiding my frustration.

On the way to my office, another problem arose, this time involving Mary, a not-so-empathetic co-worker.  Mary had complained to my supervisor about me being late in turning in some paperwork. 

I felt my patience was being tested more than I could handle. 

Call it burnout, compassion fatigue, stress, or any other fancy term—the dreadful feeling is the same. It’s as though all of your energy is being sucked out from you, exposing the skeleton of your physical, mental and moral vulnerability. 
It’s not a pleasant feeling. 

The coffee shop was my refuge, a place of solace. As I savored a frothy cappuccino, I happened to run into my colleague Sarah. 

What a blessing! 
We engaged in a near-therapeutic conversation. Her understanding of the stress involving our jobs as social workers made me feel better. I was ready to return to my office—re-energized and in control of my emotions.

Back in my office, as I was catching up with my paperwork, I heard a man’s voice.

“Excuse me.”  Mr. Goldman’s son was standing at my door. 

What does he want now? I wondered. Thankfully, I was calm, and willing to take on another task.

He walked toward me. 

“I want to let you know we appreciate all you’ve done for my Dad and us.”  His voice carried his sincerity. 

Speechless, I fixed my gazed on him.

He looked me in the eyes, and after a brief pause, he continued speaking.

“And I think you have a tough job,” he nodded, pursing his lips. He extended his hand to me. 

“Thank you,” he said, as we shook hands. 

He turned around, and left my office. I remained puzzled for a few seconds. Suddenly, I felt as though a huge and heavy load had been lifted from my shoulders. A good feeling enveloped me. I smiled for a couple of minutes, replaying the scene in my mind.   
As a social worker I don’t expect for clients and families to thank me. Why should they? Helping them is my job, after all. But those words meant a world to me—that particular day. 
A week from that day, as I was with my family, enjoying our Thanksgiving dinner, I thought of Mr. Goldman. By then, he had already gone home. I thanked the Lord for touching the hearts of his family. 
I thought of my co-worker Mary too as she surprised me one more time. Days after that stressful day, she unexpectedly came to my office to clarify about what happened, and to apologize for the distress caused.  We hugged each other. And I thanked the Lord for people’s kindness.

Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly, and most underrated agent of human change. Kindness that catches us by surprise brings out the best in our natures.
- Bob Kerrey

That was a happy Thanksgiving. I sure had a lot to be thankful for.

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A wonderfully written post, I realise most people in a home think of Thanksgiving and Christmas's past but it's people like you who make it worth living now the present. Thank you.


Anne Gallagher said...

It's so hard, what you do. I'm sure the resident's families don't understand HALF of it. But you are a Godsend to those people, whether they realize it or not.

Arkansas Patti said...

Don't know what touched the son's heart, but it sure was timely.
Bless you for the job you do and with the grace you do it.
I hope when I am squirrled away in such a home, someone like you is on staff.

Linda Myers said...

I will never forget the compassion of the nursing home staff when my mom was in her final months. They made such a difference. Thanks for all you do.

Clint said...

Beautifully expressed. Where the health of loved ones is concerned, emotions rule...and it can be , and often is, very stressful. Thank God for dedicated professionals like you...

Mariette VandenMunckhof-Vedder said...

Dearest Doris,

What a great Thanksgiving post. Maybe timely for a lot of others for reflecting on life's true 'thanksgivings' that often get passed over! Little things and a kind word, a smile or even a nod at times values more than gold...
Love to you and enjoy a happy Thanksgiving week coming up.


Bica said...

I love this post, Doris. I know of the stresses that social workers face, and I'm glad this man saw fit to acknowledge your hard work and compassion. Very poignant, Doris...thank you for sharing.

Mary Aalgaard said...

A kind word goes a long way. Glad you found some thankfulness.

KathiP said...

Thank you for a lovely column. I plan on printing this out and sharing it with our Social Services staff. they don't get enough recognition by families and other staff for the amazing work they do.

Toyin O. said...

Yes, a kind word is like cold water on a hot summer day. Great post, thanks for sharing.

Toyin O. said...

Yes, a kind word is like cold water on a hot summer day. Great post, thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful post! I was guilty of saying that we could always call social services to straighten things out for us... You do have a tough job and that gives your coworkers and clients something to be really thankful for this Thanksgiving-- not everyone could handle a tough job well!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Doris .. wonderfully told tale of woe, hope, and future .. and I'm so pleased of thanks too ..

As you say - just that little 'thank you' can make so much difference .. or apology 'we made a mistake' ..

I hope you can have a lovely Thanksgiving with family and friends - you've done lots for us bloggers too during this year ..

Happy Days ... Hilary

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

I hope THIS Thanksgiving has been peaceful and quiet. I am sure people don't realize all the stress they put on people who are helping them; they are typically focused on their own stress. God bless you!

Retired Knitter said...

My mom is currently in a nursing home for rehab but probably will not come home. And my contact is a social worker. I know the job is hard.

I can really relate to the comments about guilt during the holidays. I have a boat load of guilt I am dragging behind me. The next few weeks will be rough. Many changes for my mom. I so wish her physical condition was better so I could bring her home.

It is a bummer.

The holidays are the toughest time of the year.

Lizardmannnn said...

nice blog I will be following

Arlee Bird said...

As always, a beautifully written story. A job like yours must be so filled with stress, heartbreak, and uplifting moments like you experienced at the end of this story. Thank goodness for people like you with such a capacity for patience.

I hope your Thanksgiving this year was full of blessings.

Enjoy my delightful interview with Susan Kane on
Wrote By Rote Saturday 11/26

Sunshine44 said...

Hello, I am a Social Work Student in Scotland. I have been recently getting into reading Social Work related blogs and have found yours particularly enjoyable. I hope when I pursue a career in Social Work, I will value the small things that make this job worthwhile. Thanks.

John Paul McKinney said...

Thank you for the beautiful post. I have just forwarded it to my wife, a social worker. I've said this before, but I'll tell you again. I am very grateful for the help of social workers when my mother was in the nursing home. That was 10 years ago; I hope I remembered to thank them. Have a blessed holiday season.

Cynthia said...

Oh, Doris, what a wonderful real-life story! There were many days as a teacher, and especially as an assistant principal, that I felt enveloped in stress--being pulled this way and that--but, a simple smile or hug from a child--a teary-eyed thank you from a parent...made it all worthwhile. I can definitely relate to your story. Many blessings!

Ann said...

We all need to remember to express our thanks. I am delighted that once the Mr. Goldman’s family took a step back from their own sadness and stress they could appreciate your efforts on their behalf. Funny how those two simple words can change the feel of a day!

Solid Rock or Sinking Sand said...

Wonderful post. I enjoyed reading it very much. God bless, Lloyd

K. Tree said...

Two thoughts:

The residents may forget everything else, but they never forget that they want to go home.

If you can take enough deep breaths, the Universe will eventually recognize your suffering and will send you a bit of respite.

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

Just dropping back in, Doris, to wish you a blessed Advent!

Just Be Real said...

Beautifully written Thank you for sharing. Blessings.

Anita said...

This was a wonderful post, Doris. I work in banking and deal with people all day long. Sometimes they can be difficult to deal with, but I can only imagine how your job is so much harder, because of the nature of your work. And you are right, kindness and a "Thank You" can carry us a long way.
Thank you for sharing your stories. They truly inspire me to be a better person.