Sunday, May 20, 2012
A Goodbye Melody
I heard music as I entered the nursing home. I thought the sound was familiar, and soon recognized it came from the piano in the dining room.
Who would be playing the piano at 7:00 in the morning? I pondered.
Curious, I headed to the dining room and peered through a glass window. I spied a few residents, some drinking coffee, others drinking juice. I continued scanning the large room until my eyes met the person playing the piano. It was a resident.
Seeing Dan playing the piano was a tremendous surprise to me, as I never knew he played the piano. I wished I had more time to get to know Dan better. After a week of being in the nursing home, he had been irritable, expressing he wanted to leave.
His physician indicated Dan was no longer able to take care of himself. At this point, Dan had already given up his apartment. But he now regretted it.
Dan’s oldest sister, Laura, was the only family around. She adored her “little brother” and always lived nearby, since the passing of their mother. In her seventies and with health problems of her own, she tried to convince Dan to stay in the nursing home. Unsuccessful in her persuasion, Laura’s heart softened to the point she decided to take Dan home with her.
Dan never married and had no children. He had no social life. He was a private person his entire life. Although it wasn’t in his medical records, it appeared to me he had some deficit in his cognitive ability, more like what in the mental health field is known as Borderline Intellectual Functioning. He was deemed disabled at a young age and attended special education. He lived with his mother most of his life, and after she died, Dan moved to a small apartment and managed to live independently for several years.
Dan continued playing the piano for a while. The other residents remained quiet, as though indulging in the music—some kind of classical piece, a soft and melancholy melody.
I headed to my office, thinking of my resident, trying to understand what he had gone through recently. Dan’s health had deteriorated. He had macular degeneration and his vision was poor. He wasn’t taking his medications properly at home because he couldn’t differentiate the pills. Dan was weak and had sustained some falls at home.
I could see why he was angry and frustrated. He had lost his home, and his independence. And he wasn’t adjusting well to a closely monitored routine in a nursing home, around many people all of them strangers to him, not the most inviting scenario for a loner like Dan.
After breakfast, I observed Dan coming up in the hall, rolling his wheelchair. I assumed he was heading to his room, to wait for his sister since she would be in soon to pick him up. As he was to pass me, he slowed, drawing close to me. His face reflected sadness.
“Hi Dan!” I greeted and smiled at him.
Dan’s lips stretched into a half smile. “I want to tell you... this has nothing to do with you guys. You all have been nice.” He spoke with soft tone of voice, fishing for words. “I’m not... I’m just not ready to be in a nursing home.”
“Dan, I know that and I totally understand. We love you, and want you to be happy.” Dan unexpectedly opened his arms, and I reciprocated by embracing him.
“Dan, your sister is here!” A nurse exclaimed.
Dan flashed a wide smile, and rushed to meet her.
I finished setting up home health services for Dan. I thought of him the rest of that day. He left me with a winged heart and a treasured memory.
Sometimes, as I walked by the dining room early in the mornings, Dan’s delightful music replayed in my mind.
Dan’s sentimental goodbye melody, I mused.