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Sunday, March 24, 2013

At home... in the nursing home

“Mr. Russell wants to know if you have a room for him,” the hospital discharge planner asked me on the phone. “He was going home, but then he changed his mind and requested to be sent to your facility,” she continued.

I remembered Mr. Russell very well. He was at our nursing home two years ago, when he came to us for a short stay, for therapy. 

“We do have a room for him!” I exclaimed. “We will be glad to have him back.”

Mr. Russell was a very pleasant man, a cooperative patient who worked hard with the therapists during his prior stay. 

“Great!” The discharge planner exclaimed.“I will be faxing his medical information shortly.” 

Mr. Russell arrived to our facility that afternoon. I rushed to greet him. He flashed a enormous smile. 

“I’m happy to be here!” He exclaimed. “I feel like at home.”

I was pleased to observe Mr. Russell’s excitement. It wasn’t that often that we would greet new residents and they were that cheerful. The opposite, many of them seem anxious or depressed, or in discomfort. It takes a couple of days for the new resident to start settling down and feeling comfortable with new faces and routines, and to trust that he or she is really in good and trusted hands. 

I glanced at Mr. Russell. He looked quite slender and frail. I drew close to him and reached for his hand. “I’m glad you are here,” I said, and smiled. 

“Me too,” he replied in a saddened voice. “They were going to send me home, alone, after giving me bad news.”

“What?” I sat on a chair by his side. “Do you live alone?” I asked, now curious about his wife. 

“Yes, I live alone. My wife died last year. I went to the hospital because I thought I had pneumonia, but now they have found that I have cancer... advanced cancer.” Mr. Russell focused on the floor. I noticed his eyes flooding with tears. “With the bad news, I didn’t want to be alone. I wanted to be around people I know, and that’s why I asked to come here.”

My heart sank. Mr. Russell had gone through so much since the last time I saw him. He lost his wife, and now he received devastating news about his own health. 

I felt as a lump in my throat. I fought back tears. 

“We will do everything we can to help you.” I hugged him. “Have you talked with your son?”

“I did. He still lives in California, and he is coming in a week or two to see me.”

Mr. Russell was a social man. He enjoyed the staff visiting with him and engaging him in long conversations about his life in the military and his later career as a computer technician. He talked about his travels and more happy times. But, he was also blunted out about not wanting to pursue aggressive treatment for his cancer because he knew it would just prolong his suffering. 

“My Dad is getting weaker,” Mr. Russell’s son said to me during one of our several visits since he arrived from California. He had spent several days with his father, and helped arranged his personal affairs. 

It was obvious that Mr. Russell was at the end of his life. Nonetheless, he continued to be cheerful and enjoy the visits of the staff members, at least as his endurance permitted. 

“You all are darlings, I love you all,” Mr. Russell said, as I went to see him on a Friday, before I left for the day. 

Mr. Russell’s son sat near the bed, and displayed a smile, yet I noticed a shadow of sadness in his eyes. 

“You have a loving son, Mr. Russell, and I’m glad you guys got to spend time together,” I said. 

“I would have been lost without you all and my son. I am so blessed.”

Mr. Russell passed away that weekend. A nurse told me that his son had left on a morning to get some rest, and as soon as he left, Mr. Russell called with weak voice, but sound mind, asking a staff member to come and stay with him. An aide came to him, talking to him and holding his hand. 

After a while, he peacefully died. 

“Thank you for all you did for my father,” Mr. Russell’s son expressed later. “He really felt at home.”

I thanked the Lord for Mr. Russell and other residents that left an imprint on my heart. Through this journey I get to know first-hand what is like for residents like Mr. Russell to find their home in a nursing home. Some for a short stay to rehab and to a return to the community; some to live there and be embraced with care and love, and others to find a place of closure and solace. 

As a social worker, I've found the nursing home as a place where we grow in compassion, understanding and loving, regardless of the stress and fatigue. A place we savor the goodness of humanity. Every day.

March is Social Work month. Let's celebrate!


Bica said...

I'm glad he was able to find comfort in his new (and last) home. There are people who look at a nursing home as a negative, but I know people who have loved their experience, and were proud to call it "home." Thanks to you, and those you work with, for helping to make these residents feel loved, and very special.

Mariette VandenMunckhof-Vedder said...

Dearest Doris,
So happy to read a post of you once more. This was a very touching post and so glad that the hospital discharge planner got a yes from you, for placing Mr. Russell into your nursing home. Feeling at home, or at least at ease with the people that will be familiar to a former patient means the world to them. Finding a place for saying goodbye to life and to loved ones is a blessing!
Hugs to you,

Linda Myers said...

Wonderful he felt at home there!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful story, Doris. I wish more people realized how wonderful a good nursing home can be in providing safety and comfort and friendship. Too many have very negative views of nursing homes, probably from the old days when regulations weren't so good.

Another interesting part of the story is how Mr. Russell didn't seem to want his son to be there when he died. Hospice told me this was common, but I was still unhappy my mom didn't wait the few hours for me to come back!

Cloudia said...

I really honor you.

And as a childless adult, I pray to have a good death with such care!

ALOHA from Honolulu
Comfort Spiral
~ > < } } ( ° > <3

Arkansas Patti said...

I was so pleased to see you had posted. I knew I would again be touched by another of your special posts.
Mr. Russel's attitude and your staff's caring attention paint a lovely picture of the often "dreaded nursing home." Thank you.

Judy said...

What a heartwarming story. Also a childless adult, I worry that my years under the care of others, who are essentially strangers, will lack a caring touch. You make me hopeful that will not be so.

Amrita said...

God bless you Doris

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Doris .. what a wonderful story and told in your usual inimitable way ...

It certainly makes life easier if the dying are comfortable and happy at their end ... and in particular if the family and carers give their love and support to those in their care or family ...

These times must be so difficult for the person concerned ..

I hadn't realised it's Caring Month - I must remember next year ..

Cheers and have a peaceful and happy Easter - Hilary

dolorah said...

It would break my heat to work in a place like this - even with such endearing stories of love and compassion. Thank you for sharing this bit of hope and contentment.


Susan Flett Swiderski said...

This is the first post of yours that I've seen in quite a while, and it's just as heartwarming as the last one I read. Not all nursing home experiences are positive, but I absolutely admire people like you who put their hearts into making the experience as positive as possible.

Cynthia said...

What a wonderful post! I'm so glad that Mr. Russell found a place of love and acceptance to say goodbye. So many of our seniors feel that nursing homes are lonely places, but you have proven that they can be places of tender love and care. Many blessings to you and yours. ~Cynthia

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

Welcome back! It was nice to see one of your posts show up on my Dashboard again after such a long absence.

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'

teri said...

Your writing is such a needed blessing. Your insights and stories always give me hope. Thank you.

Lalah said...

living with those realities you see everyday will give us enough reason we should live our life to the fullest. being a social worker is call of duty from heaven.

chocolatecovereddaydreams.blogspot.com said...

What a beautiful story. So glad he was in the right place where he felt he should be.

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Unknown said...

It's always heartbreaking to hear of a loved one suffering from cancer. I am glad that in addition to being a social worker you were able to treat your patient like a friend. It is obvious that you genuinely cared about your patient. As I look into healthcare options for my cancer-ridden widowed mother, I can only hope to find a caregiver as loving and compassionate as you. I am interested in NJ Senior Care for their visiting angels program. I hope that whoever I find can help to give my mother hope the way you seemed to instill it into Mr. Russell.

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UplayOnline said...

Thank you for sharing this bit of hope and contentment.


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