Monday, August 8, 2011

Old Folks.

My cousin F used to work at our local nursing home. She begged and begged me, on several occasions, to come work with her up there, but it never worked out that way. A few months after her accident I got brave enough to give it a try, even though I was reluctant to be her replacement. Terrified might be a more accurate word for it. I look too much like her to work there that soon after she was gone.

This is me, shortly after turning 20, during the last week of the clinicals portion of my CNA course.

I was young. I was terrified. I cried every day my first few weeks because the residents and nurses called me by her name without realizing it. But after a few more weeks, I was at home. Those nurses and "old folks" were my friends. They were my family. And it became the single best job I have ever had.

When I was starting out and everything felt so overwhelming, I stopped and thought about what I was doing. I thought about what it might feel like if I was a resident, how I would want to be taken care of in there, how I would want to be treated. And then, just like that, it was easy.

I took the time to meet them. Each of them. Not tell them my name and be on my way. I sat down with them. I asked them questions. I learned about them. Their lives. Their childhoods. Their families. Their likes and dislikes. I asked, and respected, their opinions and their requests. It's amazing how much people open up and trust you when you do something as simple as listening.

I was a bit of a rule breaker. I had a big, handmade John Deere tote bag that my mom and I made when she was teaching me how to sew. I found out what kind of products they liked, and I carried them in my bag, stashed on my cart. Their favorite lotions. Their favorite nail polish. Their favorite sugar free candies. If they wanted to feel pretty, I had something in my bag for it, and I took the time to make sure they were perfect. If they had a sweet tooth, I had something for that too. I learned their sizes and styles, and I picked up clothes for them when they needed it or for their birthdays.

I was well known for snacks. Smoothies. Cereal. Sandwiches. Cookies. Social events weren't for everyone, understandably. So when there was a social event with a great snack, especially watermelon or cantaloupe, I was all over it. They were technically supposed to go to the event to get it, but that never stopped me.

If a staff member needed me, they typically had to come looking for me. I was seldom seen in the hallways. I was too busy with each person, listening, snacking, watching tv, to be out in the hallway or the break room. The good thing, though, was that the people I was taking care of always knew where I was, when I'd be there, where to find me. Like perfect clockwork.

One day I was having a conversation with four of my residents about what they would change about the place if they could. They live there, so obviously they would have some good ideas for improvements, in both care and facility. One of them, Bill, told me that he wanted more physical activities, like the physical therapy he used to do. He said it wasn't fair that they helped him build up his strength just to get through an injury and then just let it go. Debra wanted better tasting food and the opportunity to decide what she wanted to eat that day. Thelma wanted walls that didn't look like Pepto-Bismol. Margaret wanted to be able to spend more time outside in the fresh air.

And then they told me that I should open a nursing home one day. Then I could make my own rules instead of breaking them all the time. And I could make things happen for them.

I told my dad about it, and he agreed. He even cried thinking about it, the poor guy.

Bill and I talked about it several more times, and since that night, a nursing home of my own has become my biggest and brightest goal in my life. Not just a dream, because sometimes dreams don't come true. A goal. An attainable, bust-my-ass-until-I-make-it goal. We already have designs and plans. We even have a name.

The Farm. And it's going to be just that. A farm, with a single level residence. Porch swings and rocking chairs. A cozy dining room. A chapel room. A gym for therapy and training. "Homey" colors and decorations, especially in the bedrooms. Menus of fresh, healthy foods with choices for them to make. A salon where they can get their hair or nails done any day of the week, not just every other Thursday. A garden outside, that they can help with. A pond, so they can fish. Horses, cows, chickens, puppies. Stimulating and fun activities...that make them smile, feel useful, feel strong. A place that makes them feel like they are still people, like they still belong.

Our idea was to have the community as involved as we can get them. Assisting them with their flowers and vegetables, and of course, with their fishing. Produce from local farmers. Furniture and the like also from the local community. Ideally, if we hire people in the community for various things, the money helps out in our community. And if we have more community involved in activities, even if it's just a social hour and a meal, the residents feel like they are still a part of said community. That is, after all, what is at the very heart and soul of our small town, and other small towns around the country.

I've been thinking about my old folks a lot lately. I started working there during one of the hardest, darkest times of my life. But they became my friends, my family. They taught me so many things. About life, about love, about dreams, about myself. Their love and their belief in me literally saved my life. I honestly believe things might be much different if I was still around them now, in these much harder, darker times. This nursing home wasn't my dream. It was our dream. And I feel like I owe it to them to keep pushing forward until it really happens.

I mentioned a few days ago that I want to get out of the Navy. I was looking at houses and property back home because I want to have an idea of what the market is looking like. I want to be home within the next year or so. I looked at a large farm lot several months ago. I wanted to build a house there. Last night, when my old folks were so heavy on my heart, I noticed the same property again. The price was reduced. And it's actually bigger than I originally thought. It's perfect. Well, aside from the price, that is. But I'll get there. Some day.


Amanda said...

I am a new follower from eat pray love live. I am a single mom, ex military spouse. Looking forward to reading more.

Colin's Daddy said...

Something I found...

"The world may never notice
if a rosebud doesn't bloom
or even pause to wonder if the petals fall too soon
but every life that ever forms
or ever comes to be
touches the world
in some small way for all eternity
the little one we longed for
was swiftly here and gone
but the love that was then planted
is a light that still shines on
and though our arms are empty
our hearts know what to do
every beating of our heart says
We will remember you."

I thought it may help.

Jess said...

I know what you mean, working at a nursing home is almost like working at a day care and loving on the kids that do not get as much love from their parents as they deserve. I have done both, and equally love both. Reading what you have written made me smile and then brought tears to my eyes. You will own an amazing nursing home! Where God guys, God provides!

Catherine W said...

Well I know where I want to live when I become one of the old folks. On your farm! It sounds lovely and I'm sure that all the people you came into contact with lives a little brighter.

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