TBT: a Christmas Story
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 14, 2006
A ninety year old shut-in I visited was crying in her bed. This woman had had a number of strokes which made communication difficult for her, but if you listened carefully you could make out her words. So when I asked her what was wrong, it took a little while and then it came clear. She was upset because they had taken her wheelchair away and given her another one. And, she said in the best way she knew how to frame her words, she liked the old one because it had a tray, and a place to put her drink. Hmm, thought I, that's odd. Why would they do that? So I promised her that I'd check into it for her and let her know.
I went to the nurses' station and, yes, they knew about her complaints. Evidently she had lost some weight so that her old chair was a bit too large for her and now she needed a smaller one. OK, I can follow that, but what about the tray, I asked. Well, said the lady, I'm going to look around for one, and if we can't find one within a day or so, well then I guess we'll have to give her back her old chair. But, she said, the reason she wants this is because she wants to have her place to set her glass, and, well, that's not really safe. I said, oh, I see, and, trying be congeniel, said I understood, but, of course, to this poor lady who is very upset, that chair is her whole universe. Yes, they said, we don't want her to be upset, and we'll do our best. I thanked them and reported back to her, encouraging her to be patient, and that they really did care about her, and would do their best, etc. She thanked me, though was still visibly upset.
Not angry, really. Crying. Very sad.
As I drove home, I got to thinking that I could have done better by her today, and I'll certainly have to follow up. I doubt if she has anyone else as an advocate with the people there. What I should have said was: Oh, so she's been spilling her water lately? And then they'd probably say no, but she might. Or even if she had been spilling, I thought, and I could have said, so what? A safety issue? After all these years, a safety issue? Or is it really a convenience issue? I mean, how dangerous can a little water spill be? They're plastic cups, for heaven's sake.
The world will continue to turn, and presidents and world leaders will negotiate treaties. Wars will be fought, and momentous events will continue to take place on a grand, cosmic scale. But to this poor old woman, none of that mattered. Here was a lady I have been visiting for ten years. She never complains, and she usually has a pleasant disposition and a smile, even if she can't talk much. Maybe some of her mind is gone, too, though she still seems lucid enough to me. She is consigned to a nursing home for the rest of her life. Very little if any family remains in her life, as is sometimes the case with nursing home patients. And yet she has never complained about it, which I find amazing. Very little work goes into making this woman happy, it seems to me. I mean, I wonder how I'd do in such a case. She really is a sweetheart, as even the nurses agreed. But today, she was all broken up. Not because of life and death matters, or gut-wrenching, earth-shattering events. She just wanted her chair back. It was her house, in a way.
I don't mean to beat up on nursing home personnel. I think most of them probably deserve medals for the work they do, for which many others (myself included) don't have the stomach. I only mean to offer this little suggestion to anyone who might find himself in a situation where so very little would be needed to brighten up a person's whole day. A word of advice: just do it. Just do the Christmas thing. Ma'am, might I suggest you put your manual aside for a moment, and just give the poor lady her chair back. It may just make this her best Christmas.