Death and Old Age

SO for years I worked in nursing homes and with the elderly. Yes, I wiped their butts, showered them, changed them, clothed them, fed them, talked with them, walked with them, and loved them.  Some days it was a dirty disgusting job…

I remember one day, one of my favorite patients pooped on my leg.  His name was Grant Cooper. An adorable little old man who used to be a physics teacher at the university. He always sat in his wheelchair at the nurses station looking crabby and angry but I would kneel down and look him in the face and just smile at him and say ” Good Morning Grant” He would look at me a moment, puzzled, and then smile back and grumble “Good morning to you.”  I loved making him smile and equally loved giving him a hard time for trying to be grumpy when he really was a funny sweet caring old man.  A lot of the other CNA’s would complain and try to use a lift on him rather than doing a one man transfer to get him in and out of bed. He was stiff and stubborn and sometimes if you rushed him through getting dressed and getting up hed sit there and refuse to help you transfer, which of course means your going to hurt yourself, but DOESNT mean  you need a lift….. which he was deathly scared of.  Anyway, I refused to let him be stubborn and stiffen up on me. Id give him time to prepare, Id walk him through the process verbally and give him warning before I moved him or requested his cooperation.  And if he was in his wheelchair and was beign cranky and didnt want to help me get him up I would give him a hard time and say fine, you can stay in the chair all day then.” which he would then perk up and be very helpful, because all the poor guy wanted to do was get back in bed lol.  SO anyway…. one day I was getting him in the shower and transfering him from the shower chair to the wheel chair and he conveniently chose that time to have a bowel movement.  even more convenient was the amount of iron in his stool which meant not only did i get pooped on but it was tarry and black and VERY hard to get out, OH and even better was I had white pants on so for hours a giant section of my pants were not only stained, but also very seethrough lol.  I gotta love Grant Cooper, Rest In Peace.

I also remember a wonderfully sweet woman named Edna …. according to some of the nurses who had worked at this facility for years Edna before her senility was a very cranky bitchy woman and was extremly  hard on her special needs daughter who also lived at our facility.  Edna was one of those frail tiny little old ladies that unfortunately was shriveling up into the fetal position with each passing day. She would pedal herself around in her wheelchair with her feet all day long. She would wave to you and greet you and say some of the cutes/funniest things, most of which didnt make any sense. she was so sweet and always willing to give you a hug and kiss. She woul make her rounds throughout the facility and we would have to hunt her down to get her changed and ready for meals or ready for bed even…. we would find her in the lobby talkin to the fish in the fish tank or in the kitchen chit chatting with the cooks….or late at night she would pedal over to her daughters room and watch her sleep.  She was a typical senial old woman, hoarding and stashing old rolls from dinner in her underwear drawer or refusing to wear her oxygen canula in her nose and putting it on her forhead because thats where it goes. lol. Such innocence…. she very often resembled a child to me and I loved her for it.

Norma Hillyard was another woman I will never forget. She was one of the nasty ones that the Aides would trade assignments to avoid….or during shift report they would announce what a bad mood she was in that day. I knew her well. she reminded me of my grandmother; if she didnt get her way, the way she wanted, when she watned you were no longer her favorite person. lol.  You just had to know how to avoid digging yourself a hole and jumping in it.  Dont tell her youll be right back, dont promise her something will get done if you cant do it right then, dont talk fast, take the time to sit and talk with her when you can…. and she will cooperate with you and be in a perfectly fine mood. she was conveniently stubborn though. she refused to use her walker and would wobble in the most unstable of ways to get herself to the bathroom or dig through her drawers lookign for candy or a new crossword book or whatever it is shes hunting for.  no matter how many meetings we had with her and her family, the doctors, nurses…. she would politely agree to call for help before getting up and walking on her own but as soon as she was left alone she’d do it again.  I remember walking by her doorway and catching her in the act and she would freeze like a deer in headlights and look so guilty but then smile a big sheepish smile. she would play senile but she knew exactly what she was doing and that she SHOULDNT be doign it lol. she was a crack up.  I would give her a whirpool (bath) in the evenings and we would sit forever just talking.  she Loved when I gave them to her bc we would sneak and put bubbles in it and shed sit there playing around like a little kid ina bubble bath.  While I was pregnant with my son she would stop me and whisper to my belly and give it a kiss for the day…. and then my first day back after having my son she teased me and gave me a hard time saying” I hear your baby crying!! you better get home!” lol she was mean like that and most people couldnt stand her because of that. I loved her because of that.

I was given the honor of being there for numerous deaths and the priveledge to do their postmortem care….something most people balk away from and complain about doing.  I am honored that I was able to be there for my patients and take care of their bodies after their souls had gone.  The very first patient I ever experienced die was named Helen. She was a funny woman who although she couldnt communicate very well she managed to say “help me!” very loud and very clear as she pushed herself down the halls of the facility.  at certain times during the day and night she would get very agitated and cry out through the halls disrupting the other patients.  Finally someone discovered that she likes her mixed drinks…wink wink…. lol we would take her to the kitchen and ask her if shed like a drink. we would mix sprite with some cranberry or fruit juice and stick  a straw in it and wala! she thought she was gettin a night cap lol.  suprisingly enough it would calm her down everytime.  She must have been a wild woman in her days because she was also the one that despite having a body alarm on and everything else would CONSTANTLY get out of bed and strip naked and we would find her on the floor sleeping and herclothes strewn across the room.  She was very sick one week and going downhill fast.  she had been placed on hospice and was runnign a fever. I was going in her room every fifteen minutes switching out ice packs and taking her vital signs when finally during one of my evening trips  I walked in and her breathing was panicked. because of her sudden illness she wasnt able to even say Help Me anymore…..but was suddenly moaning and crying in pain or in fear….something was not right.  I knew because of hospice she was getting enough pain medicine but seemed concious enough to be afraid of what was happening to her.  it took a few moments to find the words but I sat with her holding her hand and talking to her about the peace she will feel and that she doesnt need to be afraid. “Its okay for you to let go Helen. I am here. You can just let go.” I said.  I felt so strange telling this woman that it was ok if she wanted to give up and die knowing that I wasnt her famly (who lived out of state and didnt ever visit).  I knew a lot of patients who hold on for various reasons and deal with so much pain and are too afraid to let go.  as soon as I uttered those words she began to cry, her eyes were closed and she was generally unresponsive.  I continued holding her hand and stroking her face and talking softly to heruntil she calmed her breathing down and seemingly went to sleep.  I left to go do the rest of my rounds. ten minutes later I came back and didnt want to disturb her if she were still sleeping peacefully so I quietly stuck the tempanic in her ear and pushed the button. … It beeped at me and read Error.  I tried again, completely confused.  same thing happened. Then I realized she wasnt breathing. She was gone.  It was then my duty to prepare her body for the funeral home to come pick her up.  I was filled with pride for my job that night.  I dontknow if she truly heard me or even understood….but from my point of view it seemed like she did and I am honored to have been there. This will be an experience I will carry with me forever.

I have so many stories …. and cant really remember any more at the moment but what origionally got me to thinking about all this was the Mother’s Day celebration at my grandmother’s house.  My grandfather has been declining in health and with each additional medical problem that pops up on his chart my grandmother’s mood becomes increasingly bitter and hard to handle.  For as long as I can remember she has been a difficult person to get along with…. if you know me , youve heard many stories about her…. my grandfather is such a sweet patient caring man and how hes put up with her for sixty some odd years i will never know….but recently he jsut looks so tired and exhausted. I know that look. He is giving up.  He is in a lot of pain and cant ambulate on his own, not to mention his recent memory issues.  all he wants to do is be left alone and lay down and rest but my grandmother wont stop nagging him and bitching at him to get upand do this or read that or fix this.  most of which he cant even do, but its her way of forcing him to not give up.  She refuses to accept reality and shes not that far behind him either. she cant get around that easily either and is definatly not quite right in the head lol. The saddest part to me is seeing his face and wishing I could take the pain away… wishing I could sit and talk to him and let him know that its ok to let go, that its ok to give up.  He is almost 90 years old. He was in the Navy for years, became an engineer worked his way up through the ladder and ended up becoming the President of NASSCO down in San Diego. He’s met numerous presidents and consulted for the government. He’s traveled the world and seen so many things…. He raised three wonderful boys that as adults are successful each in their own way and all three have stuck around to support and take care of him now.  Not to mention he also raised my brother and I later on as well. I love him dearly and wish and pray that his suffereing ends, his pain subsides and that he can find peace… in life or in death. It breaks my heart watching him fall apart and be so afraid to leave my grandmother . I know God’s will be done, I know God has a plan, I know God hears my prayers and knows my heart…. its the waiting and watching and feeling helpless that is the hardest…..


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Greg
    May 12, 2010 @ 15:33:00

    My mom passed away in February 2009, and I spent the last four years of her life taking care of her at home. She suffered from an advanced form of dementia, and could not be left alone for too long at a time. For the first couple of years she was still mobile, but she had issues with keeping her balance and had circulatory problems that would occasionally cause her to black out, making it dangerous for her to get around without help. In spite of having a walker available and within her reach, there were times that she simply refused to use it, and since it was impossible for me to watch her 24 hours a day, I was not always there to remind her.

    Twice during this period, she had to go to a nursing home for several months to rehab from a broken leg, caused by her insistence to constantly try and move around on her own. Whenever I would go visit her, I ran into many patients wandering the halls, some on foot and most in wheelchairs, who looked completely and utterly lost. Many of them were not here for rehab, this had become their home, and I expect that a lot of them did not have family coming to visit. So the only friendly faces they saw were of nurse’s aides who were willing to spend some of their time talking with them, and making them feel like their life still had meaning and worth.

    I cannot express how grateful I am to you and others who are willing to take the time to honor those who can no longer take care of themselves. I know it must be incredibly hard watching them continue to deteriorate, but I thank you for your willingness to be there with them through it.


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