Lonely, but not alone in the nursing home

It is a dreadful time for all of us, our seniors especially so. Covid has seperated us, taken from us essential needs like touch and closeness. But no crummy disease will ever take away the humanity that exists within all of us.

During an emergency at a nursing home things may not be perfect. Sometimes oxygen should have been administered, proper CPR started or documents missing or buried deep in a file somewhere could have been found. We invade the peaceful place, sirens heralding our arrival, radios clacking, barking orders at the people working there and expect things to be at our level of preparedness.

It’s important to remember that the people working at these places are committed to the patients, treat them like family and know, respect and sometimes even love the patients that we see as little more than another job.

Rose’s lungs filled with fluid late one night. Her left ventricle was too weak to push things along. She was drowning in her own fluids.

Losing the ability to breathe is horrifying. The brain registers the need for oxygen, but the body has lost its ability to deliver.

At one time, she could do anything. Born in 1922, she weathered a lot of tough times — the Great Depression, World War II, the Civil Rights Movement, marriage and family and all that goes with it. A lifetime of accomplishment, sorrow and triumph, were all coming to an end in a little room in a nursing home in Providence, Rhode Island.

Her son, his wife, two daughters and their husbands, some grandchildren and a bunch of great grandchildren were involved. They visited, sent cards, picked her up and took her to their homes on special occasions, but they can’t always be there, and she enjoys the independence and privacy she gets at the nursing home. Her blood relatives are scattered all over, asleep in their homes, some nearby, some far. But none of them are there to offer comfort, when she needs it most. Now.

In a few days, they will converge at somebody’s house, once the services are through, and remember their matriarch, telling stories about what a wonderful woman, wife and mother she was. They may toast her memory.

Her children will feel the most sorrow at her passing, her grandchildren a little less and her great grandchildren little if any. But she will be remembered fondly by all.

What matters most of all is the present. We are often told when the weight of this existence becomes too much to bear that the present is all you have. Yesterday is a memory, tomorrow a dream, but right now is a gift. It is good advice, and helps keep things in perspective when the mind starts spinning; the what if’s, should have been’s and could be’s take up too much space in a mind that should be at peace.

Love, the greatest gift of all, is with Rose in her final moments. Two lovely ladies, both from Senegal and in the prime of their lives, with little ones at home, and a grand future ahead of them. Baggage for them too will accumulate, no doubt, and joy, but at the moment all they are concerned with is the little lady in Room 452 who cannot breathe. They comfort her, rub her back and reassure her with their beautiful voices, so melodic it sounds as if they are singing a lullaby when they speak.

Their words could be considered broken English, but the little English they have mastered says more in their inflection and sincerity than all of the words ever typed and stored in every database since the internet was invented. The gift of love is alive and well, and while not able to transcend the fear and sadness at present, makes it bearable.

The three women are in tears when we arrive and the spell is broken, but the love shared between two caretakers and the woman they have grown close to over the last two years lingers. The ladies reluctantly stand back and let us take over with our oxygen and bag-valve-mask ready. We lift her from her seat, put her on the stretcher, stick her with needles and say words they don’t understand. Harsh words like, “she’s going to code,” and “I need two for CPR.”

Rose and the rescue workers leave quickly. The memory of her stays with the women from Senegal. Eventually her things are taken, but her essence remains. They think of her often and as each new shift begins say a prayer in her memory. When a new lady moves into Rose’s room, they greet her and so begins another love story.

A few weeks later, Rose’s family sends a card thanking the nursing home for all they have done. The card stays in the administrator’s office, the two third shift CNA’s never see it.

But Rose ended her days with people who loved her as much as her family does. For some, maybe a little more.

The present truly is a gift.

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