Yesterday I spoke to another group of caregivers, nurses and long-term care administrators in Portland, at an event sponsored by the Oregon Health Care Association.
There were two young men seated in the back row. I stopped to talked with them on my way to get a cup of coffee before the event started. They are both CNA’s. I asked them what was the most rewarding part of their work. Without hesitating, one man said, “When I get a resident to smile.” The other man nodded in agreement.
It made me think about the last several weeks of my dad’s life. Although his prostate cancer had spread throughout his body, it was a terrible fall that put him in the nursing home. He broken seven broken ribs and punctured his lung.
I flew home to help my mother get him moved. That night when I wheeled him into the dining room and took him to a table where all of the residents needed assistance eating, I thought my heart would break. As soon as an aid came to take over the feeding I ran to my car and sobbed.
Later that night as I walked down the country road next to my parents’ farm, I begged God to take him. I didn’t just pray – I pleaded, “Dear God, Please let this end! Stop his suffering! End this! Let him die! Let my mother have some rest!”
I realize now that while I was having my melt down in the car, there was an aid who was probably regaling my dad with stories about her children or pets, or anything else that would keep him entertained as she lifted the fork to his mouth and waited for him to chew and swallow. While I was walking down the road begging for Dad’s life to end, someone else was visiting with him while they removed his clothes and helped him into his pajamas. Later a nurse would have come by and made sure his medication was keeping his pain under control.
No one in that nursing home was eager for my dad to die. Their concern was keeping keeping him fed, keeping him engaged and keeping him pain free.
Today I am feeling deep gratitude for the people who cared for my dad and for every other person who is committed to caring for the elderly, the frail and chronically ill,. How lucky we are to live in a world where there are professionals who think the ultimate reward is getting a resident to smile.