Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Nursing Home and Me Part 4- It's Not Always as it Appears

See Me

What do you see, nurses, what do you see?
Are you thinking, when you look at me --
A crabby old woman, not very wise,
Uncertain of habit, with far-away eyes,
Who dribbles her food and makes no reply,
When you say in a loud voice -- "I do wish you'd try."

Who seems not to notice the things that you do,
And forever is losing a stocking or shoe,
Who unresisting or not, lets you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding, the long day to fill.

Is that what you're thinking, is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse, you're looking at ME...
I'll tell you who I am, as I sit here so still;
As I rise at your bidding, as I eat at your will.

I'm a small child of ten with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters, who love one another,
A young girl of sixteen with wings on her feet.
Dreaming that soon now a lover she'll meet;
A bride soon at twenty -- my heart gives a leap,
Remembering the vows that I promised to keep;
At twenty-five now I have young of my own,
Who need me to build a secure, happy home;
A woman of thirty, my young now grow fast,
Bound to each other with ties that should last;
At forty, my young sons have grown and are gone,
But my man's beside me to see I don't mourn;
At fifty once more babies play 'round my knee,
Again we know children, my loved one and me.

Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead,
I look at the future, I shudder with dread,
For my young are all rearing young of their own,
And I think of the years and the love that I've known;
I'm an old woman now and nature is cruel --
'Tis her jest to make old age look like a fool.

The body is crumbled, grace and vigor depart,
There is now a stone where once I had a heart,
But inside this old carcass a young girl still dwells,
And now and again my battered heart swells.

I remember the joys, I remember the pain,
And I'm loving and living life over again,
I think of the years, all too few -- gone too fast,
And accept the stark fact that nothing can last --
So I open your eyes, nurses, open and see,
Not a crabby old woman, look closer, nurses -- see ME!

This poem was given as a handout in one of our monthly education meetings. I had to google it to find out more about the author. I found very little information here.

This poem was found among the possessions of an elderly lady who died in the geriatric ward of a hospital. No information is available concerning her -- who she was or when she died. Reprinted from the "Assessment and Alternatives Help Guide" prepared by the Colorado Foundation for Medical Care. 

The above statement was the blurb on the website. It was a powerful poem when I first read it, but now that I know it was written by an actual patient, it holds much more meaning.

Sadly, the residents who are unable to speak because of advanced Alzheimer's or dementia, and those who are in a vegetative state, are often overlooked. They become the forgotten one's especially if they have no family to be their voice.

I witnessed staff members giving care to these kinds of patients with a lack of humanity. Two aides would walk into the room, never actually acknowledging the individual. They would roughly change and clean the patient, all the while talking about their personal lives- never once appearing to give thought that they were actually caring for a human being.  In the beginning of my health care career, I wondered if those who were unresponsive could hear me speaking to them. In the beginning I treated them as if they could, better to be safe than sorry I thought. But then, I too,would sometimes forget, rush in and out of rooms, never acknowledging the person laying right in front of me.

Soon after I met the Captain, he shared with me an experience he had while having surgery. He was given anaesthesia that he was allergic to and it caused his body to shut down. The surgeon thought he was going to die. He was put on a ventilator, as he was not breathing on his own. He was completely unresponsive. The surgeon called his father to give the grim prognosis.

The Captain knows how serious it all was because even though he appeared to be unresponsive he was AWAKE. He heard everything. He heard the sound of the ventilator breathing for him. He felt the blood pressure cuff taking his blood pressure at regular intervals. He could feel them shocking his legs, looking for any hint of reflexes.  He heard the doctor talking to his father on the telephone. He heard the doctor ask his father how long it would take for him to get there and that he should make arrangements for travel. And when the nurse would lift his eyelids to administer eye drops, he could see her, until the lids slammed shut. He told me of how he tried to speak, tried to open his eyes, to move any part of his body, but was completely paralyzed.He felt the burning of his heel, where a bedsore was beginning to develop. After what I'm sure seemed like forever the anaesthesia began to wear off and he was able to first move his foot, then his arm as he tried to pull out the tube in his throat. When they were confidnt he could possibly breath on his own, he was taken off the ventilator He has since fully recovered. He is lucky to have had such an exceptional surgical team. He surely could have died that day.

When he told me this story, it made me really think about the patients I encountered on a daily basis. Those who have been "written off" for lack of a better term. The patients who have zero quality of life, who do not speak or even open their eyes. How many of those types of patients can hear what we are saying? How many of them are laying there screaming out to us for us to notice them? This is a story that I think everyone working in health care should hear. Maybe it would make our nursing assistants, nurses, housekeepers, therapists and volunteers a little more aware that there is a human being laying in that bed that is not interested in their plans for the weekend, or the troubles that they have at home. There just might be a working mind inside that body, yearning to be talked to or pleading for a gentle touch. Imagine what a difference it would make to actually see the patient, to talk to them while giving care, as it's supposed to be.

Other Posts in this series: The Nursing Home and Me, The Nursing Home and Me Part 2- Reunited, The Nursing Home and Me Part 3- RussellThe Nursing Home and Me Part 5- Miracle at Ellis Island.

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