The past week has been exhilarating and exhausting. Beyond my visit east, my summer was taken up entirely with work at home, reading, walking dogs, visiting friends, and napping. I knew that a semester of full time CPE hours and classes and classwork would make me tired, but I’ve been a little surprised at how tired. It isn’t a debilitating tiredness, I want to stress, so exhaustion might be hyperbole, but it is one that’s taking me some time to adjust.
I’m glad to be on my unit although I’m frustrated by the amount of time it’s taking to receive my clearance to work one-on-one with residents. As a result, my time on the fourth floor is spent entirely in the public areas like the nurse’s station and the dining room. I’ve made the best of this by using the time both to study resident charts from cover to cover, focusing on psychological profiles, care conference notes, incident reports and social history surveys, as well as their spiritual assessment surveys, and by having prep conversations with the staff. Given the amount of time it’s taken to go through resident charts, I’ve only made it through roughly a third of them, but I think I have a pretty good feel for those residents’ histories.
Staff conversations have yielded some information that may be important as the move to Robbinsdale necessitates downsizing of their force and the resulting anxieties that will produce. For instance, most of the evening nursing and housekeeping staff are sub-Saharan African and have come to the US only in the last decade and will be concerned about future work since most of them brought their entire extended family with them. I am proud of having been asked by the Thursday night staff to share the pizza one of them brought in to celebrate his birthday. (Custom requires that at some point I also need to bring in something to share with them.)
I think I was most affected by the memorial service done on my floor on Friday morning for a former resident who died in early September. Contrary to my expectations, I counted 26 participants at his service, only 9 of which were floor residents. Aside from a few staff who’d worked with him on the floor, the rest were either staff from other organizations or friends from outside the system. His youngest daughter and son from different relationships were there as well and I witnessed an especially moving reunion between a woman he had once dated and who had stayed in touch with him through the years, and the daughter to whom she had been a tutor but who had not seen her for nearly a decade. We make a lot of noise about the need for people after they’re in the social services system to retain outside links and relationships, but too often that’s just not what happens. It’s too easy for them to get subsumed into the anonymity of the system and lose all contact with anyone outside it. But for this resident that didn’t happen. His outside relationships stayed strong and his friends from prior to his illness not only hadn’t lost touch with him, he made new ones as he moved through the system. Those friendships, both with caregivers and peers, had strengthened during his illness.
This was in marked contrast with the experience of my most recently deceased aunt who spent nearly a decade in nursing care and because of her dementia slowly lost contact not only with friends but even with the people, including her son and my parents, who saw her daily. Her death was noted only by her immediate family and current caregivers. While I was growing up her life had been vibrant, loud, and marked by the constant comings and goings of people through her house. Her death was a repudiation of what her life had been and it made me sad. Friday’s memorial service touched me and I recognized my hope that when I reach the same point in my life my own death will be more like his than like hers.