A story of gratitude to my Mom.
I can't believe you're making me go to work with you – it's summer, school's out, and it's not even 7 in the morning! Mom, what are you thinking? I know I broke some rules and got into some trouble, but I'm only 14! You get paid as a nurse – what in the world am I to do in a nursing home filled with "old" people? Hmmm, if I'm lucky there may be an extra bed – I'll just lie around all day and watch TV. Yeah, I think I can do this.
You want me to do what? What can I possibly say to a lady who doesn't even know who she is or what she's doing in that room? Mom, she says there are spiders coming out of the wallpaper (there is no wallpaper)! Okay, okay, I'll talk to her. "Miss Carrie" is a long-term resident and known for her pleas for help with the spiders. I'll just tell her there aren't any spiders, and she'll settle down. Almost an hour passes when you check on Miss Carrie and me. You smile when I tell you we are "just talking." The unwelcome intruders are gone (I "captured" them and took them outside) and now Miss Carrie is telling me some interesting stories. She must be enjoying my company because she calmed down. "I'll be finished in a minute, Mom." "Good, I need you to help find Mr. Bubba." "What?!"
Ah, Mr. Bubba – the ever-wandering old man. You say he's on the floor somewhere since all the doors have alarms on them. You tell me to check all the rooms because he loves to talk to the ladies. "I'll look for him," I said. I walk through halls and pass residents with walkers or in wheelchairs and into the rooms of those bedridden – I don't remember when I last saw this much gray hair, but everyone's really nice to me. A cup of water here, a change of TV channels (no remotes back then), and a kind word bring so many smiles and words of gratitude. I'm not going to tell Mom, but this is kind of fun!
There's Mr. Bubba, visiting with a "lady friend." "They just love me," he said as we both walk (he shuffles) back to his room, his arm holding on to mine. Mr. Bubba's pretty cool – even though he has grandchildren older than me! After settling him into his room, I head back to the nurses' station, my head held higher and a bit of a spring in my step.
"Lunch, it's already time for lunch?" Wow, time flies… "They need help with the residents eating in the dining room; do you want to go see if you can help?" I find many tables filled with residents – most talking to each other, some sitting quietly. Wondering who this skinny teenager is and what she wants, I sit down at a table of leery-eyed residents, one wearing a bib. After saying hi to all and watching a resident unsuccessfully try to feed herself, I offer to help. Her mouth readily opens to a forkful of food. Before long, her plate is empty and she thanks me for my help. "You're welcome, I enjoyed it!" and I mean it. I go from table to table helping or visiting with the diners.
I'm tired but you mention that there's a lady outside on the patio who could use a "hand." I head out to the patio to find an elderly woman trying to write a letter. No longer able to firmly grasp a pen, she is appreciative of my offer of my assistance. Although I write as fast as I can, she talks faster only slowing long enough to take a breath. With the letter complete, I fold it and slide it into the envelope and place a 6-cent stamp on it. Her huge hug about takes my breath away.
It's now 2:30, and fortunately I've not taken time or desired to find that empty bed – the experiences I would have missed! As I head back to where you're wrapping things up, I think about the day. Many residents in the hall grab my hands and ask me when I'm coming back to visit. I look up at you, Mom, and ask, "Can I come back tomorrow and bring a friend?"
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The summer quickly passed as I spent every day at the nursing home "working" alongside my Mom. Many of my friends went along with me and, upon arriving at the nursing home, went their own way to visit their favorite residents. Even the local newspaper wrote about the "teenagers helping out" at the nursing home. Thus was the summer of 1970 and, in retrospect, a pivotal time in my life. My Mom is no longer with me, but I am confident she knew she did the right thing that summer when, years later, she watched me walk across the stage to receive my bachelor's degree – in nursing.