Posted in Stories from the Nursing Home

The Orange Sweater & Autonomy

I was wearing an orange sweater at work yesterday. When one of the women saw me, she said how much she like it, but then proceeded to say that she noticed that I wear a lot of orange- that I even have an orange skirt.

I was taken aback that she paid attention. She is a very sweet woman, but easily one could have the same conversation 4 times in an hour period with her. And since when is my clothing something important? I know that the work that I do is important.

When I think about what is our influence on other people around me, I think about smiling to people; saying good morning; orienting people to the day; treating people with respect; I never think that my clothing has anything important to do with my job. It is true that every morning people comment on my clothing or my hair, but to me it seemed like part of the good morning ritual- not as something that people find important enough to remember and actually take notice to.


 

I had a conversation with another woman today about autonomy, privacy and home. She was telling me that it is hard for her because she no longer has a “home”, she will never again say that she is “going home” because the house that was hers is no longer, and as she put it “the only way I am leaving is in a coffin…well, they don’t use coffins here, so not even that…” But she recognizes and mourns (or maybe we need to find a better way to allow for the mourning) for the loss of home or at least a place to call home. A place that one can mope in their room if they want to. A place that is full of memories, both good and bad. A place that gives comfort, rather than just rigid structure. When I asked her if there was anything that could be done to make it feel more like a home, she told me no, it will always feel institutional.

Being in the nursing home has a very rigid structure, and there is very little movement from it, unless you have a private helper. You are told where to sit, and you will sit there every day, basically until you die. You are told when and what to eat. Someone else picks out your clothing, tells you when you need to bathe, when you are allowed to go to the bathroom, when you are going to sleep… There is very little choice offered to people. For some it is because they are unable to make choices. For others it is because they are understaffed, and the only way to be effective is to keep everyone on the same schedule. But this too “helps” make the place not feel like home. Only those who are loud enough will be given the option to choose what is on TV, or what music is playing, or be served first…

The most eye opening thing that she said was about privacy. I recognize the lack of privacy (and really have no idea how to help it, at least here). Many people share bedrooms, the days are spent in a big room with everyone, someone else is showering them and taking them to the bathroom, someone else is dressing them and doing their laundry. There is very little “alone” time, that is actually alone. But she said that eating in a communal room is hard. Even though she can’t see so well, she knows the others around her can and so she is very careful and slow as she eats, so as not to make a mess- she wants to keep her manners. She mentioned that others are not so great at that, and throughout the meals she will hear burps, farts, people needing to throw up- all of which make her at times lose her appetite. But I never thought about the intricacy of food and manners in relation to privacy, but if I think about it for sure it is true. When I am home alone I might use my fingers, eat from the container, and not use a napkin- I don’t really care about social construct. But if I have people around me, for sure I would never eat like that.


 

So, my concluding thoughts on both of these stories is that  I hope that one day myself or someone will be able to find real ways to make nursing care more comfortable and with autonomy. And you never know how much of an impact you have on others- really every little thing that you do someone might take notice. I hope that we find in ourselves the ability to impact positively, even with the tiniest actions that we didn’t even think we were doing.

 

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Author:

I am prone to overthinking and not to sharing. I decided to start writing and see what happens. So here are some stories and life situations (sometimes words of Torah) of a 30 something single woman, who happens to be a rabbi (received ordination in 2017- so there are posts of what that experience was like), will be working as a chaplain (and worked for years with older adults), is regularly asked what city she is located in (started the blog while living in Israel, found herself working in Australia, and will be in New York for at least a year), and is just trying to figure out her place in the world.

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