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.


Posted in Stories from the Nursing Home, Uncategorized

Walking Together

A story from work today:

I saw two men that live in assisted living walking down the hallway, slowly, one holding onto the other. They both are not always the most stable at walking, but one is more stable than the other- and so he was helping his friend walk down the hall to find the barber. They even stopped to take a breathing break when one needed a break, and it was obvious that the other did not. And when they eventually found the barber, making sure that the man had a chair to rest in, he had an appointment, and a way to get upstairs after he got his hair cut.

And so the two walk down the hall, one holding the other- just to get to the barber.

Watching this happen (and it is not the first time I have seen it happen), is just about how can I be a good friend. I hope that as I get older, I too will find ways to help those around me, based on my own abilities at the time.

Posted in Stories from the Nursing Home

On Marriage and Clothing: From the Nursing Home

Today my day started with a converstaion with one of the women (She is in her late 90’s, came to Israel in the 30’s. Worked in agriculture and in a bank, taught meditation. Made a decision when she was young to never get married nor have any kids.) at the nursing home. Just after saying goodmorning, she says:
W: Good morning rebbetzin. You are not made to be a rebbetzin…
me: Why not?
W:You just aren’t the right personality for it. It just not your personality. {she askes the woman next to her if she agrees, but the woman started talking about my water bottle- and so we burst out laughing.}
me: What should I do instead?
W: Be an actress, that would suit you. And/or a wife. You need to give a lot of comfort as a wife, and you are good at that. Also, you need to be a good actress to be a wife…
From this we had a long conversation at the table about what I should do with my life and ideas of marriage vs. independence.


A conversation with one of the men (who was a very religious pulpit rabbi when he was younger, people still come to him as their rabbi, even though he has dementia):
Man: I notice that you wear something different every day.
Me: Is that a problem?
Man: No on the contrary…
Me: Don’t most people change what they wear every day?
Man: Women do, men don’t.
Me: Well, I am a woman
Man: You are, aren’t you (with a smile)
This then went onto a conversation about men’s and women’s clothing in history. I think to myself that it is great that the residents are actually paying attention to something.

Posted in Stories from the Nursing Home

The Sisters

There are two sisters that go everywhere together. Today I sat and spoke to them.

They both moved to Israel (then Palestine) when one was 11 and the other 13. They moved directly to Jerusalem, and have been here ever since. It turns out that one helped start the first Bank Discount in Jerusalem, and the other was a translator for the Queen of England (she even got to vist the Queen). They also told me about standing guard every night while they were part of the Hagana, and how it was to live in Mekor Chaim while they were being shot at from four directions. One told me that she put the baby carriage with her daughter under the window so the bullets would cascade over it, instead of through it.

After posting this one Facebook, a friend posted a picture of them sitting on a bench. They are known to sit outside of the nursing home when it is nice outside.

Following his post someone posted a video he took of interviewing them.

In our conversation today they said “we really lived history.”

Who will be by your side when you are in your late 90’s? What will our stories be?

Posted in Stories from the Nursing Home

Songs of the Past

Once again the internet did something great.

A few weeks ago I was talking to one of the men in the nusing home, he turned 102 yesterday. He started singing a song, but only knew one word and the tune, so it was quite hard to find it. Today I was doing some research on carrier pigeons (for my communication talk in two weeks), and found a video from WWI but without sound, so I tried to find a song to go with it. For some reason I clicked on this one song, and it WAS THE SONG! So later I found this man and played the song. He immediatly sat up straight in his wheelchair, started marching and singing along loudly (something he almost never does). It turns out that this was a very popular song of the time, and I played it for one woman and she too lit up and started singing the chorus:

Over there, over there,Send the word, send the word over thereThat the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are comingThe drums rum-tumming everywhere.So prepare, say a prayer,Send the word, send the word to beware -We’ll be over, we’re coming over,And we won’t come back till it’s over, over there.

The man then asked me if I could find a song in German. He asked for a German Nationalist song, “Ich hatt’ einen Kameraden” (which is interesting in itself, as he is a Jewish man who left Germany in 1933). He was amazed that I was able to find it, even though he did not like the fact that all of the songs that I found were choirs, rather than one singer. He proceeded to translate the song, which was actually quite sad.

When talking to the woman about this song, she then told me about her gramaphone that she had as a child. It was her job to turn the handle to make it work.But she remebers the day her father brought home an electric gramaphone, and so she no longer had a job to do, and so she felt less connected with it. She was reminicing about turning the handle and said that even though she had an electric one for longer, she remembers the manual one more because she was a part of it.

Posted in Stories from the Nursing Home

A Woman’s Bathroom

Story from a 90 year old woman, she was born in Germany,spent most of her life in Chicago, and then moved to Israel.

When she was in Chicago she worked in car parts sales. She was the only woman there, and for 7-8 years there was no bathroom for her to use. The men just went behind the building, and she would walk across the street to the gas station. She even had a sweater for the winter, just for this purpose.

Well, one day they had a surprise for her. They brought her to a room, and she opened the door (well tried to), and there was a toilet in the building. The only problem was that the door couldn’t open all the way, and there wasn’t really any space to enter into the room. When she told the men this, they didn’t really understand what the problem was, they told her “you can just stand next to the wall.”

Posted in Stories from the Nursing Home

Miracles of Today:Technology Can Be Amazing

Yesterday at work I was talking to one of the residents, who is 102 years old. He moved to Israel from Germany in 1933, knowing no Hebrew or Arabic at all- he is now fluent in both, and in English as well.

Yesterday he started singing something in English, I couldn’t tell what it was, but it seemed to be a song from WWI. Then he started another song. His daughter told me she knows it, but wouldn’t be able to sing it. I went to get my phone, first looked on Youtube, but when I didn’t find it there I searched Google. And then I found the song.

It started playing and all of a sudden all of his attention was on listing to a song he has not heard in who knows how many years. His daughter tried singing along, and he kept on shushing her. So I stood there, with my phone near his ear, him listening. You could see how his face changed, who knows what memories this song brings to him.

We use the internet, computers, and our phones all the time but do we ever really think about how amazing it is that we have the ability to hear and see things that if it were not for that, it would be lost forever?

In the spirit of Chanukah- let’s all find the light in our lives, find ways to bring light to others, and be able to see the small miracles around us.