Hopefully, everyone can say they have had a day in their career when it became very clear what their profession is really about. Most of us want more than just paying off bills and creating financial security. We want to know that we have made an impact in the course of our profession.
I had one such day when I arrived at the nursing home to see my clients. The staff was upset by the sudden change in one of their residents; we'll call him Bob.
Bob was a delightful elderly man who had been on the unit for close to a year, but he was suddenly showing changes in what the staff cataloged as behavioral problems.
A typically neat man who had lived an exciting life of flying planes and buying race horses, sat disheveled before me. He had become uncharacteristically resistant and crude toward the staff over the weekend.
As we sat together, I posed a few questions to him regarding his own well-being. He was able to acknowledge that he was changing before his own eyes and didn't really care for what he was seeing. His speech was slow, he had trouble finding words, and he fought back tears, but eventually was able to say, “I know I'm forgetting who I am.” Looking me in the eye, he added, “It's your job to remember who I am.”
I was the speechless. In just a few faltering words, Bob had summed up the purpose of why I, and many others, work with those in the geriatric population.
The disease process can be demoralizing. Lifelong skills taken for granted can be diminished or altogether lost. In caring for our residents and clients, the goal is to do all we can to sustain their sense of self, diminishing the misery of these deficits within our ability.
But the tradeoff is well worth it!
In remembering who my clients are, I've heard firsthand accounts of the Boston Molasses Flood, the horrors of The Great War and stories of liberation following World War II, the names of Gloucester fishing boats as well as the names of grandchildren and who will carry on the heritage of my client.
Remembering the impact that my client has made in the course of their living, provides a valuable direction for a therapy, as well as better ways to understand what is perceived as behaviors for an individual experiencing dementia.
Remembering their history can be an unexpected anchor to my own heritage.
New England Geriatrics for 17 years