Posted on February 24, 2010 - by Nurse Virginia
Mabel died today. Minutes later, a nurse hurried down the hall carrying two old books. She stopped and excitedly showed me what the staff found when they cleaned Mabel’s room. She held up books on physics. “Mabel wrote them! Can you believe that? I never knew she wrote anything.”
We had cared for Mabel for six years, but none of us staff knew she had written any books. When she came to us, Mabel was already afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. We later learned that Mabel had been a prominent physicist.
As I listened to the nurse, I thought, Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if Mabel could have enjoyed our expressions of respect, awe, and admiration? Now it was too late.
That true story isn’t an isolated instance. Too often the nursing home staff learn about residents from reading the obituaries. The individual life stories never make it to the direct care staff, even if it had been reported to social workers on admission. The story had been diluted to minimum facts on a fill-in sheet at the back of the chart under the Social Service tab.
With the focus on patient confidentiality, the direct caregivers have access only to the information needed so they can do their jobs. They receive information such as whether the elders are continent, whether they can brush their teeth, bathe independently, or need walkers.
For quality of life, the information needed by the staff involves such things as who they are and something about their families, where they came from, and what they’ve accomplished in their lives. As it is now in the admission interviews, the conversation between families and caregivers revolves around the tasks of caring for the elder.
Too often the individuals become known only by their diagnosis. The new hip in 403, the Parkinson’s in 602, or the hip replacement in 403 – instead of Mrs. Jones who just had a hip replacement in 403. I became sensitive to that need early in my career, when I took care of an elderly man with Alzheimer’s disease. His children had hand written a letter to the staff and it was posted on his door. It began with these words: “Dad worked his entire life with cardboard.”
Excerpt from: Please Get To Know Me – Aging with Dignity and Relevance
By: Virginia Garberding with Cecil Murphey
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