A Place for Mom is proud to announce the 10 finalists of our annual Senior Care Scholarship. Read the finalists’ essays below and vote to let us know who you think has the most compelling scholarship entry. A gift card of $100 will be given to the essay that receives the most votes.
This year, over 800 entrants demonstrated their dedication to seniors, and we want to thank them all for their commitment to senior care and for their submissions.
Here are the 10 finalists of the 2016 Senior Care Scholarship, which prompted entrants to discuss this topic:
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Author Andy Rooney once said “The best classroom in the world is at the feet of an elderly person.” What is the one most important life lesson that you have learned from a grandparent or other senior in your life? Who was or is the senior in your life who inspires you? How will you use the lesson learned from them in your future career working with seniors?
Click the finalists’ names to read their essays:
Call it a tribe, call it a herd, call it a pack, call it whatever you want — we’re a family. Family really is something exceptional; that word alone is so powerful. I wouldn’t survive a day without my family. It’s so hard to comprehend all of the aspects a fellowship like that can bring into someone’s life. There’s something about being around the same people so often that’s surprisingly extraordinary, and each one of them has something to teach.
In my life, my family is the key to my existence. They have done so much for me that I don’t know how I could ever repay them. My family has shown me what it means to laugh, cry, and create memories. Through all of those giggles, tears, and scrapbook moments, my family and I have created a bond that will endure regardless of the obstacles that are sure to test it.
My family is like a wolf pack. There are ten of us and we live within one mile from each other. We spend a great deal of time with one another because our ‘pack’ does practically everything together. We go out to eat, camp, shop, watch movies, and go on road trips. Of course there are other activities of varied importance, but nothing fulfills us more than just hanging out. Wherever we might be, we like to sit back, talk, laugh, and spend time together.
There’s something special about the way my family functions. How we grow as individuals is affected immensely by of all of the time spent together. There have been so many moments where one of us is really struggling, and another family member steps in and completely changes that inner-battle to a life-lesson. The one-on-one talks, the gift of advice, and the heart-to-hearts we have help to build each other up to be stronger people.
As French Canadians, my family has special names for one another. Titles like “aunt” and “uncle” are replaced with “MonOncle” and “MaTante,” along with “Memere” and “Pepere” replacing “grandmother” and “grandfather.” However, my great-grandfather was referred to as The Downstairs Pepere. Now, I know how unusual that sounds. The Downstairs Pepere? Well, it is exactly how it sounds. This man was my great-grandfather and lived in our home with us for fifteen years. He always lived on the floor below us, whether it be in our apartment or our house. We took care of him in every way he needed, and love him more than words could ever explain.
The Downstairs Pepere was always the kind of man who fought; he was always fighting. He fought to build his family, to protect his country during World War II, to survive through all of life’s battles, and continued to fight even when he was at his most vulnerable place. This is also the man that would stick out his tongue at us, cheat at board games, and say the strangest things just to get a laugh out of us. That was his nature! The Downstairs Pepere had a fire burning in him that gave us all a rock to stand on and a smile to live by.
In 2011, the strength of my family was called upon. We were gathered around the bed of The Downstairs Pepѐre, my great-grandfather, during his final days. With quiet tears streaming down our faces, all of our eyes were set on the foundation that held our family together. A flood of memories swarmed the room, although hardly any words were spoken. We circled around him, and reached out to the most solid being we could — each other. We grasped one other’s hands as The Downstairs Pepѐre’s only daughter, my Memѐre, softly began singing. Her voice gently sang “Amazing Grace,” and within a few seconds we all joined and began singing with her to him.
That entire night was the most powerful experience I will ever encounter. The Downstairs Pepѐre was taking his last breaths, and in that moment we all felt as if we couldn’t breathe either. Bearing witness to his departure, we clung to each other for the strength to let him go. There was such sorrow, loss, and grief in that one room; there was nowhere else I would have wanted to be. For there was also immense love, faith, connection. I believe that those moments were really something exceptional, and I aspire to give other people the support they need in that vulnerable, delicate time. Being there for someone in their last moments and being there for their family will be so special. The Downstairs Pepere showed me what it means to care for someone and how to do it with the utmost amount of respect and love. I believe that it is my calling to use what I learned from my loved one to help in similar situations.
My grandfather has always supported me from day one. He was there when I had surgery at just 6 days old, and he was there for my mother when she was a working single mom. He made an arrangement with our neighbors, who at the time also had a newborn baby in the house. The mother would do mom’s laundry and babysit me, and he had formula and diapers delivered to their door weekly. He did this to help mom and I, but he also did it to help them; when he convinced mom to move back to Iowa, he sat down with the young couple that had helped us and handed them his business card.
“If you ever need anything, be it help or financial support, you call me first, and I’ll make it happen.”
When I first heard this story, I was proud, he was such a generous man, he helped everyone, he didn’t always know how he would at first, but he always made it happen.
12 years ago, Grandpa was diagnosed with a disease called Parkinson’s Disease, which is a progressive disorder of the nervous system, which causes difficulty with movement. I was 8 when he was diagnosed, I don’t remember ever being told he was diagnosed, it was just a part of life. Grandpa was fortunate to go many years without severe symptoms of the disease. 2 years ago, I moved to Davenport, Iowa, for college, and Grandpa and Grandma invited me to live with them. I wasn’t thrilled at first, I wanted to live on my own, live with roommates my own age, be able to go out and spend time with my friends and just be a normal college student, but now, I am incredibly grateful for what they have done for me; I have been able to pay for my first two years of college completely out of pocket, no loans or debts so far, all because they took me in and cared for me, I had no bills to worry about, and I could focus on my schoolwork.
I remember the week I moved, I was anxious because I didn’t have enough money for gas and tuition that week, I sold my old gaming system and video games to fill my tank, but when I told Grandpa, he was kind enough to pay for the tuition I could not afford, and grandma paid for my textbooks that semester, they did everything in their power to help me succeed. When I was fired from my first job, grandpa was waiting at the door when I got home, tears streaming down my face and my arms filled with possessions from my old locker, but he was the one who told me he would support me financially until I decided I wanted another job.
“Amelia,” he said, “it was just one job, there are thousands of other jobs you can do, don’t let this stop you from doing what you want to do.”
In the past 2 years, the disease has progressed rather quickly, faster than it had for the 10 years prior since the diagnosis. He has had difficulty walking, and in the past month and a half he has not been able to walk without a walker. Grandpa is not able to care for himself independently, Grandma and I work together to help him around the house, give him his scheduled medicines, and go about his daily tasks, it has been hard on us, but most of all, it has been hard on him. The disease does not affect the mind, just his body. In his head, he is as young as he wants, he knows how to work on cars, but his body will not allow him to.
Recently, he was told he qualified for Deep Brain Stimulation, which a brain surgery to help with his symptoms. Grandpa sat me down and told me about this procedure, and for the first time in 20 years on this Earth, I saw my Grandfather cry. He cried as he told me how scared he was, he told me about his life regrets, all the things he did not do even though he had wanted to. There is one thing that I will keep with me, it is the piece of advice he gave to me with tears in his eyes:
“Chase your dreams and accomplish them, because one day, if you don’t, you will regret it.”
It was then that I realized my “dream” of being a doctor could no longer be a dream, I had to do everything in my power to make it a reality, and since then I have been working hard to make that dream happen, just as Grandpa would have. I plan to help people, save lives, and make a difference in any way I can, because I might be able to save a life and give someone else’s Grandpa more time with them, to teach THEM lessons just as my grandpa has to me. The doctors gave him 10 years practically symptom-free despite his diagnosis, and I want to someday do that, help people live longer, and better, lives.
I grew up on a 300 acre farm in rural West Virginia. My fraternal grandparents lived about 200 yards away and were a regular influence in my life. My grandmother taught me how to plant a garden, how to sew, and a little bit of how to cook. My grandfather taught me to tie knots, drive a tractor, split wood, and the century old proper method of stacking hay bales on a wagon, but the most important lesson he ever taught me was that of stewardship.
Around the time I was a freshman in high school, we were learning about European crests and house mottos. I decided to ask my grandfather if our family had a motto. He paused for a moment and said he would tell me what his grandfather had told him, stewardship. Don’t take more than you need, and take care of what you have. The idea is an old Christian ideal. We are the stewards of the earth and like the stewards of a king’s estate we are to watch over and utilize the world until the king returns. No king wants to return to a ruined estate so we must be “good stewards.”
We talked about it a little longer, sharing examples this idea being applied to our lives and came to the conclusion that stewardship applied to every aspect of life not just running the farm. It applied to family, neighbors, and business. The idea of good stewardship applies to your daily interaction with your fellow man. I have carried that lesson with me for over a decade now. I told this story to my wife when we got engaged. I have told it to younger cousins as they grew into men and women, and I will tell it to my son when he is old enough to appreciate and understand it.
Stewardship is central to my daily life and I will carry it into my profession. Stewardship at its core is being strong enough to accept responsibility for the care of what has been given to you and to be certain to provide the best possible care with patience and understanding. Working as a nurse, I will give the utmost care and respect to any patient under my charge accepting responsibility for their physical and emotional well-being. I will have the understanding and patience to take the extra time when facing a patient with dementia or other cognitive impairment. Furthermore, I will work to pass on this idea of stewardship to my coworkers and teammates in an effort to improve senior care company wide with the hope that someday it could be industry wide.
I believe that by combining my education of psychology and nursing with my ideals of stewardship I will be one of the very best in my field and provide the very best in care. Every patient has the right to receive treatment with care and dignity, and this is even truer for elderly patients. Like Andy Rooney said, “The best classroom in the world is at the feet of an elderly person.” By being a good steward to my patients, I will have the opportunity to learn in hundreds if not thousands of classrooms.
His eyes were clear, light blue and they would crinkle when he would conspiratorially whisper something to me, usually right in front of my grandma and always something that would make her roll her eyes and always make me laugh. My grandfather taught me so much in my life, not just how he lived, but also how he died.
Born in 1938, the son of a first generation German immigrant and a carpenter James Middendorf grew to be a tall, thin man with a full head of dark, wavy hair. He set a new standard in frugality, rolling duct tape around his tennis shoes when they started tearing and saying you only need two pairs of pants, one to wear and one to wash. He put close to 200,000 miles on his Rambler, laying 2×4’s down when the floorboards wore out and using a screwdriver to start it when the key broke in the ignition. Rare was it to spend money on himself, but he would freely invest his time and money in time on his family. It was important to him to take us all away to places where we would spend time together. His favorite spot was a very rustic cabin tucked away in the Sawtooth mountains. It had no television, no telephone, no dishwasher and heat came from a pot belly stove, but it was chock full of love and fun. I know now that we scared away more fish than we caught, but he was always so patient, showing us how to cast and detangle our lines. We would take turns making the meals and doing the dishes and it taught me about cooperation and how work is just a little bit lighter when everyone pitches in. He would instigate competitions, whether it was who could build the best wooden boat out of the wood scrap pile, who could catch the biggest fish, the most fish, or the smallest fish, he always made it fun. Grandpa also had a great sense of humor. He was full of practical jokes, like having us mow his lawn just a little bit shorter on one neighbor’s side or building snowmen in their driveway. He taught me about loving life and the people in it.
My grandfather taught me so much about life, about how to live it, but the most impactful lesson he taught me was how he handled the end of his life. He had watched his own father die of Alzheimer’s, losing his mind, then losing control of his body, to the point that the last ten years of his life, his father did not know his name. He had to be feed liquids because he had forgotten how to swallow. My grandfather said that he was never going to be like that. He said he’d walk out in the woods and take care of things. That scared me, more than a little, but there was no arguing with him. Years flew past until, one day, his ordeal began. As a snowbird, he was down in Arizona for the winter when he had an episode where he did not know who anyone in the room was. Not his neighbors and not even my grandmother. He said he was panicked, scared down to his bones. Then, he said he saw my picture on the refrigerator and he instantly knew me. He reckoned it to a lifeline and he held with both hands. The episode passed after a few hours and he came back, but he knew it had come his turn to carry the cross. He insisted they sell the Arizona house and move back to Illinois to stay year round. He wanted to spend the rest of his life with his family. He was diagnosed shortly after with Alzheimer’s disease. I was worried he would end his life, but his decision to live in spite of the death sentence was amazing. Instead of cashing it in, he decided he was not going to give up a single day that God gave him. He quickly became more than my mom could handle and accepted the new home he was moved to. I would visit him several times a week and he was always happy to see me. He took joy in small things, such as a piece of chocolate, being taken for a walk or just having someone there with him.
My grandfather bore a tragic illness with a strength and grace that I did not expect. He taught me his greatest lesson, to be grateful for the gifts we have in life and to understand the impact we can have on other’s lives. I decided soon after his passing to become a nurse. I saw how important it was to provide quality of care and the impact it made on the elderly. Little things we do may not seem like much to us, but I have seen firsthand how much of an impact they make on the elderly.
My grandpa Ted was the type of man whose life was a great story waiting to be told.
However, if you were to have a brief encounter with him, even in his final days on this earth, nothing about his laid-back approach to life would make you think that he was anything more than a simple jolly old man.
When often speaking of his humble roots in Marquette, Michigan, no one would know that this man’s early adulthood was shaped by the experiences of serving in the Naval Medical Corps during World War II.
Nothing about his amicable ability to always turn the conversation to address how your day was going would make you think that this man was inducted to the Michigan Tech Athletic Hall of Fame for setting several all-time ice hockey scoring records.
Growing up, I was amazed at his ability to make familial connections upon chance encounters with total strangers. Little did these people know that this man had explored the world, from risky trips behind the iron curtain of Soviet Russia to helping in the construction of giant cranes with American Hoist in the artic circle.
In the final chapter of my grandpa Ted’s life, he was in-and-out of clinics, emergency rooms, hospital wards, and extended care facilities. He often had extended periods of absence away from my grandmother, due to her own failing health. Did the medical teams coordinating his care understand that this man was the patriarch to his wife, 2 sons, 3 daughters, 14 grandchildren and 1 great grand child?
While in the mind of my family, our storied grandfather was dearly beloved and the source of our familial pride. However, in the mind of the medical staff , was he anything more than the jolly old man in room 4 with the failing heart?
As a medical student, I have learned that even my most thorough social and family history often focuses on what is “pertinent” medically, but not personally. I have been personally guilty of trying to “keep patients on track” when interviewing elderly patients. Is this practice justified in an effort to provide “efficient care,” or does the cost of not allowing an elderly person to dignify himself or herself through relating their greatest accomplishments and stories far exceed that?
Though the memories of my grandfather’s final days are often painful to rethink, he had the blessing of dying at home, amongst his family, who knew the prolific life that he lived. His dignity was upheld in the last chapter of his life, and his legacy lives on through his family and friends, such as in this personal tribute.
While my grandfather’s life remains an example for me of a man dedicated to the service to others and personal achievement through hard work, it is the indirect lessons that I find myself most often reflecting on. I now find myself wondering what great experiences and stories will never be told of others due to no one caring to ask or listen. Is my patient, the quiet elderly man with hepatic failure in bed 6, an arms service veteran with a prominent athletic career like my grandfather? Most likely not, but does that mean that he doesn’t deserve the opportunity to tell his own unique story?
This is the lesson I will carry — that being merciful to others means hearing their stories. It means taking others seriously. It means diving into the chaos of other people’s lives. As a professional dedicated to the care of others, I find this a simple yet profound way of promoting patient dignity, even in the face of declining health. At the same time, I thank my grandfather for showing me what an incredible blessing and privilege it is to be invited to share in another’s life story.
I have been extremely fortunate throughout my life to meet the individuals I have. Growing up my grandmother was a nurse and my grandfather delivered medications to nursing homes and rehabilitation centers, so needless to say I was no stranger to the elderly community. Every visit I would go around to the residents and ask questions or ask to hear their stories. Even at a young age I was fascinated with their wit and wisdom. I can remember thinking “I wonder what all those old eyes have seen.” I always looked forward to my weekends and going to work with my grandfather, little did I know then that those visits were likely the highlight of some resident’s day.
Although I was only a child, I distinctly remember a conversation my grandfather and I had one afternoon leaving a retirement community. He explained to me how some kids get scared or uncomfortable in that kind of environment, and he was proud of me for not judging them for how they looked. Then he taught me something that has stuck with me to this day, he said “everyone grows old sugar, and unfortunately as that happens people can begin to feel less important, but no matter what age or condition you are in, everyone deserves to feel meaningful.” I had never heard something that touched my heart in that way before. From that point, my passion for helping the elderly began to grow.
I attempted to integrate my passion into as many aspects of my life as I could. Once I was allowed to get a job I began working as a dining room server for The Glebe Retirement Community in Botetourt County Virginia. I spent over four years at this facility and learned more about life and love than some learn in their lifetime. As I grew attached to these men and women I also had to learn about loss. I had never dealt with loss in my own family at that age, so when I lost my first close resident I had to learn how to deal with that kind of heartbreak. I spent a few of my evenings after work going to visit my residents in the hospital and holding their hand letting them know what a positive impact they made on my life. I received so much love and support from these residents and their families throughout the years, and it was because of my grandfather’s wisdom as a child to make them feel meaningful.
When the time came to start thinking about career options I knew the direction I wanted to go. Helping others, especially the elderly, was what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing. The physical therapy field is an occupation I had long admired, so I decided to shadow and volunteer at The Glebe where I worked. I immediately fell in love with how rewarding it was to help these individuals accomplish their goals and watch them heal. I had finally found a way to help these residents, just like they had helped and taught me every single day. Ever since those experiences I have worked to make that career possible.
To name one senior in my life that has inspired me is not a fair question. Truthfully I have been inspired by countless senior citizens throughout my life, and each of them impacted me in so many different ways. From men and women who have travelled the world to individuals that grew up with nothing to their name have taught me countless lessons by sharing their life experiences. By me being genuinely interested in what these people had to say, I have become richer in knowledge, wisdom, and humor than any of my peers. My grandfather’s lesson will be the foundation of my career, and I truly believe by making each individual feel they are important to me and others will help improve each life I touch.
I couldn’t agree more with Author Andy Rooney that “The best classroom in the world is at the feet of an elderly person.” My paternal grandmother is hands down the senior in my life who inspires me the most. When she was a young girl, she had Rheumatic Fever and was close to death, but she survived. She also survived breast cancer when I was first born. But, she has always maintained a “live life to the fullest attitude” and that certainly has rubbed off on me throughout the years.
My grandma has always followed her passions in life from having children to teaching to pursuing her dreams to photograph her journey as she has traveled all over the world. After she retired from teaching eight years ago, she has dedicated her time to helping others in the community, spending time with her grandchildren and traveling. Last year, she traveled to the Galapagos Islands and this February she went on an African Safari. Not only has she chosen to have such amazing experiences for herself, but also she has created amazing experiences for our family.
She has always been the fun, crazy grandma. The one to encourage us to take a risk, have some fun and never regret any choice you have made, but to learn from it. My favorite memory that I have with my grandma is from when I was about ten years old. The whole family was over at her house for Easter and she decided to start a squirt gun fight inside the house. We were diving behind the couch, using it as a shield, and water sprayed all over the walls as we missed our targets. My grandpa was less than thrilled as we ran throughout the house drenching everything in sight. But, soon the house was filled with giggles and shrieks and he would not help but join in the fun. What grandma decides to whip out the squirt guns in the middle of a family gather? Mine.
She is always there to remind us to grow old in age, but stay young at heart. I believe it is really important to spread that idea to other young people, but to also remind seniors whom I will work in the future that although they may not be young physically anymore, they can still have a young soul and continue to enjoy life by living it to the fullest. This has been especially important in my experience working as a waitress in an elderly health care facility all throughout my high school years. There will always be that one person who just isn’t having a good day and being silly and bringing out their inner child will help remind them that every day is a blessing. In the future, I will keep all of my activities I will use with the elderly as an Occupational Therapist as light hearted and fun as possible to help them realize even though they may be old, they can still have plenty of fun and live life to the fullest.
I recently read a news article about a preschool in Europe that was inside of a retirement home. It spoke about how the children helped brighten the residents’ days and kept them involved in day-to-day tasks. The children were also put in an environment with so many people that could teach them so many lessons. This article reminded me of Rooney’s quote as these children are truly learning at the feet of the elderly. I think this concept is a brilliant idea that should be integrated into retirement homes across America because it could help instill the idea that growing old means you grow wiser, but you don’t lose the sense of wonder of a child.
A poster in my classroom reads, “If you don’t have time to do it right, you must have time to do it again.” I never heard my grandmother, Mom-Mom, say those words exactly, but it could have easily been her catch-phrase.
Mom-Mom was a self-taught seamstress who sewed and made alterations for many years at The Golden Rule, a department store in my hometown. After The Golden Rule closed, she had several loyal customers who came to her for alterations and custom-made clothes. She sewed my mother’s wedding dress, as well as clothes for my sisters and me throughout the years.
Mom-Mom began teaching me how to sew when I was quite young. She started by teaching me the basics; I learned to cut and sew straight lines and made pillowcases. I worked my way up to sewing dresses. I was never as proud as that Easter Sunday when I wore my navy blue, cotton dress with pink and white flowers dancing across the full skirt and puffy sleeves; the dress that Mom-Mom had helped me create.
Through all the sewing lessons, Mom-Mom was always reminding me to slow down, take my time, and do it right the first time. After I would finish a seam at a breakneck speed, she would take a look at my work and often hand me the seam ripper because I needed to rip out the seam and sew it again. It was very frustrating as a kid to be told that my work simply was not good enough. At the time, it seemed like she was nit-picking just because she could, but she was actually teaching me a very important lesson: if you don’t have time to do it right the first time, you must have time to do it again.
Eventually, I learned that I could save myself a lot of time, frustration, and extra effort just by slowing down and doing it the way she told me to do it the first time. It took many years, many tears of frustration, and many miles of ripped out seams to realize this important lesson. I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to learn it from Mom-Mom.
As I embark on a career in nursing, I know that this lesson will serve me well regardless of the age of the person I am caring for. In everything I do, I know there is the right way and there are numerous wrong ways. The wrong way may initially accomplish the goal, but will eventually need to be redone the proper way. More than that, shortcuts in nursing could mean much more than just needing to do something over, it could be a matter of life and death for the person I am caring for. Not only will I not have the time to do my work twice, but it may be too late to do it the right way if a shortcut harms someone.
Anytime I sit at my sewing machine, I still hear Mom-Mom’s voice reminding me to sit up straight and take my time. I know that I will have that same calm, reassuring voice reminding me to always do my best, take my time, and do it right the first time when I am carrying out my duties as a nurse.
“Always remember to love, to laugh and to listen.”
Ever since I was a little girl, my grandma stressed the importance of this simple life lesson. At each stage of my life, these words took on a slightly different meaning. As a child, I associated these words with family and obedience. I should listen to my elders and love my younger brother, even though he annoys me sometimes. As a teenager, these words provided comfort. No matter what mistakes I made, I could always count on my parent’s love and support, and no matter what embarrassing situation may arise, laughing them off was always better than taking life too seriously. Later as an adult, I understood that love was a beautiful marriage of devotion and compromise, and that by finding a partner to love, I would also gain a partner to laugh with and someone who would always be there to listen.
The lessons my grandma has taught me have guided me through my years, and now that I am about to begin the next stage of my life as a naturopathic medical doctor, I realize, even more, how significant these lessons really are.
“Love is the bridge between you and everything.” — Rumi
Of all the treatments we as doctors prescribe to our patients, I’ve found that love is one of the most powerful medicines. Love in its many forms and manifestations — such as care, compassion, tenderness, appreciation and respect — can have significant actions. Love can heal wounds, build trust, decrease pain and create avenues for healing. Knowing that elder abuse is a growing concern in North America, I believe that my grandma’s lesson — remembering to love, to laugh and to listen — is even more relevant. As a future naturopathic doctor, my aim is to provide a caring and compassionate environment to support my geriatric patients throughout their healing journey. My deepest purpose is to create positive change by affecting and empowering my patients to achieve optimal health and wellness through education, positivity and nurturing support. And I intend to do so by remembering to love.
“Laughter is the language of the soul.” — Pablo Neruda
Laughter allows for healing of the body, mind and spirit. As we age, we gain knowledge, wisdom and a deeper understanding of the world—though too often, we lose our sense of light-heartedness and we forget to laugh. With laughter, anxiety reduces, mood increases, and “feel-good” endorphins are released. Remembering the lesson my grandma taught me, I will continue to laugh and encourage my senior patients to laugh, not only for the health of their physical body but also for the health of their soul.
“The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear.” — Rumi
As a new doctor, overwhelmed with information, anxious about meeting the expectations of our doctor-patient interactions, and fearful of not knowing all the answers, we are always taught to go back to the basics. So I did. I recalled the lesson my grandma shared with me, “always remember to love, to laugh and to listen.” As I sat silently, began to quiet my mind and really be present for my patients, I heard them tell their story. I became aware of the details of their symptoms, noticed the intonations of their voice and picked up on the subtleties of the case. As I remembered to listen, I realized that my “case taking” and diagnosis skills increased significantly and my patient rapport and trust grew quickly. As a result, the treatment plans I created worked more effectively and the number of patient coming to see me grew through word-of-mouth.
As I move forward from being a naturopathic medical student into my own clinical practice in the field of geriatrics, I will continue to remember to listen — to my patients and my clinical reasoning and intuition. I believe it is essential to listen, especially when working with seniors and those with chronic pain who need an opportunity to be heard, and a health care practitioner who will take the time to listen.
Always remember to love, to laugh and to listen. These words have affected my life in more ways than I could have imagined. As a doctor, this lesson has guided my interaction with patients, deepened my understanding of medicine and connection, and increased the effectiveness of my treatments. I am grateful for my grandma’s pearls of wisdom. Because of her words, I have become wiser, and by passing them on to the patients I meet, I will be able to create positive change in the lives of others.
It’s my first day at a new job. I’m in an unfamiliar setting, with new people; faces I have never seen before. I have started a new job in a nursing home, and little did I know that my first day working as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) would be one for the books. As a brand new CNA, I was still a little unsure of how to interact with the residents I was meeting for the first time. Do I talk to them normally? Do I yell loudly to make sure they can hear me? Do I call them ‘honey,’ or ‘sweetie,’ to prove to my new coworkers that I am in fact, a compassionate being? Do I move them myself, or do I have to have another CNA with me at all times? What do I do when I see poop? That’s right: poop. As in fecal matter. As in I deal with human excrement all day. At the end of the night I reflected on all the bad things I had experienced on my first 3-11 shift. I had been spit on, puked on, punched in the face by a resident who had Alzheimer’s and was unable to communicate his feelings, and I also got fecal matter on my scrubs when helping a resident onto the bedpan. However, there was one upside to the night: I made a new friend.
She was a 4’11 Irish woman that was hard of hearing and couldn’t see me unless I was an inch from her face. When I first introduced myself to Mary as her new aide, she replied with, and I kid you not, “great, another idiot to tell me when to wake up and when to go to bed.” At first I was taken aback and left her room this way I wouldn’t disturb her anymore. I decided at that point that point that although she may be a mean senior citizen, she still was to be treated with respect and kindness. After weeks of getting to know Mary better, she opened up to me. She told me all about her late husband Richard, and how when he first met her, she was wearing a red dress and felt unstoppable. She told me about the love she had for her 6 children, and the agony she felt over losing one of her sons to cancer. She also told me about her death; how she couldn’t wait to return to Staten Island and return to the arms of her husband some day. Over time, Mary became like a surrogate grandmother to me. During my breaks at work, we would have tea together, and I would play rummy with her. When I talked to her I saw the sparkle of a young, and in-love twenty something year old instead of the declining 96 year old woman that I knew her to be.
Eventually, time has a way of changing things. Mary had a stroke while I was on vacation, and when I returned, she was back to the angry 96 year old I had first met. A few weeks later, Mary suffered two falls, and that is what led to her death. In her rapid decline, she often hallucinated and called out the names of her children and her husband. One night after her children left, I went into her room to hold her hand as she laid in bed dying. I remember in her agony she was crying and groaning and gasping for breath, and at one point she uttered my name. Even though she was cognitively unaware of what was happening, I like to think that deep inside her, she was aware that I was there to comfort her in her time of need. A few days later, Mary passed peacefully, with her children by her bedside. I was the aide that was given the responsibility of cleaning her and preparing her for her trip to the funeral home. Her daughter Peg hugged me that night and said to me “my mom loved being here and loved you; you changed her life and I owe you so much. One day you are going to be an incredible nurse.”
Mary’s death is not one I took lightly. It was incredibly emotional for me to lose the woman I had spent a year getting to know, and learning to love. However, she did teach me that no matter what age; friendship is timeless. I’ve taken this mindset that my relationship with Mary taught me, and have implemented it to the other residents I take care of. I come to work each day and am a companion for my residents. I am their friend, their confidant, the one they talk to when they are upset. Learning that I can both a worker and a friend to the elderly that I work with inspires me to become a nurse, because while I still want to do both, I also want to teach other CNA’s how to do the same. Nurses and nursing aide’s are the ones that residents interact with daily, and they are the ones that need to offer their hand to hold, their shoulder to cry on, and their ear to listen from. Mary’s friendship will forever be the most genuine and important tie to an older person I have ever had the privilege of having.