These past two weeks, I was given the opportunity to partake in a clinical experience at a nursing home. My first thought about this experience was that it would be boring and gross and thank God it was just my three week experience. I honestly do not think I have ever been more wrong in my entire life.
Anyone who thinks “old people” are boring hasn’t given them the time of day. In my short time at this nursing home, I have talked to WWII veterans, mothers of 8 children, little old ladies with hip replacements, patients with dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, those who have suffered severe strokes, people with cancer, people receiving dialysis three times each week, and one who passed after I had only known her for 1 week. I have come to love these patients as if I have known them forever and have been anything but bored.
There is something so special about a person with a less than mediocre prognosis who is willing to come to therapy for 3 hours every single day. That’s comparable to 3 hours at the gym on three separate occasions for a regular, healthy, young person. There is no way you could drag my lazy butt to the gym three separate times each day. These patients work so hard, and they let us push them until they are exhausted because they simply want to be able to go home to their loved ones.
Watching the Victoria’s Secret fashion show couldn’t motivate me to go to the gym more than these patients do every single day.
Aside from the obvious work ethic of this population, there is such a positive vibe coming from each of the patients. Despite whatever situation they might be dealing with, they’re okay. If they’re unhappy, I wouldn’t know it because they don’t project their negativity onto anyone. That is so beautiful to me. In a generation full of nothing but complaining, being with people like this everyday has 100% made me feel more whole.
Working at the nursing home has given me the same feeling I get when I am volunteering at the animal shelter. You get attached to people and you love them so much, and then they get better and they get to go home. This means you won’t see them anymore, and a selfish little part of you wishes they were staying so you could continue to see them everyday. But they’re so excited to leave, and that makes you so happy. It’s so weird to be so sad and happy at the same time, but I want this feeling forever.
There are also the patients who are “long term”, meaning they probably won’t get to go home. My heart aches for them. I wonder if they get daily visitors, if they like their roommate, if they like daytime television shows, what they like to read, if they’re sad or lonely, if they get the snacks they like, or if they have found a friend they can talk to at the nursing home.
I have found that working in a nursing home may not challenge my skills as a clinician in the ways I originally thought I wanted to be challenged. I will not need to think of high level exercises, because standing up and sitting down five times in a row will exhaust my patients. I can, however, be challenged in different ways. I can think of creative ways to gain compliance in patients with Alzheimer’s who are confused or being silly. I can think of ways to keep my patient with CHF awake and engaged during stretches that need to be done but put him right to sleep because he is constantly exhausted. I can really listen to what my patients are saying so I have something besides myself and the weather to talk about each day they come into therapy. I can think of ways to challenge reluctant patients so they don’t realize they’re being challenged. As long as I don’t become complacent, I won’t be bored a single day in my life.
At the end of my clinical rotations, I will only be a PTA. I won’t be able to do everything I want to be able to do for every single patient, but I can assure you that I will do my best every single day to help these people feel whole, happy, and as independent as they can be.
“The closest thing to being cared for is to care for someone else.”