"How Can You Stand It?"

by VivaLasViejas Guide

5,222 Visits | 25 Comments
  1. 38
    If I had a nickel for every time I've had to answer that question, I'd be able to retire tomorrow.

    It is a question I am often asked whenever I meet new people. After the how-do-you-dos are said and the subject inevitably turns to "what do you do?", I almost always get sympathetic looks and comments on how I must be such a saint to work in a nursing home, with "all those senile old people" who are "just going to die anyway".

    "How can you stand it?" they want to know. "Don't you ever get depressed/bored/frustrated/angry having to take care of people who can't even go to the BATHROOM by themselves?"

    The short answer, naturally, is No. I love what I do! I don't necessarily love everything about it---the sheer volume of paperwork comes to mind immediately---but the long answer is this:

    1) I do this work, in part, to honor my parents' generation. I was orphaned relatively young, and some of what I miss about having parents are the stories........of the Depression, of the hardships that shaped their characters, of the war that defined America at its best. At the nursing home, my residents may not remember my name or what they had for breakfast this morning, but they can recount, in vivid detail, every moment of their wedding day or a battle they took part in. There will never again be a generation like theirs; I want to hear as many stories as I can and cherish them in my heart, for once they are gone, no one can take their places.

    2) As a Baby Boomer, I'm no youngster anymore, and there are already two generations after mine who remind me of that every day. But hanging out with eighty- and ninety-somethings tends to push away any thoughts of creeping decrepitude and make me feel positively youthful........especially when one of my old gentlemen tells me in all seriousness, "you may not be a spring chicken, but you're still beautiful to me".

    3) Caring for the elderly is a ministry as well. Whenever I hold a glass of water to dry lips, spoon food into a hungry mouth, or assist a resident with repositioning to make him comfortable, I am reminded of Jesus' words: "Whenever you have done it to the least of these, you have also done it to me." Knowing that helping the helpless is pleasing in His sight makes the less-glamorous aspects of the work much easier to bear, and I like to think that perhaps I could be helping one of His angels in disguise!

    4) The word 'serendipity' has become more than a word; it's a way of life. How can there possibly be anything on earth better than earning a decent living doing work I love?

    5) Contrary to popular opinion, LTC isn't boring. I get the opportunity to use whatever creative gifts I possess on a daily basis. What other healthcare setting gives one so many chances to learn how to improvise (wrapping washcloths around the ripped upholstery on an old wheelchair to prevent skin tears when the resident's insurance won't pay for a new one), think critically (hey, wait a minute, let's do a fingerstick before we give that Ativan---Mrs. P. gets agitated only when her blood sugar's too high), and face adversity without panicking ("OK, this resident's toes just fell off in my hand........he's not freaking out, he doesn't even know it's happened, so let's be cool now")?

    6) I've discovered that a place that deals in decline and death just happens to be a great laboratory in which we can learn much about life. I am probably never closer to understanding the purpose of my existence on this planet than when I am caring for someone about to leave it. It is an honor and a privilege to be the last voice another human being hears, the last touch he or she feels as life slips away. It's never easy.......but I wouldn't trade my experiences with the dying for anything.

    7) Oh, and as if all that weren't enough: I get to have fun at work! And I have an appreciative audience for my funny and dramatic sides---the residents love it when I tell corny jokes and recite silly poems, when I stomp down the hall singing old songs in a loud and off-key voice, and when I dress up in outrageous costumes on the different 'theme' days. I enjoy keeping the mood on the unit light, and even my more curmudgeonly folks tend to respond favorably to my efforts in therapeutic communication. Like the time I was checking a blood sugar and forgot where I was for half a second; I'd just finished a Coke, and when I went to say something to the resident, a horrendous belch issued instead..........which to my surprise resulted NOT in condemnation, but raucous laughter! To this day, she doesn't remember my name, but she knows my face and voice, and she tells everyone who'll listen: "That's the nurse who burped---she's my favorite!"

    And that, folks, is how I can "stand" working in LTC. For whenever I touch one of these dear old souls, I realize once again that it's really been the other way around all the time.
    Last edit by VivaLasViejas on May 12, '09
    JTODDRN, KellyP78, Sparrowhawk, and 35 others like this.
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  4. About VivaLasViejas

    VivaLasViejas joined Sep '02 - from 'The Great Northwest'. Age: 55 VivaLasViejas has '17' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'LTC, assisted living, geriatrics, psych'. Posts: 24,589 Likes: 33,394; Learn more about VivaLasViejas by visiting their allnursesPage


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    25 Comments so far...

  5. 2
    Well done. I dearly hope that my dear grandpa had an angel like you caring for him in his final days.
    kool-aide and VivaLasViejas like this.
  6. 3
    :heartbeat
    Bless you! I am sure you make a positive difference in the lives of your residents. Hopefully, when I'm at the end of my days, I'll be fortunate enough to have someone like you to care for me.
    LockportRN, TrishJK, and VivaLasViejas like this.
  7. 1
    The way I look at it, SOMEBODY has got to care about these people---the government sees them as numbers, the medical establishment largely ignores and under-treats them, and the corporations that own and operate nursing facilities view them only in terms of dollars and cents. And one day in the not-too-terribly-distant future, it'll be my own generation filling these buildings..........in fact, it's already happening, as some residents are only a few years older than I am!

    Someone far wiser than I already said this, and I believe it to be true: you have to BE the change you want to see in the world. This is my way of being that change. What is yours?
    LockportRN likes this.
  8. 2
    great post. i worked in an nursing home for a while, and once i got past the smells and sadness, i realized how much love i had for these people. that is someone's loved one. and the ones who had the worst cases were often the most loving, caring, nicest, and most positive people i'd ever met. how can you not want to help give them the best life possible?

    i also think you have to have a good sense of humor to work in a nursing home; sometimes it's the only way i got through...
    TrishJK and VivaLasViejas like this.
  9. 2
    Intermittently I have been called upon to care for elderly family members which involved frequent visits to nusing homes, hospitals, and hospice care. I always wanted to stay longer and never minded caring for my aged relatives.

    At 56, I am facing a forced return to work due to economic circumstances. My choice is to return to my profession as a laboratory technologist which has become automated and remote from the healing process.

    I have seriously contemplated re-education as an RN because I hope that it will take me closer to the job of healing and helping. Specifically, I have wondered if I would be suitable as a geriatric nurse. Were my feelings and joy of taking care of my elderly relatives based on my history with them or could it be transferred to strangers?

    You have answered my question with your passionate essay in which every word rang true. I am printing out your words and posting them close to my heart.
    TrishJK and VivaLasViejas like this.
  10. 3
    Quote from novacin
    Intermittently I have been called upon to care for elderly family members which involved frequent visits to nusing homes, hospitals, and hospice care. I always wanted to stay longer and never minded caring for my aged relatives.

    At 56, I am facing a forced return to work due to economic circumstances. My choice is to return to my profession as a laboratory technologist which has become automated and remote from the healing process.

    I have seriously contemplated re-education as an RN because I hope that it will take me closer to the job of healing and helping. Specifically, I have wondered if I would be suitable as a geriatric nurse. Were my feelings and joy of taking care of my elderly relatives based on my history with them or could it be transferred to strangers?

    You have answered my question with your passionate essay in which every word rang true. I am printing out your words and posting them close to my heart.
    Wow..........you just made my week!!:heartbeat

    I wish you the best of everything in your endeavors. Geriatrics is often considered the low end of the nursing totem pole, which makes it hard to attract the best and brightest to our specialty; we need all of the people like you we can possibly get!!

    nickos, MichelleB34, and TrishJK like this.
  11. 1
    Wonderful, Viva! I spent some time last year volunteering and then working in a nursing home, and you captured many of my thoughts too.

    My teacher for Human Growth & Dev required us to do volunteer work at the facility of our choice and the nursing home was mine. We then had to write an essay about our experience. I hope to post that on the site somewhere later today.
    VivaLasViejas likes this.
  12. 2
    What a wonderful summation of working in LTC. I also worked in LTC and miss it. I found my clinical skills in critical care, but I really found my soul in LTC. I had moments like that, too, and am thinking about going back. I miss working with elders. It is more challenging and rewarding than people think it is. Thank you so much for writing such a beautiful post. It was a shot in the arm for me!
    TrishJK and VivaLasViejas like this.
  13. 5
    I also work in a LTC facility and have since getting my LPN license 4 years ago. It was supposed to be a "job" until I was able to find something "better". I enjoy working with my residents. Many of them have no family, or have family that don't visit. They look forward to having me there, I too tell corny jokes and sing off tune, but they appreciate the attention that I give them. IDK why people look down on us, b/c like u said someone has to care for them!!!


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