Part of the appeal of being with Frontier Nursing Service is that I get to see many different parts of the community, volunteering with different organizations and shadowing multiple providers.  The best phrase that can describe the way I feel when cross overs happen is “stunned amazement”.  Seeing the doula who will be training you in techniques come in for her bronchitis.  Meeting the mother of a little girl you’ve been helping read when she gets off after her shift at the nursing home.  Or more upsetting, seeing an elderly patient that you remember being told was going to be able to go home only to see her again in the nursing home, realizing that this is home now.

I know it is only bias that I’ve had since growing up, or perhaps it is due to the uneasy reminder of our own frail mortality, but I’ve never been comfortable in nursing homes.  I saw them as places families sent away their once loved ones to be forgotten and ignored until they die, alone.  The idea of sending away a parent who had raised you, sacrificed so much for you, loved you to a complete fullness that we are constantly told we will only understand once we have a little one of our own seemed utterly barbaric to me.  What kind of person would do that?

And so I found myself, in the nursing home.  Uneasy to the point that I’m surprised that I did not start speaking in gibberish.  The fact that the workers weren’t sure what I was doing there did not help matters (I was the first FNS person they had sent in a while).  When they started to show me different patients (residents?) that I could spend time with, I started to relax a little.  Only to freeze up completely when a man in a wheelchair who must have suffered a stroke at one point based on his speech patterns, threw his baseball cap at me while stating that I was real pretty.  The lady with me explained that he loves company, especially the company of ladies.  So I like the coward I am ran off instead with the little old lady who was not hitting on me, but wandering the halls, lost back in her memory some 40+ years ago to when her own mother was sick.

She wandered up and down the halls, telling me of how her mother was doing better then yesterday, but was still real sick.  How her father called her to tell her to come home and fix supper for the family.  She told me her mother was only 40 years old and having spine problems.  The lady speaking was quite easily 70 years old.   She kept trying to escape, to return to her sick mother, to help her family.  It was with a distant sadness that I watched this heartbreak, wondering what was her life’s story and if she had spent her entire life in this small community.   While wandering the halls with her, I saw many other folks.  A good number of them unable to care for themselves at all.  So many with catheters for both their bowels and urine.  It hurt to see them, lying there, with little to look forward to or engage their endless empty hours with.

All the while, I am not sure why it hurt so much.  Growing up my father often made the joke that he had to be nice to me now because I’d be choosing his nursing home in the future.  The idea of my father, a man who has always been considered by me to be hands down the strongest man on the world, being so completely dependent frightened me.  At the same time, there were whispered reminders in the back of my mind, of how one day it might be me in a place like this, so weakened that I cannot even roll to my side without assistance.

In some ways, I started to understand, even sympathized with families who choose to leave a loved one in a nursing home.  It was hard for me to see complete strangers in these states.  I cannot even begin to imagine the pain it would be to see my own father in such a situation, day after day.  The mental strain of changing a parent’s diaper, or having to feed them through a tube, or giving them a sponge bath must be enormous. Or the emotional hurt of having a parent forget what year it is, where they are, or even who the person taking care of them is.  Not to bring up all of the personal medications that are easily confused.  It must be a heart wrenching decision to leave a family member here, especially with the cost.  While I was waiting for the workers to figure out what to do with me, I saw the pricing on some of the services here.  Over $150 a day for a semiprivate room (which has the same privacy of a hospital basically), with I’m not sure how much covered by Medicare.

This place will most likely be the most difficult place for me to serve, in part because of the uncertainity of what I should be doing, and in part because I will have to face many personal fears and worries.  I am hoping by the end of the next month  in Kentucky, I will be less uncomfortable, if not mildly comfortable with serving within their walls.