All nursing homes are not alike. I certainly thought, as most people do, that homes for the elderly and sick were terribly bad. For how many of us have not heard some horror story about nursing home abuses and the mistreatment of patients?
My real introduction to the nursing home culture came as a result of my brother-in-law, after a major stroke, spending his remaining years in Niagara Lutheran Nursing Home. Whatever negative feelings I may have carried prior to that experience have since become part of a faded history.
I must admit that when the family first began its visits to the home, we were skeptical and somewhat watchful for patients in need of care and for staff members needing to adjust their attitudes. But in six years, we found neither. What we did find was a group composed of staff and administrators all on the same page and proud of the work that they were doing for their clients.
We also found a flexible policy allowing family and friends to visit both day and night. On those occasions when the staff was busy attending to my brother-in-law, my sister-in-law would roam from floor to floor conversing with patients and engaging the staff. No area was sacrosanct.
Wherever she went, the patients and facilities were clean, the staff always welcoming and courteous. Whenever I visited the home, I was touched by the affects of long years of work and sacrifice that I could see in the faces and postures of the elderly in wheelchairs.
The lucky ones were visited by relatives and friends; the not-so-lucky were lonely souls forgotten by friends too busy to care, abandoned by family who prefer to forget. Yet they would have been lonelier still if it were not for the warm embrace of staff, from maintenance workers to administrators.
Looking into those faces, I was reminded that we seem nowadays to care less for those who cared for us. While some clients successfully convalesce and are returned home, there are those who will remain at the home as their final address. Because of this, the staff works as family to make those remaining years the most comfortable and enjoyable possible.
In today's universe of madness, there is at least this one facility where patients are treated with human dignity and respect, and where being kind seems effortless. I asked one staff member about that effort, and she told me that as individuals they all have problems they must wrestle with, "but it is our duty to dedicate ourselves to doing the best job possible, and in order to do that we must leave our troubles at the door."
When I was a very young man, a substitute came to fill in for our regular teacher, who was absent because of illness. Why he chose to pass this little lesson on to us, I will never know; but what he said has always remained with me.
He said, "If we were all sitting at a table in a room with our troubles packaged and bundled in front of us, and if we were able to look around that room and see the size of the bundles that others had sitting in front of them, we would quietly pick up our little bundles and slowly steal away."
Those faces, those postures, those wheelchairs will always remind me of how very small can be the size of one's own bundle.