We all have that one resident-the one who touches the caregiver’s life in way that can not be explained. This is the case with a gentleman we nicknamed “Pop”; who moved into the facility in late October. Dementia had taken control of his thoughts causing him to need total care. One thing Pop could do very well was….talk. The man loved to talk!
Let me share a little background to help you know the man we all loved and understand the power of interaction between caregiver and patient.
Pop spent his entire life working as a Game Warden – he loved the outdoors which made his job the perfect fit for his life. His side hobby was rebuilding classic cars and tinkering with his own 97 short-bed Ford Ranger. Pop believed in stretching his dollar as far as it could be stretched and then some, so much so, people would say “he is so tight, he squeaks when he walks” If a new fuel pump was $69.99 at one store, he would travel 25 miles to save eight cents!
As Pop aged, he needed a little help with pulling transmissions, starters and other such big jobs . When seeking someone to help him out, he would call around and ask ” Hey Buddy, how much would you charge to help me for about two hours today?” If Pop thought the price was too high, he would reply,” Let me think on it get back to you.” He would then proceed down his list, calling each- “Hey Buddy, how much would you charge to help me for about two hours today?”. He would then say, “Let me get back to you……”.
Sadly, Pop began to show signs of dementia shortly after his retirement. He and his wife , Sarah, lived alone in a very rural area, with their sons living in a distant city. Sarah did the best she could, managing the house, finances, grocery shopping, lawn care and every other task associated with every-day life. The day finally came for her to reach out to her children for assistance; describing herself as ‘worn out, worn down and exhausted”. Within hours, Sarah and Pop were in the car, headed to the city to stay with their oldest son, Jerry.
Once everyone was settled in, Jerry saw a side of his father he had never seen before -a man who was aggressive when Sarah tried to help him shower and “get him cleaned up” as she called it. Jerry realized that the family was not equipped to handle Pop, for fear of him hurting Sarah due to the progression of the disease process. It was at that point, Pop moved into the facility and a new chapter for everyone involved would be written.
Oh how the staff loved Pop! He would call out, “Hey Buddy, come here. How much would you charge to put this started in? ” “Hey Buddy, come here, let me talk to you for a minute. How much are we looking at for the muffler and the tailpipe?” The staff, including myself would name our price which varied greatly- some would say $200 cash, others would say $15.00,- whatever the price was Pop would reply: “I have to think on it. When do I have to let you know?
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Twenty minutes would pass, Pop would call out again- repeating the same as before. Again the staff would reply with their prices, leaving Pop to think on it each and every time. Like clockwork, every day, every 15-20 minutes or so ( unless he was napping), Pop was always bidding out his labor needs. The days he wanted to go in great detail about his automotive concerns, the staff would sit down with him and talk “car parts” with him, until he dozed off.
Then came Thursday. As I walked past Pop, he called out…“Hey Buddy, come here, I want to ask you something. How much would you charge to put a starter in a pickup truck? ” Without hesitation, I gave him a price of $650 to which he replied, “Let me think about that. Is that for parts and everything? I just have to think on it..” The rest of the day, Pop dozed on and off, didn’t eat much for dinner and just seemed “not right”. The nurses assessed him finding his overall vitals being within normal limits, no issues noted. As the evening wore on, Pop declined further causing the nurses to send him out to the hospital.
Friday morning, Jerry came to my office. I could tell by his facial expression, this was not going to be good. “ Dad’s not going to make it. He is in heart failure, kidney failure and a whole list of other things that the doc says aren’t good. We will be lucky if he makes it through the weekend. I appreciate everything you and your staff have done to give his life meaning and purpose.” We talked about the great life Pop had lived, about his cars and farm…….we just talked. I asked hos Sarah was holding up under the present circumstance and of course the answer was not good.
Later that day, I stopped by the hospital to check in on the family and on Pop. Sarah was beyond devastation; but there she sat, holding Pop’s hand as the tears rolled down her cheeks. Pop laid perfectly still in the bed, eyes closed. When the time came for me to slip out, I leaned over to Pop, and said….” Hey Pop, I am going to drop that price I gave you on the starter job. Going to drop it down to $5, everything included.” His eyes opened and he softly mumbled something……… The family was in shock at his reaction as was I. Just as quickly as he opened his eyes, he closed them again. Saturday morning, Pop passed away.
The reason I chose to write about Pop was this: Those working in health care field need to know that those under their care, responsive or not, confused or not- every encounter matters. The nursing assistant that sat with Pop and rebuilt the engine for $50 dollars didn’t know how to change oil in her own car, but carried the conversation with him and gave him a sense of purpose. The nurse who would seek Pop out to make conversation about cars- gave Pop and opportunity to be the man he was.
Health care workers have hard jobs. Yet, be it known that the work they do matters. If I could say one thing to any health care provider regardless of rank or file, it would be : What you do and say to every patient MATTERS. Your kindness and compassion may go unnoticed, but as evidenced by Pop, it is remembered by the patient. Dementia, Alzheimer’s, strokes- whatever the diagnosis a patient may have- you touch their life when you take the time just to listen and have a conversation. Many people would have thought Pop was just a confused man who was stuck in the past- but he wasn’t. The diagnosis is not the identity of any person- the time spent with the resident will reveal who they really are. Find the time to know your patient and be present in their lives.
Pop, my staff and I will never forget you. You mattered to us and thank you for allowing us to matter to you. I have to go for now Pop, but I will carry your memory always.
Hey buddy, come here………………….