Northwest NEWS

May 10, 1999


Caregivers bring sense of family, love to long-term care

   I am writing in response to a television news broadcast, which was aired the week of April 19. The report concerned an abuse case in a California nursing home. I realize stories of this type are news.

   Unfortunately, the other sides of long term care--the side of respect, dedication, and love toward those in eldercare--is not considered newsworthy. Moreover, it breaks my heart because reports such as the type I watched create a tragic misconception of those who choose to work in these settings. Who will step forward with a description of the thousands of caregivers whose efforts are tainted by reports such as this? As a nurse in a long-term facility, I will.

   We are a group of compassionate people who have devoted ourselves to a calling. We choose to work with those who are in need because our spirits know no other course. For thousands of employees working in long term care, each day brings the chance to make a difference in the lives of our residents.

   Taking care of people who are sick, perhaps in pain, confused, and sometimes combative, is challenging. Maybe the only way to lead "Cathy" to the dining room is to dance a jig with her on the way. When "Harry" is afraid of having an IV line inserted, singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the procedure may be the ticket. If "Dottie" is quick to take a swing at you, maybe by asking for a description of her childhood home or a first day of school will soften the glint in her eyes.

   Employees of long-term care settings learn to use an intricate blend of guardianship and respect, the reward of which is felt not only by them, but by residents as well.

   We try to maintain a professional distance, an objectivity that will protect us from emotion, but, we work in a community, a common sharing. Oftentimes, we develop a bond of love, which is too strong to ignore. I remember the day Benny died. It was summer, but the entire building seemed to echo with the silence of a winter night.

   Every employee, and many of the residents, knew that Benny would not be with us the next morning. We wanted to do something, help him through the toughest day of his life, but we felt helpless. However, it was summer, a beautiful warm day. Moreover, knowing that Benny had enjoyed the outdoors in his younger years, we figured he might enjoy one last summer afternoon.

   It took six of us to roll his bed, IV pole, and oxygen tank out of his room and down the hall. But, as we brought him outside, he opened his eyes and smiled. None of us were interested in "professional distance" at that point. A common sharing was what we all wished for, wanted and received--Benny, too!

   So, please, the next time you read or see a story on nursing home abuse, remember, although tragic, it is not the norm. A home that provides nursing is most likely filled with decent, dedicated caregivers who not only bring a sense of family into their workplace, but a spark of love into the hearts of those who live there.

Donna Tobias, RNC, staff member at Franciscian Heath Care, Bothell