I walk into the home and am welcomed warmly by the client's two sons, as well as the home health aide that I'm ostensibly there to supervise. The client sits in his wheelchair, quietly fingering a towel that was previously placed in his lap as a diversion. I greet the client---John---and then take a seat on the couch, late morning sun streaming through the living room window.
The four of us chat for some time, and while John is mostly deaf, I can tell that he is tuned into the goings on in the living room. He looks up from his nimble fingering of the towel and catches my eye. I smile, he laughs, and the sons seem surprised that he is reacting so positively to my visit.
"He usually has a hard time with new people," one of his sons says.
"Yeah," chimes in the other son. "I arrived last night and wasn't sure if he'd recognize me since I haven't been here for four months. He ignored me at first," he says, smiling at his father, who smiles back. "But then he seemed to realize who I was and he became very excited and couldn't stop laughing."
"That must have felt good," I respond.
"Well, yes it did! I was afraid I'd just be another stranger to him now."
We all stop talking and look at John, who then looks up, smiles, laughs, and returns to his busy work with the now mangled towel in his lap.
The older of the two brothers moved in with John four months ago after John fell and broke his hip. The care in the hospital and nursing home was substandard according to the son, so he signed his father out of the nursing home as soon as possible, requested the services of visiting nurses and physical therapists to get his father's house set up appropriately, and moved in with his father, determined to stay for as long as John lives. The son had to give up his own rented home in order to do this, and has been devoting himself to his father's care 24 hours a day for four months. This is where our agency comes in to provide some well-deserved respite.
We talk about some nuts and bolts of John's care: feeding tube, oral care, transfers, nutrition, and hydration. Then I move closer to John, take his hand, and do a cursory exam. John smiles, laughs, and allows me to do my job without offering any sign of complaint or distress.
"Wow, I thought he would never let you do that!" says the son who lives with John.
I look up at the son, and as I do so, John playfully bats at my hair with his left hand. We all laugh.
"I guess we have good chemistry," I say as I stand up and gather my things.
John laughs and refocuses his attention on the towel.
This family is devoting itself to their elder, caring for him and making sure that he has everything he needs to be comfortable, well fed, well rested, and free from harm. During a time in history when so many elders are ensconced in nursing homes and bereft of the comforts of home, this gentleman is lucky and blessed enough to be held in the bosom of family.
I look forward to my subsequent visits, and I plan to consistently praise this family for its choices, while also acknowledging that some families cannot manage to accomplish what this family has done. I hope that John can stay at home, his son can take care of himself amidst his many responsibilities, and that the other son can visit more often. Meanwhile, we will provide whatever support we can to make sure that this situation remains stable, healthy and manageable for John and his son.
When I'm in John's shoes, I should only be so lucky.