This week, I watched as a nursing home nurse did everything she could to make a man in hospice care feel not only comfortable, but understood and cared for.
I’ve been told by a few nurses with nursing home experience that the default assumption of most nurses in that environment is that the residents suffer some form of dementia.
They didn’t say that lightly, or that it means they care less than they may otherwise. It just speaks to how they approach the conversation and how much they take a residents word for anything.
But in this case, the 90-year-old man was in a failing body with a mind nearly as sharp as it was decades ago. Earlier, he had been telling me, in great detail, about his time in the military, the management structure of his old company, how he got his first car and how much he paid for it, and a few secrets he had never told anyone else.
He’s essentially trapped in a body that no longer works, and stuck in a facility that unfortunately can’t offer a solution.
This nurse knew all of this and accounted for all of it. She gave his mental acuity the credit it deserved by giving him a hard time and teasing him. As she suspected, he gave as good as he got. He was up to the challenge and took up the sparring.
But it was clear that behind her words were the care and respect she truly felt for him. And in return, there was the appreciation he felt for her for not letting him off the hook or giving him an excuse. She treated him as she might have her own brother.
When someone is nearing the end, but stuck in the unfortunate situation of being trapped in their own body, I can’t think of anything much worse or more frustrating. You may not necessarily want to be done with life, but you resign yourself to the reality that you may not have much choice.
In those final days, respect, love, and dignity may be all you have left. And when someone takes it upon themselves to give it, it means more than nearly anything else.
When I was watching it, I committed it to memory because I knew right then I was witnessing a true act of beauty.