An amazing thing happened to me in a nursing home where I worked as a CNA. There was a lady named “Vera” who lived there. She had never spoken a word to the staff and it was believed to have been the result of a stroke she’d suffered, which was why she was in the nursing home. She was a lovely Pentecostal lady who had snow white hair that hung down to her waist. The CNAs would put her hair in a tight pony tail, braid it, and call it “cute.” I always cringed to hear a young girl calling an old lady “cute.”
I was assigned to Vera for her morning care. She didn’t seem to herself. She just seemed more still and quiet than usual. She was always quiet since she never spoke, but it was different that day. I talked to her as I got her ready for the day, like I always did. Before starting to spend some time on her hair, I asked her how she was feeling. No answer, which I expected. I continued brushing her teeth, getting her shoes on while her hair dried before I brushed it. I kept talking to her, but still didn’t think she was quite right. I stooped down beside her chair, looked her in the eye, in case she needed to see me to understand me better, and asked her again if she was okay. “If anything is wrong, let me know and I’ll see what I can to do help,” I said to her. She looked right back at me and said, “My head hurts.” I couldn’t believe it! I said, “Well then, let’s go see the nurse. Maybe she can get you a Tylenol.” I took her out to the nurse’s station. They’d never believe me if I told them what happened, and I hoped Vera would speak up again. I told the nurse Sandy what Vera had said. Sandy said, “Are you trying to pull my leg? She doesn’t talk!” “Vera,” I said. “Tell Sandy what’s wrong.” Vera promptly said in her little slurred-speech voice, “I got a headache.” I thought Sandy would fall off of her chair. But she did get that Tylenol. I took Vera back to her room and proceeded to French-braid her hair, loosely though, so as not to aggravate her headache.
In my experience, nursing home residents commonly don’t get the quality care and attention they need. As one of my nursing instructors said once, geriatrics and nursing home work is one of the hidden gems of nursing. Nursing is a profession that requires sincere care for others. Let’s talk to our clients, even when they don’t talk back. Listen to them. They deserve at least that much from us.
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