upon learning how to treat various aging related illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes and cataracts, the fact is that we still can't stop our brain from aging. it is a very powerful reminder of our mortality. are we living healthier lives or just longer lives?
i got a summer job at my local health care center, and the ward where i work at is full of old people, who have no other place to go. most finnish nursing homes don't have doctors 24/7, so when these people get too sick to be at the nursing home, they are sent to the health center's long term ward, where they are to spend their remaining days. but too often the days turn to weeks, weeks turn to months and months turn to years. these are the people who rebuilt my country after ww II. my grandmother is one of them. she is 83 years old and has alzheimer's disease. she has been bedridden for 5 years now, and can no longer communicate in any way. the last time that i saw some emotion on her face was five years ago in may 2000, when she saw my then 7 month old baby boy for the first time. i had lived in the united states for 2½ years and had just returned to finnish soil from my "exile" in boston. at that time my grandmother was still able to sit in a geriatric chair at a nursing home. upon seeing me with a baby, there was a sense of recognition on her face, and her eyes got teary. soon after that day she was transferred to the health center because she regressed so much. she had a stroke in july of 2001, and we were told that it was only a matter of days. not the case. she was left with a paralysis of the left side, but her heart just keeps on beating. her daughter visits her every day, and feeds her from a sippy cup. she gets turned from side to side in order to avoid bed sores. she wears diapers around the clock. i feel so so bad for her. i hope her time here comes to an end soon. of course i can't speak for her, but i can't imagine her wanting to be in this shape, after doing something like five persons' work in her lifetime.
i don't have an answer to this situation, except to treat these people with as much dignity as we can. you may be changing diapers several times a day to a drooling patient, feeding him or her from a sippy cup and being cussed at by a demented and aggressive patient. they may be but a shell of the person they once were, but they are still human. they deserve to be handled gently. they deserve to have their hair combed and their face wiped from the drool. they deserve to be spoken to, with respect, even if they cannot answer back. the nurses and practical nurses at my work are very very good at treating their geriatric patients with dignity and respect. i have nothing but admiration and respect for these nurses. it is grueling work and they don't get many rewards as in seeing their patients get well and go home. a smile or some random words by the patient is pretty much the most they get. i feel that i am learning a lot during my time here even if this probably will not be the area that i specialise in. i haven't had a course in geriatric care yet, but i would be interested to know how this area of care is arranged in other countries.
in my ward, one female patient has a wallpaper behind her bed that has an angel drawn on it, and a written message that goes something like this (translated from finnish):
when i can no longer remember my name,
when this day has blended with yesterday,
when my adult children have again become babies in my memories,
when i am no longer a productive individual,
even then, please treat me as a human being.
care for me, give me love and touch me with gentle hands.
the clock ticks slower.
one day it will come to a complete stop.
but not yet.
please treat me with dignity.