05 March, 2009


I've been volunteering a couple of days a week at a local nursing home. If the weather is nice I bundle the patients up and take them out for some fresh air, navigating around potholes and trying not to launch them out of their wheelchairs whenever we bump over curbs or cobblestones.

If the weather is crappy I read out loud. Since my audience shows very little reaction I get the feeling that the material is irrelevant. I could be reading the manual for a blender-- they just like the sound of my voice and maybe even my silly accent.

At lunchtime I cut up food for the ones that can handle a fork and help feed the ones that can't.

I'm thoroughly enjoying this "job"-- the nurses are harried and really appreciate the extra pair of hands, and it's nice to be able to take the extra time needed to feed someone who eats slowly and might otherwise not get to eat a full meal due to time constraints.

It has surprised me that I haven't found the atmosphere depressing. The staff is warm and caring, and although the patients are elderly and unable to take care of themselves, they are safe and fed and have the company of their peers. (I've read that elderly people who live alone are more prone to depression, malnutrition and injuries due to falls.)

Probably another part to this is that I've only just gotten to know these people at this stage at the end of their lives. (A natural stage that we will all probably reach sooner or later-- it is good to be reminded of this on a regular basis.) It would probably be different if I'd been witness to their deterioration.

In any case, the staff sets a good example by reminding me that these people have good days and bad days just like the rest of us. And once one gets over the initial shock of spending time with people suffering from dementia, one realizes that there is often humor to be found in everyday situations.

Yesterday at lunch I sat down next to Herr M. Since he's half-deaf he tends to shout and sounds exactly like Homer Simpson's dad, but then in German. Suddenly he grabbed my arm and started bellowing: "The-the-the-the-the-the-THE TEETH!!!" and thrust his dentures out of his mouth with his tongue. I had just enough time to grab a bib before he spit them out into my hand.

OK. What now? Then he started shouting again: "The-the-the-the-THE TEEEEEEEETH!"

"Herr M? Shall I put them back in"

"Yeeeeesss! PUT THEM BACK IN!"

So I popped them back in. And he started up again: "The-the-the-the-THE TEEEEEEEETH!" and spit them back out into my bib-covered hand again.


OK, here you go. Here are your teeth. And I popped them back into his mouth again.

"The-the-the-the-THE TEEEEEEEETH!"

I looked at an intern with raised eyebrows and she started giggling.

We went through about four more rounds of this and I felt like I was trapped in a Monty Python skit. Finally a doctor came over and smiled at me-- "No idea what's going on with him. Maybe he needs some denture cream?" And he wheeled Herr M back down the hall trailed by a noisy mantra:


*Image thanks to Britannica.com


mrs. g. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
anno said...

Oh my. One of those surreal moments, for certain!

Chui Hsia said...

Have you read Like Water for Elephants?

Greg said...

Wonderful! I'd agree with Anno. Very surreal.

honeypiehorse said...

Wow good for you! That's a great thing to do. Where do you find time??

Betsy said...

Hi Anno! Totally Twilight Zone, but funny just the same!

Chui Hsia No. Is it like "Like Water for Chocolate"? ;-)

Greg! Nice to see you around! I miss you in cyberspace! I'm going to see the Dalai Lama in July, and I can only attend one day and guess who happens to be the guest speaker on that day?! Jack Kornfield! Talk about serendipity! I might be more excited about seeing him than the Dalai Lama!

Honeypiehorse: I don't know where I find the time, to tell you the truth. I guess I do it instead of dusting. Or cleaning up dog poop in the yard...

Chui Hsia said...

It's like 'Like Water for Chocolate' only in the sense that I wrote 'Like' in the title by mistake. The book is called Water for Elephants. It's got a really good plot line about being old and in a nursing home. I think you will like it.

Betsy said...

Cool! thanks! I'll definitely look it up-- have been looking for something good to read lately!

Goofball said...

oh gosh that would so freak me out. I don't think I would have felt comfortable in that situation