Photo by RaeLynn Ricarte
Certified Nursing Assistants Chandra Sharp and
Julie Wilson prepare supplies for a patient bed check
during early Thursday.
By RAELYNN RICARTE
News staff writer
August 6, 2005
The sign on the wall of the Alzheimer’s unit at the Hood River Care Center reads, “Families are Forever.”
To the staff quietly performing bed checks between 3-4 a.m. on Thursday, that message doesn’t just reference a biological connection. Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA) Julie Wilson and Chandra Sharp realize that they, and their fellow staffers, are sometimes the only “family” that many of their patients now see. And while they find that fact troubling, especially during the holiday season, they take advantage of every opportunity to fill the gap. Being able to provide not only physical care, but emotional support for senior citizens, provides both women with a great sense of satisfaction.
“This is the end of the line for many people and we’re here to make them as comfortable as possible until they finally pass on,” said Wilson.
She said one male client, who is mentally disabled and has lived in the facility for years, decided to “adopt” all of the other 86 residents. He takes time to draw them little notes and personally sings a “Happy Birthday” wish to them over the loudspeaker.
“This is his family and we all just love him, he even goes home with an aide for holidays, said Wilson, a 16-year veteran of the business.
She and Sharp, who has been at the center for more than five years, have seen it all, from the tragic to the heroic. So, neither woman is surprised by a summons from a resident in the wee hours of the night who wants help finding a shoe. These sorts of unusual requests at odd hours are just the way of things with elderly patients who are disoriented by age or illness. Sharp and Wilson frequently spend time chatting with a night-owl who refuses to succumb to sleep.
But, with only four of the 22 patients under Sharp’s care not requiring toileting help, she is kept busy changing linens and meeting personal care needs. The same story is quietly being carried out this night up and down the halls of the Belmont Avenue facility by the five CNAs on duty.
“It’s really just like raising a child a lot of the time — only they are bigger,” said Sharp, who believes patience and compassion are essential traits for a good nurse.
Both she and Wilson are continually amazed with the strength of character they encounter among many of the senior citizens. One of their patients came to the center with both knee caps replaced so he could better care for his ailing wife until her death. Another husband visited three times to personally feed the spouse with whom he had spent a lifetime.
“Sometimes we’ll have a woman who is always looking for her husband and just won’t accept that he is gone, and that’s very sad,” said Wilson. “So many of them have lived such a hard life and have so many stories to tell.”
The job isn’t without its hazards. Wilson carries scars on her arms from being attacked by a irate woman. She also recounts a male patient asking if she would ever hit him. When she replied in the negative and asked why he had posed the question, the man replied, “Because I was going to hit you.”
But neither Sharp nor Wilson take the occasional verbal and physical abuse personally. They realize that this behavior is just a manifestation of dementia or Alzheimers.
“It can be stressful at times,” admits Sharp.
Also burning the midnight oil at the center on Aug. 4, is Carol Taft, a registered nurse. She is poring over patient charts to update information and ensure that all medications have been dispensed correctly. Although the hours can sometimes be long, Taft is proud of the care center’s ability to provide for almost all medical needs. Many of the people under her watch suffer from terminal illnesses and it is her responsibility to work with a physician to ensure that their last weeks or months on earth are peaceful.
But, she said the focus of the center isn’t about dying, it’s about making the twilight years as joyful as possible. Toward that end, residents are provided with field trips, such as a ride each year on the Sternwheeler “Columbia Gorge” in Cascade Locks. And activities are planned to create social opportunities for enjoyment and companionship.
“R.N. stands for ‘Real Nurse’ — I work in long-term care. Everyone here is pretty dependent for something and we’re like a little hospital,” said Taft, who has spent 24 years in the field.
The three women believe that today’s society veers away from thinking about the aging realities behind the walls of a nursing home. But it is inevitable that everyone will need some sort of assistance in the final years of life — some more than others. So, the care center personnel encourage Hood River residents to take a few minutes to brighten their day with a visit. Someday, they reason, the favor may be returned.
“When people here get a visit they are just so much happier,” reiterated Sharp.
“People who have visitors do much better because they don’t feel abandoned,” added Wilson.