Friday, November 23, 2007

It is an interesting thing .. this position of "doctor to the soul" (term coined from being mistaken by staff as being a doctor.. originally because I used to wear heels and business suits, skirts, but now I have had to adopt a more causal attire due to the need for orthopedics, caused by excessive wear of heels) is a neverending job.

Yesterday I was at my church for a group when I noticed an elderly gentleman walking slowly, and a little unsteady I might add, down the hall towards the room that our group was using. I commented to him that I didn't see him here much outside of Sunday services. He explained that he thought there was a concert this evening. I decided that I'd better get him to sit somewhere, so I asked him into the next room and got him a chair that was close to the door. Then I went to room where my group was to check if there was some concert or function that I was not aware of. I then had to ask that the leader go call this man's son to come pick him up. Either way, the gentleman was showing signs of dementia and I thought the son needed to be aware of this incident. I didn't want to embarrass the man so I explained that it was not December but in fact November, and that no concerts were yet. He kept saying it was December and said he felt awful. But then he seemed to laugh as he said he was 91 ...
In the end, I called the son and explained the situation and asked if I should put his father in a cab, or would he like to pick him up. I think that the son was embarrassed as well but I tried to handle this as sensitively as possible. So I got to know this nice gentleman while we waited for his son to come. It was a surprising opportunity in a way, as I would never have been able to exchange more than pleasantries at service if this hadn't occurred.

This incident is not uncommon as seniors age and show signs of dementia. (Dementia refers to decrease of memory or brain function. As the cells age, or die, the brain ceases to function at optimal level. Dementia was erroneously but commonly referred to as Alzheimer's.) When I started in chaplaincy, I began my training in long term care (or nursing home). This type of story was a common factor for admission to long term care. The previous posts from the local paper about aging posit that it is often a fall that precipitates going to a care home or facility. But I think it needs to be clear that it is not that the individual falls and then are admitted to facility. This is not the goal for geriatric medicine. Often an admission to long term care is precipitated by numerous events such as the one I described. I have heard stories from my relatives and neighbors, persons in various parts of the country (Canada) telling me that they met or found a person wondering the streets who didn't know their name, were wearing proper attire for the weather, "then the lady started to strip off all of her clothes in the church" (luckily that incident was a weekday and not during the service), a woman that I met in the lobby of my previous building claiming she was waiting for her sister to come visit, and telling me that we were in New York, not in Canada ... There are numerous examples since I have begun health care chaplaincy. I am not saying this a problem and needs to be fixed. I'm merely saying this is how it is, a fact of living in this day and age. It makes for interesting times.

1 comment:

Marshall said...

You have reminded me that for some time I have argued that we are nurses of the soul. I have to pull that up again....