Where have all the women gone?
When I first started working as a nurse, I remember reading the history's of my patients and many of them were born in 18-something. I haven't seen any of those in a long time. I've had the wonderful experience of caring for men who have fought in every war since WWI.\
I was 17 when I started working in nursing homes. Back then, you didn't have to be certified to be a nurses aide, you just had to apply. So, I was never a CNA, just an NA. My first job in a nursing home changed my goal from that of wanting to be a teacher to one of wanting to be a nurse. I was a straight A student in nursing school. Before we graduated, we were all getting our jobs lined up.
One day we were all talking about where we'd be working once we graduated and I said that I was going to stay at Villa Scalabrini. That was (and probably still is) a nursing home for old Italian people. My fellow students thought I was nuts. "Why would you want to work there when you could work anywhere you wanted to?"
That was the first time that I realized that nursing home nurses are sort of looked down upon. I had never known that before but I certainly know that it's still true. But, the stories that I have and the people who I met are nothing to look down upon.
I adore working with those folks, specifically the Alzheimer's patients. I don't know why, I just love it. There's enough different places for a nurse to work, you can pretty much pick and choose the place that you enjoy the most. Every few years I would go to a hospital to sharpen my skills, but I always go back to a nursing home sooner or later.
I worked at one place as the supervisor of the Medicare unit and every so often, they would ask me to cover a shift on one of the other units. There was a unit that had a room with a married couple in it. They had been married for 76 years. The wife was alert, the husband, not so much.
When I would go in there to give them their meds, the wife would say, "Daddy, are you cold? Please Nurse, cover him up. He's always so cold." So, I would do it. More for her than for him, he didn't seem to know if it was cold or not. Can you imagine? 76 years. Those two had been married before WWI. They remained married through that war, WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, the moon landing, Water Gate, the entire Cold War, Disco, the Reagan Administration, Michael Jackson's entire career, the Clinton era, the Persian Gulf War and a few space shuttle explosions.
One day I went to work over on their unit and when I went into their room, he was gone. The man had passed away quietly one night and his wife was alone for the first time in decades. There can't be a much lonelier feeling than losing the man with whom you've spent over 76 years of your life. She died shortly after he did, and I was very happy for her. I wouldn't want to face life without him either if I were her.
One place that I worked had 8X10 frames hanging outside the resident's rooms. In them was a picture of them when they were young and a card with a brief history of their lives. I had one patient who asked his girlfriend to marry him before he went to fight in WWII. But, he didn't want to marry her before he left in case something happened to him. The picture in his frame was that of a very young, very handsome soldier. He had suffered a stroke and didn't remember much. He couldn't speak, but when his wife walked into his room every morning, his face lit up as though he was a child who had stolen a peek at Santa Claus. He didn't know much, but he knew when the love of his life entered the room. He was a large man and she, a tiny lady.
He would reach out his hand for her to hold, and she did. She would sit next to him, holding his hand until he would fall back asleep and then she would crochet all day. She sat there making afghans for her husband. She wanted to do something for him, anything. She felt so helpless and she just stood by as we delivered his care. But she didn't realize that she was doing the only thing that he needed and the one thing that we couldn't do for him. She was THERE. What a smart man he was. He invested his life in a woman who paid him back in dividends that he couldn't have possibly foreseen the need for. But, he covered all of his bases. His wife gave me a pair of silk pajamas right before I went to have surgery for my first cancer. I think of them everytime I put those jammies on.
There was Mary, a lady who, at one time, was a lovely, gracious woman who wouldn't have ever said a swear word to save her life. She had been a teacher for years. She developed some type of neuropathy that changed her personality. All we saw was a nasty woman who cussed at us every time we walked in her room. She was a major pain in the ass. But her husband, who remembered the lady that he married, came to sit with her every day. He always brought her favorite foods with him and tried to feed her even though she would nag the bejesus out of him the entire time. We wondered why he would subject himself to that treatment. She didn't seem to care if he was there or not. But, the answer is so obvious, he was in love. He loved her so much that when he looked at her, (these are his words) he "saw the same beautiful girl that I met in 1941."
Then there was Clara. Clara was a funny, funny woman. She would get up every morning and put her make up on, get dressed to the nines and then she would walk out the front door of the home to wait for her husband. She would sit on the bench outside the front door, all prettied up, waiting for her date. Every morning, he would show up and they would walk around the facility to the back door (she said that it made her feel like they were going out on a date) where they would enter the dining room as though they were walking into some restaurant. They would sit at a table alone, sharing her breakfast and talking. After more than 50 years of marriage, they still found things to talk about every single day. They were oblivious to the rest of the people in the dining room. After more than half a century, they were still the only people in their own world.
One day she had a stroke and she was unable to move. She developed huge bedsores in both of her hips and we had to be sure to change the dressings before he showed up in the morning. That's because one day he walked in while we were doing it and he broke down into tears. She didn't seem to know anything but when he finally passed away from a heart attack, she seemed to wait for him for about a week and when he didn't come back, she died in her sleep.
I could go on forever telling you about these love stories. The world is full of people who have spent their entire lives together, quietly loving each other. Unfortunately, our society doesn't value such love anymore, so there aren't as many of these couples as there used to be. To hear it on TV or watching any neighborhood, love is some hot and heavy lovemaking session. Not the daily caring that leads to lifelong partnerships. Real love is what I see in the eyes of an 80 year old man who sees the "same beautiful woman that he met in 1941." Although it's a very selfless thing, it pays you back in ways that you never dream of. It's two people who have been together long enough to watch their children have children and then THOSE children have children. Even when one of the lovers dies, they can look around at their great grandchildren and see their love every day that they live. How do we get that back?