December 14, 2010

"Thank you"

Of the many life lessons I have learned over the years while caring for the elderly, one of the most prominent in my mind is this:

as you age, the filter between your brain and your mouth 
begins to fail. 

I learned it on my first day as a nurse's assistant, and I still see it on a daily basis at work.  The little old ladies who--according to their families--had never spoken ill of another person in their lives, have no problem telling me how much they hate my hair on a bad hair day or how ugly my pants happen to look on me any given day.  Some of the little old men--who according to family used to be such proper gentlemen--feel the need to repeatedly and inappropriately comment on the length of my legs.  Eek!  And if I had a nickel for the amount of times a little old Christian lady has cursed me out in the most colorful language imaginable, I could probably buy myself a more reliable car.   My patients' poor families are so sad to see this transformation in their loved ones behavior, and I can't help but think that maybe my patients are simply saying and doing things they have thought but would have never let past their thoughts in their younger years....and now their filters are no longer working.  

I think most people go about life doing a lot of filtering between their thoughts and their actions/words.  Let's be honest, I can't be the only woman out there who has had to restrain herself from cursing during labor.  And I'm (pretty) sure we have all had times when we have had to will ourselves to say and do the right thing when a sour attitude has wanted otherwise.  That little filter comes in quite handy to keep us functioning in our social society....So as I have witnessed that filter deteriorate in my elderly patients (even the ones who don't suffer from dementia), I wonder: how often and how hard does my brain have to work in order to say and do that which is good?  That whole "watch your thoughts" saying is really a nice little nugget of wisdom.  Sure, my thoughts may not become my words and actions now because I am well aware of what I think versus what I do or say, but 50 years from now........

So I have become accustomed to seeing and hearing things from my sweet patients that I'm sure they never would have said or done 20 years ago.  However, in the past few weeks I have learned a new little twist to this "lesson".  I have taken more notice to the few little old people who manage to stay perfectly sweet and good up until their last moments on earth.  For example, one of our little old men has trouble speaking because of his Alzheimer's.  Poor guy is so confused so often--which usually brings out combative behavior and some awesome language in most patients--but his response to what goes on around him is almost always the same:  He, smiles, gives two thumbs up, and says, "Okay!"

And my favorite little old lady--a 97 year old Russian who we all call "Oma"--kisses my hand and says, "God is good" every time I see her.  Though her dementia has caused her to become fearful of things such as getting her nails trimmed or brushing her teeth, Oma doesn't cuss me out like most would; she just quietly tells me over and over, "Thank you.  Thank you, God."   When we're all done with her nail care or with brushing her teeth--and even if she has shed a few tears because of fear--she always kisses my cheek and says "I love you.  Good girl."  She has recently lost most of her verbal skills and rarely says a word anymore.  The one phrase she still says to everyone she sees: "Thank you."

When I think of these few people who only say and do nice, positive things despite their declining health and dementia, I can't help but believe that they are probably among the few people who managed to master their thoughts earlier in life so that they no longer needed a filter between their brain and their mouth.  Not only did they spend their lives saying and doing good, but they spent their lives thinking good as well.

Sometimes I would like to go back in time with Oma--to a time before the Alzheimer's--and ask her how she did it.  How did she master her thoughts and negate the need for "brain filter" which so many rely on daily?  How did she teach herself to have so much gratitude and love in her being that it is the last thing to go in her old age? 

I became a nurse because I wanted to help people.  And I do.  And I like it.  But what I love the most is how much I learn from those who I care for.  I may take care of them physically, but they seem to care care of me mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  I'm so grateful for my little Oma who is teaching me to spend a little less time worrying about what I say and do, and a little more time fine-tuning my thoughts so that what I say and do will never become an issue.  Wouldn't it be nice if everyone's last words could be "thank you"?

1 comment:

Taffy and Tony said...

This is such a great post! My Grandpa Teichert had dementia for several years before he died, and when he couldn't do anything else, he would still smile and laugh, especially at little kids. I have also hoped that somehow I can become the type of person that, if everything else were to go, I would be left with kindness.

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