Peg Tobin

During my days as a director of nursing, I sometimes found myself covering when someone else on staff called off. I remember being upset about one such shift when I had to “put on my big girl panties” and go do my job.

But that night, I learned a valuable lesson from a resident named Connie — one that still reminds me every day that those of us who work the floor in nursing homes do make a difference. There may be days we think we can go no farther, but then something comes along to assure us that we give life to others through our care and our touch of kindness.

It started as I was making my rounds and delivering night medications. Before going to the nurse’s station, I stopped into Connie’s room to see if she was asleep. Connie was one of our more alert residents and always appreciated a visit from us. She was not asleep and she motioned for me to come over and sit for a minute.

As I sat down she stated to share:

“Day in and day out, I sit in my room here at the nursing home. Do you know I used to own a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home? I mothered two children and my husband and I were married 58 years. My husband passed away two years ago. My children tried to care for me at home but neither could quit their jobs to dedicate full time care for me. My children and grandchildren visit often and for that I am very grateful.

“As I sit and watch you guys work, I wonder if you know how much I see. I know you guys are busy and do not have an abundance of free time, but the time that you do give is miraculous. When one of you touch my arm and look me in the eye and smile … my mood swings up and life reminds me I am ‘not done yet’!

“I don’t know why it had to be me that ended up in a nursing home, but here I am! I did not choose to be here but each day I watch and interact with individuals like you that do choose to be here every day as nurses and nursing assistants. You guys amaze me! You lift people two to three times your size, you redirect the confused residents repeatedly, and you clean me and feed me. I have never heard any of you say a belittling thing about me.  

“When you enter my room, you talk to me, you change the channels on the TV when I lose my remote control, you clean my glasses if I ask, and you brush my teeth. You call me by my name. You bring me my favorite treats and dress me in my favorite colors. How do you do this day in and day out?

“I am not certain I will ever understand how or why a person like you chooses to do this kind of work. But I do know I shall always be thankful to be the recipient of your kindness and love.”

Before I left Connie’s room, I leaned down and gave her a kiss on the forehead and smiled as I said, “Rest well Connie. Have a good night’s sleep.”

I checked on Connie throughout the night (as well as the other residents) and she was doing well. At 5:30 am, I went for my final round and found Connie lying quietly in her bed with a peaceful look on her face. She was not breathing: She had passed away.

As I covered her up, I thought of what she had shared with me the night before, and I thanked God for having me work that night shift.

At this time of year — when crazed personal and work schedules can add to our holiday stress — remember that a gentle touch to an arm and a smile costs nothing to a giver, but it means the world to a recipient.