“No,” Diane said when I showed up at her door for our Thursday session. “I don’t want to talk to you. I’m too aggravated.” She turned her head and looked out the window for a moment.
“I’m surprised.” I replied. “We had such a nice conversation the last time. Plus, being aggravated is a perfect reason to talk to the psychologist.”
She looked back at me and sighed with exasperation, “Fine! Sit down. But I’m not going to be very good company.”
“You don’t have to be a star, baby, to be in my show.” I sang the refrain to the old song, mostly on tune.
She rolled her eyes. “They’re driving me crazy here,” she began, launching into an account of her recent fall on the way to the bathroom. “And now they won’t let me do anything by myself! They’re always yelling at me to wait for them, but then they don’t come when I call for them.”
It was the same tale I’d heard from two residents in my other facility that week.
Maya was a frail woman in her late 70s who navigated around her room with a walker. She spent most of her time alone, crocheting colorful booties that she carefully tied onto the walker frame, which served as a display for her wares.
“Five dollars each,” she told me, when I commented on her handiwork. Her earnings, I learned several sessions later, were going to her disabled son, who came to the nursing home every few weeks to collect the money she’d made for him. “He’s a good boy,” she assured me.
Maya had been placed on the dementia unit, though she didn’t have dementia. Residents wandered in and out of her room, touching her yarn and the slippers. She yelled at them to stop, leading to chart notes saying she was agitated and eventually to a move to a different floor.
Once among residents more similar to herself and assigned to a consistent, experienced aide who took her under her wing, Maya’s mood and behavior improved considerably and we discussed concluding our sessions. I arrived for our last meeting with a $5 bill in hand and left with a beautifully crocheted pair of booties I didn’t need.
Back at facility number one, I noticed that Diane was still wearing a hospital gown, even though she’d been saying for weeks that a friend was going to bring her clothes.
“The aides will get you something you can wear here temporarily,” I informed her. “Maybe then you’ll feel comfortable going downstairs for rehab.” She’d refused to do physical therapy outside her room due to her attire.
“No, no! I don’t want anyone else’s clothes! I have some things at home.” she responded sharply. “And I don’t have money to buy anything new, in case that’s what you’re thinking!” Diane had previously alluded to a lost fortune, the details of which were hazy. “The only problem is that my feet are cold all the time.”
I knocked on Diane’s door the next day, booties in hand, prepared for a rejection.
“A lady crocheted these slippers at this other place I work and I thought you might like to have them.” I held them out to her. “They might be slippery on the floor, so they’re for use while you’re in bed.”
Diane stared at the booties and then looked up at me and smiled. “They’re beautiful!” she exclaimed. “This is the nicest present anyone’s gotten me in a long time! I love them!”
I was amazed at her enthusiasm. “Great! I’m so glad you like them.”
I left her with the slippers and checked back surreptitiously later in the day. Peering into her room from the hallway, I could see the bottom of her dressing gown, her bare legs and her feet covered by warm, colorful booties. I couldn’t see her face, but I imagined a contented smile.
Eleanor Feldman Barbera, Ph.D., author of The Savvy Resident’s Guide, is an Award of Excellence winner. in the Blog Content category of the APEX Awards for Publication Excellence program. She also is the Gold Medalist in the Blog-How To/Tips/Service category of the American Society of Business Publication Editors Midwest Regional competition. A speaker and consultant with over 20 years of experience as a psychologist in long-term care, she maintains her own award-winning website at MyBetterNursingHome.com.