Guest Columns

Home is where the heart is

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Jennifer Petrea, RN
Jennifer Petrea, RN

There is nothing greater than the reward of wisdom I have acquired through my experience as a nurse. In fact, the biggest reason I became a nurse was to have the opportunity to experience the world through the lives of others.

Growing up, I was the type of child you would find eagerly listening to the stories my grandmothers would tell over coffee and cake. While my siblings were outside being up to no good, I would be living vicariously through their tales of my grandparents' youth. I am not sure why I was so enthralled by imagination at such a young age, but I recognized the value of their wisdom. This wisdom helped me to be a better nurse.

For more than decade, I have worked in many different care settings, including a hospital, a doctor's office, facilities, and in the homes of patients. While these environments vary in nature, there is one grain of insight I learned in each setting: home is where the heart is. 

There is no place as comforting as our homes. I have seen many things as a nurse that I cannot professionally explain. While working in the Intensive Care Unit, families would bring in familiar items and pictures for their loved ones. They would play their favorite music, place pictures near by, or place a sentimental prayer shaw on their beds. We encouraged such items because they made a difference in the patient's comfort levels. Often, we would see a reduction in pain, improved breathing, decreased anxiety, and improved appetite. 

I recall one woman was in critical condition from a motor vehicle accident. She was on life support and was requiring large amounts of medication to help keep her in a medical induced coma. We were perplexed by why we could not get her comfortable. It wasn't until her brother brought in her favorite slippers and a recording of her granddaughters wishing her healing that we saw improvement. When we placed her slippers on her swollen feet and held the recording next to her ear, two perfectly formed tear drops ran down her face. Within minutes, there was a reduction in her heart rate and blood pressure, all signs of relaxation. 

As a hospice nurse, I made visits to people's homes. Sometimes these homes were nursing facilities or assisted living. During these visits, I found myself listening eagerly like a little girl. I would get lost in the old War World II photographs neatly hung over the bed of honorable men. The love stories of couples that were together for 50 years whispered throughout the knick-knacks on their shelves. Old photos of youthful beauties and dashing gents portrayed a little bit more about who I was caring for. These memories gave me knowledge about what made my patients whole. That, in turn, allowed me to care for them with my whole heart. By getting to know the person more than what a medical chart portrayed, I was able to provide them with the best nursing care.

Your residents may be in similar circumstances. I encourage you to let them fill their living spaces with sentimental items that help create a comforting environment. Most assisted living and nursing homes support this practice. Some common ideas of what may help bring a little "home" to a heart include:

  • Pictures to hang on the wall. Not only will they remind the resident of precious memories, they are always intriguing to visitors, which offers an opportunity to reminisce.
  • Photo albums and scrapbooks
  • Shawls, blankets, throws, sheets, pillow cases
  • House coats, pajamas, and slippers
  • Shadow boxes that can safely house sentimental items like war metals, favorite jewelry, or hobbies 
  • Music: Listening to hymns, gospel, or other favorite melodies can instantly create an ambient atmosphere

We all love coming home at the end of the day to relax in the protective shell of love housed therein. However, life can present challenges in which we are displaced from our homes. Residents should be able to have the level of security that their homes gave to them. I think that what truly makes a home is love. Love exists within us all, and that can certain be carried with us in times of relocation.

Jennifer Petrea, R.N. is an associate of Presbyterian Home of Maryland. She is a registered nurse who writes on all sorts of topics from general wellness to aging in nursing homes.

Guest Columns

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