“Teri does well in school, however, is a social butterfly,” numerous teachers commented on my report cards while I was growing up. My 10-year-old’s reasoning was: “That’s a bad thing?”
I remember at times trying very hard to be the introverted one, sitting on my hands, trying to be still and practically biting my lips shut. As much as I attempted to be quiet, my ideas and comments floated out of my mouth like water down a river — virtually non-stop.
Little could I foresee that (many) years down the road, I would be the social services / activities director at a skilled nursing facility. This position requires multitasking at its finest — and my “social butterfly” skills.
It is not unusual for me to try to sneak into the facility at 7:45 a.m., with my bags on my shoulder, and to be approached by a staff member saying, “Ted lost his eye glasses over the weekend.” Next few steps, “Teri, Gloria threw her dentures, the bottom half broke and she’ll need a dental appointment today.” “Sally’s family asked that she get into the beauty shop for a cut and perm.”
I finally make it to the time clock and am told, “Charlene and Rose got into a big argument in the lobby, you might want to talk with them … and, oh yeah, Ben is making crude remarks to the young nurses again.”
A nurse catches me reaching for my office key and says, “I think Eva needs to change dining rooms, and laundry misplaced Cecilia’s favorite nightgown.” While putting my bags on my conference table, I check my lipstick in the mirror and boot up my computer, I am informed, “Poor Jack died over the weekend. Can you please call his family and see when they’ll want to pick up his belongings. Can you have them packed? Also, does the wheelchair belong to him or to us?”
At 7:50 a.m., I hang up my scarf and coat, clip on my nametag and straighten my dress. Maggie rolls up to my door to tell me that another resident has been using her television. “Isn’t it against the law for me to be forced to share my TV?” I let her know that it would be nice to share and that I will talk to her neighbor.
Looking at my e-mail, I notice that we will be having a room change today and a new resident, which prompts my mind to the calls and paperwork required for the room change: Residents and their families will need 24-hour notice of the change. I will be introducing myself to a new resident and family within the hour and have them sign a stack of social services and activity paperwork. I’ll need to find out her diet and where we might place her for meals then notify the activity and dietary staffs before lunch. I’ll check with my assistant regarding table possibilities ASAP.
At 7:55 a.m., after watching me for 10 minutes from his breakfast table, Pastor Jones asks, “What is it that you do here, Teri?” “Well, Pastor,” I answer, already amazed at what has unfolded before my day officially began, “I do a little bit of everything, but mostly take care of little problems and visit everyone.”
“That’s quite a cushy job,” Pastor Jones says. “Yes, it is sir!” I say with an upbeat tone.
At 11:30 a.m., I notice that my purse and bag are still on the table. (I hope that my lunch did not spoil). I put them away and continue with my “cushy” job.
As the social services and activity director in a 92-bed skilled nursing facility, I am fortunate to share in a precious season of residents’ lives. For most of them, this is the final “home” that they will have this side of heaven. It is our motto that they don’t come here to die but to live.
As social service / activity staff, we have the opportunity to catch a unique glimpse of the individuals because we assess their likes, preferences and learn about their backgrounds. We are entrusted with them. The residents share their histories and life lessons with us — if we are quiet enough to listen and observe.
My ongoing desire with this blog is to convey the nuggets of wisdom, humor and truth that these people have shared with my co-workers and me. There are days that I cannot keep a single train of thought because of the diverse responsibilities of my job. There are unrealistic demands from residents and their families, lost teeth and clothing, broken hearing aides and hearts, settling conflicts, staff meetings, deadlines, multiple projects at once and the ever present government documentation and mandates.
You’ve been there, too. You’ve also shared in the immeasurable joys of the job. Through my stories, I hope you will be affirmed in your work and challenged to see each resident as a unique individual.
Our experiences are so amazing. You can’t make up this stuff.