I had traveled for fourteen hours to Dehli, then two hours more to Siliguri. There at the airport we were met by car and spent four more to our destination. Nothing could have prepared me for the strange new world of India. The people, the language, the food, the sights and smells were all entirely different from life back in the States. But little by little, one day at a time, one smile, and with each plate of rice with curried chicken, I began to learn what it meant to be in their land.
Mark 12:31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these. NIV
Most of us want to keep on loving our family member and friends after they have entered into long term care. But when your loved one moves into a nursing home it is far more than just a change of address. They haven’t only moved to a new neighborhood, it is a whole new world. You may “love them as you love yourself” but expressing that love will mean coming to grips with the “neighborhood” in which they will live. Here are three simple guidelines to follow once you cross the border into their new world.
Language Most nations have their own language or distinct dialect. Before we travel to Mexico, Italy or any other country it is helpful to pick up a simple guide to communicating the basics of food, travel and accommodations during our stay. Long term care facilities AKA “nursing homes” also have their own language. We will talk more about language in the future but the single most important term to know is that People are residents – not patients! This isn’t just a place where they will get treatment and then return home. This is their new home, and a home with some very small spaces. It will be best to treat those small spaces with the same respect as we would the white picket fence dividing your yard from your neighbor. Our loved one most likely will have a room mate. They may get along well or they may be distant. Respecting that neighbor’s privacy during your visits will be greatly appreciated by your loved one after you have gone home. They will have to continue sleeping just a few feet away from that person. If you are just stopping by to drop off laundry and have a cup of coffee its probably okay to have a quiet visit in their room. But if you are coming for a long visit or with other family members it will be better for you to find some place outside their room to enjoy your time together.
Laws When we travel to another country we could face some serious consequences if we disrespect the laws of that place. Once when we traveled into Canada my wife was surprised at the border guard’s insistence that she surrender the pepper spray that she carried in her purse. It was considered a dangerous weapon on the other side of the border. Just because she liked having the security of carrying it when she walked alone didn’t change the fact that on the Canadian side possessing it was a misdemeanor.
In long term care you will immediately discover that there are piles of new rules and regulations that are taken very seriously. Hipaa privacy laws govern how we talk, the questions we may ask and even taking photos with our cell phone camera. Sharing on social media could cost a staff member their job! In addition there are regulations in place to protect everyone’s health including your own. Read warning signs before entering a room, use the hand sanitizers or wash your hands before and after every visit. Keeping up with your flu shots and choosing to stay home when you are sick not only are rules to be honored but it may save the life of a resident!
Listening – Listening and hearing are not always the same thing. No perceived fear or need is unimportant. Your loved one has lost a measure of the control which they had over their own life. Whether because of a physical, emotional or age related infirmity they have been put in the position of loss. Loss of privacy, loss of the ability to travel, loss of their familiar surroundings and loss of the ability to say no to many things are just a few of the realities they face.
Their feelings of dependency will be something that we can understand only by really listening. Don’t pooh-pooh their complaints or turn a deaf ear to their fretting. If you will respect them to the extent of your ability, that simple act will go a long way towards giving them the confidence and courage to go on. You are their link to who they were and still are. You are the one who will tell the doctors and therapists how their care needs to be guided. You are the one who can change the menu so that they will be glad to eat rather than picking over food they feel has just been thrown at them.
Last of all, listening will help to enrich your relationship with your loved one. They have time now to tell you stories and ideas that you may have never known. When you truly listen they will know. When you value what they have to say, they will be more willing to open up to you in ways that will bring your friendship to deeper and more meaningful levels. One day they will be gone and the moments and hours which your have given them in this chapter of their lives will live with your forever. When we learn to love each other (and it can be a painful process) it has rewards that travel beyond the borders of this life. Be blessed. Trust God in every situation of your loved ones in nursing care. His grace will carry us through when we don’t know the answers and hold us when we feel like we have fallen and can’t get up!
For more ideas on listening , here is to a short video on the subject for those who may be interested