Visiting a Nursing Home

My students and I participated in a Service Project to a nursing home yesterday. We really were not prepared. As we arrived we could smell that peculiar smell of some care facilities(edited). After being there a while we couldn't smell anything out of order. We walked on in and went to a community area where the residents played games and chatted. Once we were briefed we were asked to go down two corridors and greet those residents that were bedridden and chat with them awhile. That was a challenge.

Sometimes they were bathing, others were sleeping, and some resisted visitors. In fact, two males students who I know were totally respectful were asked to leave a room. Yet there were many who were very happy to see visitors. They ranged from many different levels of needs, cultures, and ethnic backgrounds, just like us. It makes me smile to think how they ministered to us.

After we walked the halls and said hello, and got some students occupied, I thought maybe I can sit down a minute because I had done a lot of walking earlier at school in heels and my feet were aching. Then I spotted some of my students talking to an elderly lady. I asked her if she would like to go out to the lovely butterfly garden next to the commons area. There we found a table where we all could sit and chat.

One of the purposes of the trip was to interview the residents about their life stories and memories. As we talked to Miss M. we realized that her memory was not quite clear and if we asked her if she had ever held a job, or did she have brothers and sisters, or anything beyond, the fact that she had been born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, she would pause, search her mind and then sing, recite, or simply say " away in a manger no crib for a bed my little Lord Jesus, lay down his sweet head..."

It dawned on me that she liked Christmas songs, so I asked the kids if they would like to sing one. They could only think of ones in Spanish since they were mostly Spanish speaking ESOL students and also because it was such an emotional moment for all of them. So I started to sing the first one that came to my mind, which was Jingle Bells (in the middle of May in 80 degree weather!) and they all sang it, and there was a burst of smiles, laughter, and clapping. Then someone, I think Marietta, who had joined us in her wheelchair asked me to sing another song. So I sang a song, my little granddaughter, Zee, had sung at school: My God is so big, so strong, and so mighty there's nothing my God can not do. They loved it and laughed and smiled. It was a beautiful moment. We continued talking and sharing, and then it was time to go visit other residents, and some of us left, though some of the girls stayed on with Molly and Marietta.

When we went down the hall we saw a Mr. G. W. He seemed a little gruff at first, but he turned out to be a very educated distinguished fellow. He had been a lawyer, Minister of Interior in El Salvador, and a diplomat. His last name and demeanor was Irish, since his grandfather had been an Engineer who migrated to El Salvador when they developed the railroads there. One of my students overheard us talking when he said El Salvador, and she said she was from El Salvador, too. She is half Salvadoran and also very espanola on her dad's side, so I was surprised. She came in the nick of time and they had a chance to talk about all things Salvadoran including favorite foods, his high school, and university. What a curious conversation.

It was wonderful to see all the goodness and kindness they showed the elderly. Later I took them aside and told them how proud I was of them! They were so transparent in feeling and showing compassion and affection. That is something very hard to get from a high school student in a classroom setting. As a result of seeing and making friends some of the kids are signing up to be volunteers because they fell in love with the people there.

Finally when it was time to go, we did get to say goodbye to Molly. She gave all of the kids a kiss. When I went to say goodbye, she held my hand, and kissed it. She said we need more of this and this is all we need. Then I bent down to give her a kiss and she kissed my cheek. It was all very touching and will not soon be forgotten..
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Anonymous said…
You wrote in your blog about the peculiar smell of the aged. Just for the record, the "aged" do not smell any different than teenagers or middle-age people do. That odor you smelled, I smelled also but it came from a nursing home that did not properly care for the elderly. You can "see" that everything looks good in a nursing home but once you smell that smell, you know that something is wrong. And this is proved by when I visited another nursing home, same "aged" people, same kind of care, same amount of residents, yet no "smell". The smell occurs when the help does not bathe the elderly enough OR when they leave the elderly incontinent in diapers too long, so you eventually smell urine and stale, old urine. That smell combined with other institutional smells comprises what you call the smell of the aged. But sure that is an incorrect term. We have had some aged presidents, politicians and surgeons who are aged, yet how do you explain that these professionals do not smell? This is a serious comment, no joke. check out
onenewbeginning said…
Nursing homes are not supposed to smell any more than offices or private homes are supposed to smell. Your article proves that there is something wrong in some of our nursing homes. While you had a good time and the students had an experience, they should be informed and know that the aged do not smell any more than they smell.
Elba said…
Dear Anonymous one,
As you can tell from my writing my intention to comment on the smell, was not a joke nor was it intended to smear anyone. I removed the reference, but I know from experience that when people become older, and if they are ill or disabled they have to use diapers in many cases and even if you are changing them right away there will be smells because they do not have the use of a restroom, even if there is one in the room. There will be smells. That is what I was referring to. But there was a smell as we walked in but the smell dissipated while we were there. It could have been a combination of things as you said, but I was quite impressed in the amount of personnel attending the residents there. There seemed to be a ratio of almost one person per patient helping them bathe, dress, and participate in activities. There were many patients not available for visitors because they were being attended to and most of the patients were in good spirits, so I do not want to give the wrong impression of the facilities nor of what I referred to as the aged. Nevertheless your comments were well taken.
Anonymous said…
Dear Elba, thanks for your response. It gives us good dialog and communication. About your "surprise" that so many staff was on hand. This is how nursing homes and rehab centers "cover up". What happens is that when visitors come in , the staff is scheduled to go to the area where visitors are (not necessarily in the place that you mentioned). But, however, in the "WORST" nursing homes, they have a signal that goes out to staff, over the public announcement system, that inspectors are coming in etc. Of course, there will be lots of staff around.

When nursing homes have VISITORS--that gives residents more attention because the staff then somehow becomes more visible and more helpful.

We all need to get legislature, new laws and regulations that permit the government to come in unannounced to inspect these places. In the west, they came in at 2 AM to raid nursing homes that had secret reputations and they FINALLY were able to catch them in the act of negligence and in the act of lack of care and lack of attention.

That is what is needed all over. These facilities have too much warning of when inspectors and visitors are coming in. will be "surprised" to see such well run nursing homes.

Help us get the word out, spread the word that we need spontaneous, unannounced inspections and investigations.

I know of some individuals who have died or become seriously harmed due to bad physical rehab centers (a/k/a nursing homes) that permitted residents to get bedsores, and to get infections--all that were avoidable.

Please spread the word.

And Keep on visiting. Visit every week or month or even every day if you can afford to do that. Your visits are saving lives and bringing more staff to those residents.
Anonymous said…
Many have died to to nursing home and due to physical rehabilitation and care center neglect, malpractice and in some cases, outright abuse -nursing home abuse.

Google the word nursing home and put that on alerts and see what you get every day in email.

If you have a good nursing home, we still need YOU to help us fight the bad nursing homes by making new laws, forming new consumer groups that permit nursing home residents to complain without getting punished.

See for some information

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