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When my husband’s care home took a header

Our son, Jackson, was visiting from Chicago when I began to see that resident care at Daylight Senior Living and Memory Care was declining. Sometimes we must experience a situation from an outsider’s perspective to get our new bearings. Walking into Robert’s room with Jackson, I saw Robert’s environment anew for the first time in weeks.

Sunshine streamed in through the east-facing window of Robert’s studio. The azaleas in bloom outside gave his chamber a bright, glossy surface shimmer, but the rest of the room belied a darker reality. A day’s old bowl of oatmeal sat on the table where Robert ate his meals, a spoon cemented in the muck. The water glass in front of him hadn’t been washed since I’d visited last. Robert’s bed was unmade and the sheets needed changing. A damp bloom darkened the indent his body had left behind. 

That’s not good!

I felt shock and embarrassment that Jackson should see him this way. The lack of attention from the housekeeping staff broke my heart, but most wrenching was Robert’s beard. He had not been shaved in a week. He was unkempt when I visited him two days prior, but I attributed this to the timing of my visit. Staff would shave him in the afternoon. But he had not been shaved. 

Robert was so happy to see Jackson, regardless of his physical state. His face cracked open in a wide grin followed by a gleeful giggle. He loves his boy so much. 

I left the room to speak to the dayshift care supervisor while Jackson visited with Robert. Did I need to increase Robert’s contracted level of care? Why had he been left in such a condition?

Please tell this me isn’t permanent

I found Elena, one of my favorite aides, coming out of another room and pulled her aside. She was apologetic about Robert’s state. She promised to send a team to his room immediately. I asked that she hold off. Jackson was with his father, and I wanted them to have time alone. 

I asked after Elena’s care partner, Melani. Why was she not working today? Was she on vacation? I hadn’t seen her in several days. 

Elena broke into tears. Melani had quit Daylight after six years on the job. Elena missed her terribly. They had been an efficient and loving tag team. Between them, scheduling had been a breeze. Elena started work on the 6 am shift and was off in time to pick up her son at the end of his school day. Melani had left a big staffing hole. Elena was working doubles many days. She was worried about her son and bone-tired.

The best aides love their charges

With affectionate candor, Melani and Elena had provided me with unprompted updates on Robert and his needs. With their guidance, I learned when I had pushed him too hard on our walks from Starbucks. They alerted me to the small declines in his cognition; he no longer remembered to dress himself after a shower. They facilitated the emergency removal of the latch on his bathroom door when he locked himself inside for an hour. When they realized Robert liked to crank his wall heater to 95 degrees (unsafe for anyone!), they lobbied to replace it with a newer model with a maximum set point of 80 degrees. 

I was very sad for Elena. But I was silently rooting for Melani, a bright, hardworking young woman capable of more than an underpaid position at Daylight. 

Sweetness and light

Returning to Robert’s room, I found Jackson in the bathroom giving his father a gentle shave. They were content to be in each other’s presence – Jackson grateful to demonstrate his love with this small act of care – Robert glowing with an effervescent if fleeting, joy. 

I was struck by the simplicity of the scene. Jackson’s delicate strokes on his father’s cheek were breathtakingly beautiful. My face ached as my eyes filled with tears.

Tiny acts of kindness carry us great distances. I wanted to remember this moment always. 

Some weeks later, I’d understand exactly why Robert’s care had declined, but on this day, I just wanted to take care of him. I washed his dishes and set about remaking his bed.

I needed to find a new place for Robert to live.

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