As I walked out of her room, the light went from my eyes. I had just reprimanded a patient, with dementia. I was so frustrated. She didn’t understand. I had explained this to her what seemed like a million times. When the doctor came in she said, “No one has been in here all day. I’m confined to the bed. And I haven’t showered in two weeks.” I was so angry. This patient totally threw me under the bus, yet I had been in there every half hour to assist her. She was atypical in her dementia, in that she was very good at covering and a new doctor might not even notice she has dementia. Even I had to remind myself throughout the three days I worked with her that she had dementia.
But she was angry, and demanding, and insisted that the staff was not taking good care of her. And as a result I became angry and demanding with her. The light went out of my eyes, because I was so disappointed in myself. I should have never expected her to remember or to understand our previous conversations. I should not have given up on her so easily. And I should never have tried to prove I was right.
Like a child in a temper tantrum, I wanted to win. I knew I was, I mean I knew the whole story and she couldn’t remember what happened ten minutes ago. But I was also losing. Slowly losing my sanity. Slowly losing my compassion. Slowly losing my perspective.
My mind shifted to my grandmother who had a TIA (a mini-stoke) a few years previously. I see her slipping before me. I think I coped at first by visiting her less. I wanted to remember making the good times cookies with her and the memories of hours of playing our favorite card game skip-bo together. I didn’t want to remember the time my grandmother asked me how my kids were doing, and I had to remind her that I didn’t have any children. I didn’t want to see her struggle. And whenever my mother brought it up to me that Grandma was going downhill, I became really upset. I wasn’t ready to admit that.
Now that I realized that I was coping that way, I am more intentional about visiting my Grandma. Because it’s just not about me and my memories, it is about making the most of her life up to the very end.
Perspective. I realized I would never want someone arguing with my Grandma. I would never want a nurse trying to prove she was right. I would want a nurse that tried to make my Grandma smile. To make her happy. To bring back happy memories. Sometimes you need to take a step back from a stressful situation and gain perspective. Dementia is one of the most challenging diagnoses not only for family, but also for healthcare workers.
Lets learn together,
P.s. I’m heading out early tomorrow with my Aunt Sabrina to make the three day drive across the country to my first travel nurse assignment in Downey, California. Please pray with me for safe travels.