Saturday, June 7, 2014

Irene as Home Nurse, or Bedside Sitting, Part Two

My Great-Grandfather, James

For years after my great-grandmother died, my grandmother Irene took care of her father, my great-grandfather.  He and his sons had always “worked in the woods”.  In Maine that means logging.  Nowadays, logs, once cut and limbed, are “skidded” out of the woods to be loaded onto log trucks using heavy machinery, specifically “skidders”.  I once heard a logger bragging on his wife because she could “droive a skid-dah” as well as any man.
But in the old days, loggers dragged (“twitched”) the logs out of the woods using draft horses.  A good team of horses didn’t need driving; they knew the way on their own.  But a young boy's introduction to logging might be to drive the horses back and forth.  My father did that, learning to holler “gee” and “haw” for right and left. 
My Great-Grandparents, Beulah and James
I don’t know the details, but one day my great-grandfather was under a tree when it came down the wrong way.  It happens from time to time, and many of these accidents result in fatality.  So I guess you could say Great-Grandpa was lucky to survive.  His back was broken and spinal cord injured.  He became a paraplegic for the rest of his life.  I didn’t know him as he died before I was born, but I have always heard glowing reports of the love and respect his descendants had for him.
So I suppose that it is appropriate that I think of my grandmother Irene when I think of a  model for Bedside Sitting.  She was always busy and cheerful, and took so many hardships in stride.  She was the kind of woman who was up with the dawn every day, and to bed soon after supper was cleaned up.  I remember her thinking her light bill must have been minimal.  She always kept a garden, and was known to have awakened one morning to see a deer eating her peas.  She grabbed her .22 and sneaked out into the “daw-yahd”* in her bra and panties, and had venison for her freezer.
I could go on and on telling little “rustic” stories about her (she was a registered Maine guide, and known for her ability to track bear for her urban clients looking for a hunting adventure), but my main focus is how she was an example of how in former times, illness was attended in the home, and necessarily part of comprehensive domestic training.  More people were at ease with illness, as it entered and dwelt right in their own homes with them.  I am not for a minute lamenting the advent of hospitals and other healthcare facilities, just recognizing that the removal of sick people from our homes can have a distancing effect.  I have heard too many people describe having a fear of hospitals, and observed enough people looking anxious and ill-at-ease just entering the building to think that all of their discomfort in visiting the ill can be attributed to their concern for the patient.  I contend that both visitor and patient can benefit from somehow eliminating this anxiety.  I’m not sure exactly how to accomplish this, but I suspect that simply talking about it is a good place to start.
Have you a fear of hospitals?  Are you uncomfortable around people when they are sick?  Have you ever been the “home nurse” for a loved one?  Did you feel comfortable in the role?  I really want to hear your stories.  If you want to express an opinion on this topic, leave me a comment; maybe you’d like to be a guest poster.  I have no doubt that whatever your experience, someone will be helped by hearing your story.

*  In Maine, a “dooryard” is essentially the driveway, or more generally, the part of the yard which constitutes the approach to the house.  The term undoubtedly precedes the automobile, and every winter it is important to keep the dooryard clear of snow, so you can get in and out to the road.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Being Irene (or Bedside Sitting, Part One)

My grandmother and my father

I don’t much like giving advice, unless it is asked for.  And when it is asked for, I can do a better job if given a chance to sort out my thoughts on the subject.  Today, I am posting unasked-for advice, only because I think it may help someone.  I don’t consider myself an expert in any way, but I have experience in two areas:  1) I have been a healthcare provider, and as such have worked in hospitals, nursing homes, and medical offices; 2)  I have been a family member when my loved ones have been ill.  My father battled cancer a few years ago.  My mother has had her hospital episodes.  My stepfather is in the midst of chemotherapy, and now my heretofore robust and healthy older brother is in a battle for his life.  Two of my children were hospitalized as neonates for Respiratory Syncitial Virus, and one of them also for hyperbilirubinemia.  (I also have been a patient, enduring 5 days in hospital for a particularly challenging case of Clostridium difficile colitis, an occupational hazard of nursing home work.)
I have encountered many patients, family members and healthcare workers.  I have found it helpful always to keep in mind that patients and their families are rarely at their best in the midst of a medical crisis.  At the worst, their world is crashing around them, perhaps changing their lives forever, and at the very least, they are experiencing a disruption in their daily rhythm, adapting and absorbing a cost of resources, time, etc, and challenging their coping strategies.
I had a grandmother, whose first name was Irene, who taught by example that loving people brings out the best in them.  And for her, “loving” people was not an emotion you experienced passively.  Loving people involved active intent, being consistently kind, jovial and accepting.  I never saw her react to someone’s negative behavior.  Ever.  She never seemed to nurse a grudge, even a score, or retaliate a slight.  (And there were plenty of slights, believe me.)  She blessed everyone around her with her cheerful disposition, and strength of character.  She was unconventional in many ways, and as such, not universally admired; for many people it took a long time to understand and accept what she was all about, but I think that, sooner or later, most who knew her “got it”.   
A long time ago, I concluded that one of the most worthwhile character strengths to develop was to be someone who brought out the best in others. A little like Melanie Hamilton Wilkes in GWTW, Lately however, I have taken to calling it "Being Irene".  For the most part, the old-fashioned idea of “etiquette” seeks to accomplish just this.  I needn’t lament here the shocking examples we can see on TV of the impact of abandoning such behaviors.  There has been such an emphasis on “being yourself”, “do your own thing”, “do what’s right for you”, in the last few decades that I fear we as a society lose something if we don’t consider one another more.  
We could all use a little more "Being Irene".