Nursing Home Rounds

March 19, 2013

The day began on a high note. As I sat and talked with an elderly patient sitting in her wheelchair, quiet, not remembering much, she suddenly broke out in song.

The day began on a high note. As I sat and talked with an elderly patient sitting in her wheelchair, quiet, not remembering much, she suddenly broke out in song:

The Old Gray Mare just ain’t what she used to be

ain’t what she used to be

ain’t what she used to be . . .

The song “The Old Gray Mare” was about a horse named Lady Suffolk. She was reportedly the first horse to trot a mile in less than two and a half minutes. This was on July 4, 1843, when she was more than 10 years old.

Her eyes twinkled at me, and she laughed a little laugh, and smiled at me. I was slain. I could have proposed right then and there. My day brightened. “Thank you,” I thought.

Later, the nurses insisted I see a new patient: another elderly woman whose memory was fading. Her “gals” (the nurses, that is) thought she was depressed. They were worried, and hoped I could help ease her transition into whatever came next.

I found the tiny, slender woman in her bed, in her shared room, behind her privacy curtain. She was very slight, and dressed in a prim white shirt, a knit sweater unbuttoned, simple pants, and white compression stockings on her shoeless feet.

She looked at me as I approached-she was fully awake, just lying there peacefully.

I pulled out all of my best questions and tried to make contact and understand how she was feeling, to little avail. Her answers were short and noncommittal. Finally, I blurted out, “Is there anything at all that is bothering you?”

She looked at me, assessing me a little.

“Yes,” she said.

I waited. She didn’t offer anything more.

Finally, I asked, “What is bothering you?”

She paused a moment, then said, “My feet are sticking out over the edge of the bed.”
I looked. Her little white, TED-stockinged feet were sticking out over the edge of the bed.

She didn’t have the strength to pull them in.

I looked up at her face. As she gazed at me, it wasn’t clear whether she expected me to say anything else.

“Would you like me to put your feet into the bed?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

Gently, I lifted her little white crane’s feet and put them into the bed, and then pulled the little crocheted baby blue blanket that covered her legs over her feet.

“Thank you,” I thought as I walked back to the nursing station. Thank you.