I received an email the other day. You know the kind where they forward a joke, or something. But no real communication. And, like most folks, I just delete these. For some reason, I read this one.
It was a busy morning, about 8:30, when an elderly gentleman in his 80's arrived to have stitches removed from his thumb. He said he was in a hurry as he had an appointment at 9:00 am .
I took his vital signs and had him take a seat, knowing it would be over an hour before someone would to able to see him. I saw him looking at his watch and decided, since I was not busy with another patient, I would evaluate his wound. On exam, it was well healed, so I talked to one of the doctors, got the needed supplies to remove his sutures and redress his wound.
While taking care of his wound, I asked him if he had another doctor's appointment this morning, as he was in such a hurry.The gentleman told me no, that he needed to go to the nursing home to eat breakfast with his wife. I inquired as to her health.
He told me that she had been there for a while and that she was a victim of Alzheimer's Disease. As we talked, I asked if she would be upset if he was a bit late. He replied that she no longer knew who he was, that she had not recognized him in five years now.
I was surprised, and asked him, 'And you still go every morning, even though she doesn't know who you are?'
He smiled as he patted my hand and said,
'She doesn't know me, but I still know who she is.'
I'm not a medical professional. Nor do I know whether the Kupuna with Alzheimer's disease knows when a child or loved one comes to visit. In fact, in my observations over the past 8 years that I've been volunteering at nursing homes, many can't tell the difference from one day to the next. Many begin crying a few minutes after a visitation from a family member, claiming that no one comes to visit.
And I do know why the majority of people don't visit a family member. The elderly with Alzheimer's disease becomes a different person. He/she is no longer a productive person and in fact needs care and handling like a baby. It's difficult to watch and to deal with someone who once had all the confidence in the world deteriorate so much.
We're also busy. We have lives to live and if they don't remember us anyway, why not visit once a week or even once a month, just to make sure the caregivers are making them comfortable? We have our work, our families and social events to attend. Visiting our kupunas eats up too much time.
At St. Francis West Hospice
I was at the hospice the other week and a lady had the staff wheel her mother out to the lobby where I was playing. Her mother had recently suffered a stroke but was somehow able to communicate with her daughter. I was asked to play something that Alfred Apaka had done so I went one step further and sang "To You, Sweetheart, Aloha" to her.
She knew Apaka back in the day and I could tell through the daughter that she was touched and happy hearing that song. When I got through with my hour and getting ready to leave, she again asked for that song and I complied.
On the way out, she wanted to talk to me and hold my hand. And I did. This happens a lot when I get through playing at nursing homes. So I have to make sure that I always have my hands cleaned with the solution that's provided so I don't pass any germs on to anyone. And all they want to do is to touch a human being. In many cases, they want to show their gratitude for bringing back memories through music.
Anyone can do this. While visiting, hold their hands. Just the human touch is enough. Some are scared and holding hands gives them reassurance that they're not alone. This gives them strength. And the assurance that when it's time to leave this earth, they will be appreciated for their contributions they made through life. It means a lot to them.