Friday, May 13, 2016

Patients that Changed My Life: Billy

As a nurse, I have the chance to meet a lot of people from all walks of life. Some are fun, some are not so fun. Then there are those that change my life, and changed the kind of nurse I am. For privacy purposes, I won’t use real names, but I want to tell you their stories.

To read about previous patients, click here

I know I talk about this a lot, but I love working with Alzheimer patients. There’s something so special about them, especially when you can find a way to connect with them.

One of my patients, Billy, was a mechanical engineer. And he was a pretty impressive one at that. He’d gone to school at some Ivy League schools, and had his PhD, and had many, many patents out there. Unfortunately, as always happens with Alzheimer’s, his mind left him, and when I met him, he wasn’t the same man he once was.

That didn’t mean he stopped being himself. He liked to follow our maintenance men around and tell them what they were doing wrong. Sometimes during dinner, he would stare up at the ceiling, watching circuits the rest of us couldn’t see. As he became more confused, he became more vocal, yelling for help constantly.

One night, I was sitting with him, and he started screaming for help again. Every time we asked him what he needed, he didn’t know. Finally, I went into the maintenance closet, pulled out a screwdriver, and handed him that and a broken hole punch.

“Billy,” I said, once he took it in his hands, “I need you to fix this for me.”

And he set out to do just that. He spent hours on that thing, tinkering as he finally had a purpose. That was all he needed. He needed to feel useful again. He wanted to know that he wasn’t just sitting in a chair, watching life pass by.

It’s so easy to see behaviors, especially when they disrupt other people, as something that needs to be silenced. But more often than not, it’s a call for help. It’s a request for someone to see them, and to fulfil their need.

I hope that we’re all listening, instead of trying to silence them.