Friday, January 13, 2017

Patients that Changed My Life: Donna

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.

This patient was back before I became a nurse, when I was a CNA working in an assisted living. Assisted livings aren’t nursing homes, they’re mostly for people who need a little bit of assistance but can mostly survive on their own. As patients grow weaker, or sicker, they move to nursing homes.

I didn’t really understand the nuances or differences. In an Assisted Living, you’re supposed to encourage them to be independent for as long as possible. One of my patients, Donna, had early onset Parkinson’s, and she had a difficult time eating. For those of you who work in the medical field, and especially in long care, you know that we have all sorts of tools to help people like Donna. There’s the weighted silverware, which makes it so that the tremors are more offset, there’s the lip plates, which are almost like bowls, so that you don’t have to scoop the food, you can push it against the lip, and there’s nosey cups, which makes it so you don’t have to tip the cup back so far. There’s obviously much more than that, but those are the basics that I’ve seen used.

Now Donna had been working with different therapies, and she had weighted silverware and a lip plates, but even with that, she would spill food all over the place because of her tremors. She sat at a table with three other women, and I noticed that after a while, she stopped eating. She was so embarrassed by the fact that she made a mess that she refused to eat.

I served them their food every day, and we all noticed as she became more frail and weak. Finally, one of her tablemates asked me if I would be willing to feed her. Of course, I said yes, and I sat down with her, and she was able to eat almost half of her meal, which was more than she’d eaten in weeks. 

Later that week, I heard one of the other CNAs talking about it, and how Donna was now dependent on someone to feed her, and that if I hadn’t done it the first time, she would have done it on her own.
It kind of broke my heart to hear that. In a therapy standpoint, and looking back at it, yes, she probably would have kept trying at least a little more, but the fact was that she would wait until the dining room was cleared to even try. And by that point, the CNAs were eager to clean up so they could get on with their next chores. She always felt rushed, and she was so embarrassed that she put aside her own health, her own needs so that she wouldn’t annoy the people around her.

I started bringing snacks to her, little things that she could eat without using silverware. Now I know that they’re called finger foods, and I worked in a facility that actually had that as an option for those who had a hard time using silverware. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen it in any other facility that I’ve worked in. It’s an inconvenience for the kitchen to prepare a meal purely of finger foods, even if it makes it so that the patient is able to eat better.


It’s still hard for me to see patients who struggle to eat, or healthcare providers who are so busy looking at the bottom line or the health side of things to realize when dignity is being compromised.