I spent the morning visiting patients, and today’s rounds were, well, different, to say the least. I was kneeling next to a patient’s wheelchair in the activity room of the nursing home, talking quietly and soothingly, when the chosen activity of the morning ( singing and dancing) suddenly commenced. The activity leaders were cutting the rug and singing at the top of their lungs, encouraging the patients to clap, sing, dance if they could, when suddenly a small elderly lady in a wheelchair near me shouted out to the activity leaders, “You got it, baby! Shake that butt!”
Just as a mischievous kid in school is rewarded with grins and chuckles from classmates, other patients smiled and looked like they were on the verge of belting out their own delightful encouragement but didn’t quite dare. Just as it quieted down a bit and I returned to my conversation, the same elderly lady ripped out, “You GOT it! Keep it going! Move it, shake it! Mmmmm-hmmmm!” And other colorful phrases I can’t remember because I started to laugh. One look at her and I knew it could not be blamed on dementia, or not knowing what she was doing, because the pleased smirk on her face and the glow in her eyes gave away that she found herself amusing too. A nurse moved her to a table by herself, in punishment or to reduce the reinforcement for her catcalls, I’m not sure; but I finished my visit with the patient and went over to say good-bye to the “trouble-maker”, who smiled at me and told me, “You are just a doll. A doll! I was just telling her (gestured to woman next to her), Isn’t she a doll? And she said oh my yes.”
It was a much-needed laugh during a visit with a man who can’t speak because it hurts him to do so, who can’t tell me the thoughts, feelings, and fears in his mind; a woman who doesn’t remember that a counselor stopped by last week, can’t remember much of anything, but waved at me as I left and plaintively watched me leave, as if trying to hold a memory that was slipping away already; and a man who has lost touch with much of what is around him, his memories smeared together like melted ice cream, running into each other.
As I left the activity room, I firmly decided that if I should someday be a patient in a nursing home, I hope to be the bad kid in the back, laughing, making jokes, amusing myself, keeping everyone on their toes, cracking up any hospice staff who cross my devious path. And if they stop to talk to me, I will flash a feisty grin and if they are lucky, I may even call them a doll.