Don’t Fear the Reaper

Beyond being one of my favorite songs,  it is a sentiment I hold dear and feel the truth in.  

I have chosen to follow a path with my career in massage therapy that few are willing to endeavor into.  I work with the geratric population, and have for over 4 years. 

My husband has pointed out that many people go into caring for elders for the right reasons,  but few are able to stick with it. He also pointed out that often you see there are those working in nursing facilities because it’s a solid job,  not because that is their preferred choice, and those are always the first to take another line of work.
He told me just last night that it is a wonderful thing I do, because even though it is hard,  I continue to do the work because I recognize the need.   He’s not the first to tell me that.  In fact I’ve heard it thousands of times. Friends tell me, residents tell me I’m going to be so blessed because of what I do for them. Yet, I have trouble believeing it.

For me my work is just that:  providing a necessary service to a needy populace, of which I’m very skilled in providing and well  informed in handling aspects of their situation; mainly as a means to pay my bills.  It’s not physically demanding,  not mentally difficult,  and though it can be emotionally and energetically taxing- even draining at times – there are worse things in the world. I’m simply doing what I know I can and should do.  I don’t feel that makes me special. 

Beyond that,  there are days which I’d  rather not.  Be it I woke up already tired,  I am already slogging through my own emotional muck, or I know it’s a full moon and thus likely to be a horrendously difficult day,  I find myself saying: do I really need to go in today. 

Yet, I nearly always do. 

My days off have been few and far between.  I’ve taken 3 one week vacations for family in the 4 years, I took one month off for the birth of my son, and I can count my sick days using just my fingers. And I’m a contractor,  so there’s been no boss to enforce my attendance, no one to threaten the loss of a job for missing too much work. I simply know I need to do my work,  not just for my bills,  but for those that would miss their massages if I was gone. 

But there is something else that keeps me going,  keeps me helping.  I don’t know what to call it for certain.  I’ve had people reference being a Death Doula. I don’t know if I like that label.  I know that whatever it is, my mom had it too.

What am I taking about?  Well I have a sense of when someone is about to pass. My mom did too. She used to talk about how people acted and spoke before they passed away.  She’d said there were times that she swore she’d seen  a ghost visit someone and within days they’d pass.  There were hundreds of stories she’d told me growing up. She spent over 20 years working as an LPN in nursing homes, she had plenty of them. Most of her stories she knew that someone was within a week of passing, and a few stories she would tell,  people  were hours to a couple of days from passing  when she got the knowing. 

For me though,  it’s less reliable.  Maybe because I have less experience yet,  or because I see my residents less often (once a week, instead of daily). Regardless,  I still seem to have the sense. Though sometimes there’s a bit of a delayed reaction.

Often I find myself realizing after the fact that I’ve had what I’ve come to refer to as “the goodbye talk”, and usually anywhere from a few  days to 6 weeks after the talk, the resident passes.  I have numerous examples,  but some  come to mind more readily. Here’s a couple (for HIPPAA reg.s I’ve changed names):

My most memorable was a retired priest I’ll  call Fred. He never did want me to work with him.  Be it pride, or his training,  he just didn’t want a massage.  Every visit was accompanied by “go away” or “leave me alone” or fist shaking.  Once he actually made contact with my shoulder in the closest thing to a punch he could muster.  Most of the time he would eventually give in and let me work.  Finally one day after a good fist shake,  I sat down, and confession style told him essentially that I wasn’t going away.  I said that I  needed to pay my bills and I would give massages to him because it was requested.  Followed with “there’s only 2 ways out of getting my massages, and only one of them would be to move out of the building”. I didn’t finish the rest of the sentence,  because death was simply implied.

  One week later he passed away, the night before I was due to see him again.

Then there was Miss M. I had been seeing her  for 2 years,  unable to stand, unable to speak,  could not feed herself,  could not use a toilet,  every action was  provided to her. When I worked with her I had to rely on facial expressions to tell if I was using too much pressure,  and she could only take the lightest of touch.  I knew she was miserable. I always talked to her  when I worked.  Telling her what I was doing,  telling her about the weather,  small talk.  One day though I interjected  my perspective on her situation.  Telling her: I see you are always in pain,  & I’m hardly helping.  Your family will miss you dearly, but that’s inevitable.  Everyone greives when they loose family,  but it’s impossible to live forever.  If you’re in as much pain as I believe you are,  you should just let go.  You’re suffering will not make their greif any less later…. 

She passed away two weeks later.  

I think I’ve just had another talk like that.  Though I’m not certain.  My buddy Jim, I’ve worked with for a couple of years as well, and I’ve seen him twice a week for over a year now.  We usually talk about a lot of things including politics,  & I’ve done just about every other type of caregiver thing for him that’s possible. I see a lot of my Dad in Jim, and feel close to him like father-daughter. Well this week’s first visit was on a relatively good day when everything was going smoothly. Yet, when I got to him I suddenly felt the urge to go on a tangent politically.  Jim is a Republican but has said he doesn’t like Trump. Anyway,  I asked “Do you have a contingency plan for when everything goes to crap, because I don’t?” He said “What do you mean?”. I replied to the effect that both Trump & Hillary are out for money and that I highly doubted either one of them would do anything to help the American people,  but both would pass laws to help their businesses. I followed with that they would probably screw the financial system,  taxes, and medical system for the average joe because that would make them more money. & I explained that I knew people  thinking about heading to either Canada or South America & I had no idea what I’d do.  … He repeated several times “I’d never thought of it that way.” Then on Friday when I went to see him,  he was very low energy,  could hardly talk,  was saying he felt like he was dieing and couldn’t catch his breath.  Everything was hyper sensitive and he hurt everywhere.  It even appeared that he had blood in his urine when I helped him out of the restroom.  I spoke with the lead nurse and she explained they were aware of everything and doing everything they could,  and she reminded me that they were limited because he had a DNR on file.

Now, I don’t know for certain that he’s on  his way out.  What I do know is I’ve told him: “I’m not afraid of death.  I’m afraid of pain, suffering, lack of finances,  being homeless,  many things,  but not death.” I also know that I care for this person like my own dad,  and hate to see him in pain. I also know that the facility he’s in does have limitations in his care because of government regulations on pain medications and his own DNR.

 And with everything I  know I’d rather he find his way out/home as peacefully as possible, rather than continue to suffer. I hate more than anything to see another human being suffer. So it’s a bitter-sweet knowing that his transition is sooner than later.  

Does it mean I look forward to my job? 

– No.

Does it mean I hate my job? 

– No.

It simply is.  

Whether I’m Special or not.  Whether I’m different or not.  Whether I’m blessed or not (I have yet to see the blessings by the way). 

It just is.

I will continue to get up and go into my buildings multiple days a week,  weeks on end, years even,  until something spectacular changes my world and relieves me of my duties. I will continue to be there for those that need me, and say  goodbye to each of them in their time. It seems it’s just what I  do.

Blessed Be Each and Every One of Them. 

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