Beyond Jingle Bells: From Macy’s Halls to Nursing Home Walls

December 4, 2023   |   PA

Here we are in December and the country will be involved with the hustle and bustle of shopping, holiday music, families coming together and sharing both their joy and their presents; some will see snowy weather to brighten our landscape and there will be quite a bit of family traveling. Macy’s will maintain its tradition of store windows filled with enticing gifts and, yes, we will give them our hard-earned money in return for the experience of walking through their halls amidst the tune of “Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly.” Some will be visiting Santa with our children and grandchildren, watching their little hearts thump with joy. Today’s children not only anticipate Santa and his reindeer flying through the skies, but also have the opportunity of following him by satellite. Amidst this cheery time, I think of those who will not experience the joy: some of the elderly in nursing homes and extended care facilities as well as individuals who find themselves homeless this year. Some are coping with the ravages of war. Some have fled their country of origin to find a better life, at great peril for themselves and their children.

Let’s look at some of those that I have mentioned, who have tears in their eyes when they hear the holiday music because it brings back memories of the past when they were the very center of these events. They have been removed, in many cases, from the family unit, and are existing in a vacuum of loneliness. I am involved in visiting a group of these folks for a few hours on a Sunday and have the opportunity to listen to them, to hear their fears, and to feel their pain. They are no longer in the home that they bought and paid for; they have been moved to a new location without a partner or the sounds of children and their laughter. They are missing their freedom, their familiar surroundings, their healthcare providers, affection, hope, independence, interaction with friends, and, most importantly, their dignity.

What do they fear? Victimization, physical harm, unwanted advances from others living in their facility or even from the health workers who are responsible for their safety. They suffer from mental abuse, the absence of family members for visitation, discomfort and unanswered call bells, sorrow and misery, grief, desperation, anguish and panic, and ever-present fear. Not a pretty picture. But this is a reality for them: ask me, as I take the time to speak with them and offer whatever solace I can. Many of these do not have frequent visitation from a professional and are in a poor condition when that visit occurs, or they are rushed to a hospital. You and I, as health care professionals, have an obligation to be their advocates. I reflect on a TV show that I followed for a month, New Amsterdam. The Chief of the Medical Staff repeatedly spoke to his staff and always asked, “How can I help?” How can you and I help these estranged family members; how can we make a difference? How can we be their advocates? How can we make this season different and perhaps hopeful?

Those in homeless shelters are in a more dangerous and lonelier situation. They have the same problems as the elderly, complicated by the fact that they have fallen onto bad times. I also volunteer with a group of nurses, called NSON, Nurses Serving Our Neighbors from Charlotte, NC. They visit shelters and other types of units and offer their services by doing clinics, triaging the neighbors to a PCP, listening to their problems, offering spiritual advice and performing clinics for diabetes education and taking blood pressures. The members of the teams are nurses, PAs, a minister, spiritual directors and administrators. More significantly, they are all volunteers who are concerned and are giving the residents the gift of themselves and their talents. They are living and functional gifts.

What can we do as medical professionals to augment their work? How can we make ourselves accessible to this marginalized and diverse group of patients and neighbors? Our gift during this season and throughout the year can be to make our offices and community clinics accessible. We can be the hands and eyes and ears of empathy and concern. Many of us, when applying to an NP or PA program, mentioned that we would like to enter rural medicine or to serve underserved populations. These folks represent an underserved group of people that are within our reach and, whether they are in a nursing home, an extended care facility or a homeless shelter, we can be that seasonal gift that can change or save their lives. My son is an RN in Atlanta and functions in the capacity as a lead mental health nurse serving in a prison. Everyone can find a niche if they have room in their heart or imagination.

What is the payback? It may not be monetary, but it can be the experience of helping another traveler on life’s journey and knowing that you were a unique caregiver and have gone where few have gone before. It is a unique experience of seeking out the best in others and, during that search, discovering the best in ourselves. Can I encourage you to be curious about this mission field that is not overseas but in our own communities, our own backyard? “Curiosity is the wick of the candle of learning,” said William Arthur Ward. There is much to learn about and from these patients and much to learn about ourselves, simultaneously.

When I think of seasonal gifts, I also think of the gifts involved with our professional organizations. They provide us with a legislative thrust, they encourage our unity, they have established the strength of verifiable numbers of membership, they create a CME or CEU pathway to certification and continued learning, they endorse a medical malpractice provider so that we are free from worry in the event of a legal challenge to our service. They offer us security, not for us alone, but for our families. I have never lost a night of sleep due to fear because I obtained a personal liability insurance policy with my name on the contract. Most importantly, these associations and organizations provide for us the gift of each other, shared experiences, counseling, and companionship as we gather for conferences and to receive the gift of each other. Yes, we too are seasonal and yearly gifts to one another. What can we give this holiday season? We can give the gift of ourselves, a gift that never runs dry and is replenished with our actions and our ability to both give and receive. Happy Holidays.

Written For CM&F By: Robert M. Blumm, PA, DFAAPA, PA-C Emeritus
CM&F Clinical Advisor


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