During my grade school years, my mother worked at a nearby nursing home, The Aspen Siesta. Mom was one of two RNs that worked the swing-shift, along with several medical assistants, and the kitchen staff. Mom was often the person in charge during her shifts.
The Aspen Siesta was s small, but high-end facility. The owner, Ruthann Horsley, insisted on being called Mrs. Horsley — by everyone including the staff, the residents, and even her husband, Dr. Horsley, who was the co-administrator.
Because the Aspen Siesta was close to our home, I often spent my after school hours there. My brother, four years older, was usually involved in extracurricular activities or with friends, and mom didn’t want me home alone. So long as I wasn’t disruptive or a distraction to my mom, Mrs. Horsley allowed me to be there.
I’d sit at a table in the corner of the dining room and pretend to do homework while I daydreamed about flying fighter jets, being the next Terry Bradshaw, or robbing banks — one of which was a more natural fit than the others. Each day at 4pm, a crowd of canes and wheelchairs would gather around the console television in the commons area to watch the Merv Griffin show.
Every so often, Mrs. Horsley would stop by my table to check on me. If I was lucky, she’d lay down a square of Pepperidge Farms coconut cake. Even as a kid I recognized the kindness in that gesture and always thanked her. Despite that kindness, Mrs. Horsley commanded the room whenever she entered it. Staff and residents alike listened to her every word and nobody dared talk back.
One afternoon while doing my homework, a female resident approached the table where I was seated. She quietly picked up a potted plant from the center of the table — and began taking bites from it. I was petrified. It was the first time I became aware of the vulnerability and lack of mental acuity in the elderly. Mrs. Horsley saw the woman and used her commanding voice to stop her, subsequently taking the plant from her hand. I was grateful she intervened, but her loud voice scared me just as much.
After that incident, I found myself paying more attention to the behaviors of the residents. I noticed their trembling hands, food falling from their mouths, their clumsy feet, and their faint voices. I developed an aversion to the elderly — something that would stay with me for years.
I asked my mom about it once — about how she could stand being around old people. They were so gross, I thought. She told me it was her job and taking care of them mattered to her more than the things she found offensive. She also encouraged me to see beyond it — to consider they were all children once, just like me.
I’ve been thinking about all of this lately — reflecting on my time at the Aspen Siesta.
My mother is no longer the nurse in charge — she’s now the resident. I frequently wipe food from her mouth as she eats. Her voice, especially late in the day, is often too weak to understand. She hasn’t attempted to eat a floral centerpiece yet, but she recently had a conversation with a flashlight as though it were her friend of 20-years. In helping her get in and out of bed, I occasionally see her backside. I’ve even assisted her in the bathroom a time or two. And through all of this, it’s never been gross. I see beyond it, as mom encouraged me to do 50-years ago.
And in those moments when it becomes necessary to assert my authority or gain her trust, I leverage those visceral memories by taking her back in time with me. I say things like…
Think of me as your Mrs. Horsley now…
This is your own private Aspen Siesta...
What would nurse Willie do…?
Fifty-years ago — while sitting at a table in a nursing home adding fractions in a workbook as the Merv Griffin show played in the background, and with Mrs. Horsley barking commands at the staff and residents alike, I had no idea I was in a training program for the life that I now live. I’m honestly not sure though, if I’d handle the responsibilities of caregiving in the same way had I not spent those afternoons learning what elder care is all about — the good, bad, and ugly of it all.
This is what I think about when I ride… Jhciacb
This week by the numbers…
Bikes Ridden: 6
Mph Avg: 15.8
Seat Time: 09 hours 11 minutes
Whether you ride a bike or not, thank you for taking the time to ride along with me today. If you haven’t already, please scroll up and subscribe. If you like what you read, give it a like and a share. If not, just keep scrollin’. Oh, and there’s this from Fury In The Slaughterhouse. Enjoy…