My learning experience continued while I worked at this facility. I had become part of the residents’ family. I listened to their issues, their stories about growing up and empathized with all their complaints.
The lock down floor became my favourite. Maybe it was the journey I had with Mom and her Alzheimer’s, but these individuals grabbed my heart. Very few residents could speak for themselves, but a touch on the arm, a smile from a stranger, especially a piece of music playing could bring about emotions that most would have thought they had lost. The uncertainty of this floor also created chaos at times. I realized that individuals who had mental illness, such as schizophrenia, were sharing their life and demons with the seniors suffering from dementia. This, if not monitored, would create challenges.
There was a young (late 50’s) gentleman who had suffered from schizophrenia his entire life, integrated in with the vulnerable seniors. To say he was smart was an understatement. Prior to moving to the lockdown floor, he had shared a room with another senior on one of the non-lockdown floors. While there, he walked around, but became nervous and suspicious if strangers approached him. I was warned by many of the staff to stay away from him during my first few weeks. I was told that he could be aggressive and delusional at times. I was trained in ‘gerontology’ but in school we never really covered severe cases of mental illness in any of our courses. I decided to read his chart, prior to introducing myself. In turn, my cohort told me it would take time to get to know him, but once I made the initial introduction, he would be fine. I have to admit that I was fearful. When people ‘label’ others, that ‘label’ has certain connotations, and with the ‘aggressive’ label attached to this resident, I had become nervous to even look at him. But I tried to internalize my fear, as I began to initiate short conversations with him. Then as fate would have it, he was transferred to the lockdown floor. I had to begin all over again as there was always an adjustment period for the resident who changed floors or rooms. I realized that this gentleman would see everyone as different and strange. Not to mention, many of the residents living on the floor wandered or paced the halls, and would lose their way trying to find their rooms. Many times the residents would end up in his room, an argument would ensue and the staff would try to calm both of them. This would not be a good mix for someone suffering from schizophrenia, as he began to see everyone as a threat. His disease was controlled by medication, but if the nursing staff didn’t watch him take his pills, as we would find out later, he would hide them.
In a long-term care facility there are certain codes that each staff member must know and react to accordingly. Code white is one of those codes. This code, when called out over the PA system means that urgent assistance is needed by all staff members in the building.
This one particular day I was gathering up materials to take to the lockdown floor for my music program when ‘code white’ was called over the system to the lockdown floor.
Oh boy, I thought to myself. I had only been here for a couple of months and I wasn’t prepared for any of this. I dropped everything and ran up the stairwell as quick as possible. I searched out the Registered Nurse to ask what she wanted me to do. She looked at me and said
‘Just make sure no one goes into the dining room, stay out here in the hallway at this dining room entrance. We have called the police’.
‘Okay’, I said, with hesitation.
I wasn’t quite sure what the issue was, but the call to the police meant we had a huge problem.
Now, you would have thought I had the easy job. What could be easier than re-directing a person suffering from dementia? You’d be surprised! If there is one thing that I have learned over the years, is that persons suffering from dementia ‘feel’ more than others. They are able to read and pickup on everyone’s feelings, more so than the normal person. They may have lost their speech, their logical thought, their activities of daily living, but with that loss, gained the ever important ‘feeling’ sense. Resident’s who never walked through the dining room kept heading towards the entrance. Maybe it was the officers uniform or something entirely different, nonetheless, they wanted in that dining room immediately.
So there I was dancing in the hallway trying to make sure the residents did not enter the dining room. I began to sing and reach out to the pacing residents for a dance. What a spectacle we probably looked like to the average person. This occurred while the police engaged the aggressive resident and placed him in handcuffs just feet away. Once the ‘aggressive’ resident was restrained and taken away, I noticed a very agitated resident in the dining room with a cut over his eye.
‘Crap’, I thought to myself.
I slowly walked by a police officer talking with the RN, and stepped into the dining room towards the agitated resident. He was a large man, but with a huge heart. I knew by speaking with his family from time to time that he was a retired police officer.
‘Mr. Granton, are you okay?’ I said quietly.
He looked down at me with clenched fists and rambled on about how he had subdued the suspect in the bar fight. Oh oh, he’s reliving something in his past, I thought.
‘Oh Mr. Granton, good for you’, I said while reaching up to gently place my hand on his shoulder.
‘I’m Paula’ I said making sure he knew I was no threat. ‘You are hurt, why don’t you let me get a nurse to look at that cut?’ I asked.
‘No I’m fine!’ he said powerfully. ‘I need to go out there to make sure there are no more punks’ he said pointing to the balcony.
Okay, so now he wanted to go out on the balcony. I was very hesitant to even think of taking him out there. What if he wanted to jump? No, I did not want to do that, as I was frightened for his safety. I scanned the room and noticed it was filling up with pacing Residents. Next thing I knew, he opened the balcony doors and walked right out. I wanted to run after him, but decided I needed to stay calm. I slowly walked beside him touching his arm. I kept talking to him, asking about his wife, his kids, his grandkids, you name it; I tried everything to bring him back to reality. He looked downwards where people had gathered on the sidewalk.
‘Oh there they are!’ he exclaimed waving his large clenched fist.
‘Who are they?’ I asked quietly.
‘Those are the troublemakers’ he said growling.
‘Oh no they aren’t, they are friends of mine’ I said quickly.
He turned his head, looked down at me, and said,
Oh boy, I thought, maybe that was the wrong thing to say. Shit! Think, I told myself.
Okay, I opened this can of worms; I have no choice but to continue… I thought.
‘Hi Sheila’, I said as I waved downwards to one of the persons standing on the sidewalk.
I’m sure the person didn’t hear me, but noticed me waving and hesitantly waved back probably wondering whom the heck I was.
‘See, Mr. Granton, she’s my friend’, I smiled while still caressing his arm.
‘Hmmmpph’ he muttered. ‘I was sure they were the troublemakers’.
Now I began telling him a story about this fictitious Sheila. I told him we had been friends for years, and then asked about his friends. The conversation was short, but Mr. Granton calmed down enough, that I was able to bring him back in the dining room.
I called over one of the nursing staff and asked them to look at his cut.
And that was that. Whew, I wouldn’t want to do that again. I would find out later what happened and why Mr. Granton was bleeding, but right now, had to begin a program to calm the remainder of agitated residents. This day was just beginning, yet I felt I had been here for hours.