Friday, September 24, 2010

Miss Minnie and the Nursing Home

To be honest, I was dreading my trip to the nursing home.
It had been five years since I'd been to one, back when we took a group of kids from Children on Mission to sing Christmas carols. I was in charge of the first graders, who kept calling out questions like, "Why does it smell like pee here?" and "Why is his mouth hanging open like that?" By the end of the evening, an old lady had tried to convince us to help her escape, and when we said goodbye to one man, he called after us in a shaky voice, "I'll see you in heaven."

But of course I had to go.
I had swung by Miss Minnie's house a few minutes earlier on my Meals on Wheels route and imagined the scene when they took her away. She must have been so scared.
The condemned sign was still on the door and the wheelchair was in the same place that I'd seen it two weeks ago, parked on the porch, a puddle of water in the seat, left over from the rain.

She'd been in the nursing home a week now. Was she still mad?
Angry for being forcibly taken out of her house, away from her bug infested bed and her chamber pot, away from the yellowed photos of her family hanging on the walls and her TV, with "The Price Is Right" blaring? Away from everything she had in the world?

What if she figured out that I had a part in it?
Miss Minnie had thrown a big fit; the social worker had made that clear. What if in all the fussing and scratching, the social worker had used me as a scapegoat? Would Miss Minnie even want to see me?
It was the right thing to do, I told myself as I pulled into the parking lot. No matter what she says or how bad it is here, it's got to be better than where she came from.
I braced myself for the worst. It didn't look like much from the outside.
And then I walked through the doors.

It was beautiful, really.
There were murals on the walls. It smelled clean.
The men and women in scrubs looked busy, and as I walked through the corridors, searching for her wing, I noticed all the patients wheeling themselves ever so slowly to the nurse's stations, like barn cats gathering around the feed bowl when the farmer walks in. It was almost time for lunch.

Finally I reached the rehabilitation wing. "I'm looking for Miss Minnie Jackson.*"
"Look behind you," a nurse smiled.
I turned, but I didn't see her.
"You're looking right at her," the nurse laughed.
"Miss Minnie?" I said at the white haired woman, her head hanging down.
She raised her head in a puzzled look and I hardly recognized her. The scabs from the bug bites on her cheeks and forehead had healed and were gone. Her clothes were clean and she was clean, her fingernails neatly trimmed, her hair was completely different, snow white and slightly curled, like my Granny Farley's used to be. Her face reminded me of hers too, soft and smooth. Her white tuft of a beard was gone.
"Miss Minnie," I said, "It's me, Becky, from Meals on Wheels."
"Oh," she said, and her eyes glimmered a little.
"I'm so glad to see you. Are you doing okay?"
"I guess so," she said, and straightened up in her chair. "What are you doing here?"
"I came to see you. Is that okay?"
"Well yes," she said, as if that were a silly question. "You want to eat lunch with me?"
"I can sit with you during lunch, if you want."
"Okay, but you'll have to show me where it is I'm supposed to go. I get so turned around in this place."
The nurse pointed us the way, and we went into a room full of other people in wheelchairs, each pulled up to tables, all in their own little worlds. A nurse was putting huge paper bibs on each one, calling them by name and asking how they were doing today. There was a lady in one corner who kept calling out, "Sweetheart, please," every five seconds.

"She's out of her mind," Miss Minnie said, seeing me glance at her. "I wanna say, 'Please what?' but she don't know what she's saying. She never shuts up."

So we sat together, with another woman who smiled when I introduced myself, and then didn't say another word the entire lunch. Miss Minnie and I talked a little, but I mainly watched her eat. She was hungry, eating every bit of her beef Stroganoff, her roll, and her jello with strawberries. "I think you like it," I said, teasing her.
"It's not bad," she said.
"It's not bad?" I laughed. "You want me to hold the plate up so you can lick it?"
She laughed a little. "No, I can't do that. They might stick me in exercise again, say they need to teach me to eat. They call it therapy, but it's really exercise. You know I haven't exercised in sixty some years? But I have to do it here."
"Is it hard?"
"No, it's not hard. It's good for me, I guess. But I don't like it much."

"You don't like what much?" said a nurse, wrapping her arms around Miss Minnie and kissing her on the cheek. "We just love Miss Minnie," she said to me. "She's a character."
"Now what don't you like much?" the nurse asked Miss Minnie.
"Exercise. Therapy."
"Yeah, well, we got to get you chewing right. We worked on popcorn this morning, didn't we? That's probably why you can't eat all your noodles, today, right? Cause I stuffed you full of popcorn."
"Maybe. Could I have some coffee please?"
"Sure honey. How do you take it?"
"One pack of sugar. That's all."

After Miss Minnie lingered over her coffee, she asked me if I wanted to see her room. It was clean (Hallelujah!) and neat as a pin.
"You want to sit on the bed? We could watch TV."
I told her I had to go, but I'd be back in two weeks. I'd stop by after my route was done.
"Alright," she said. "I'll see you then. If I'm not already dead, that is."

I think I like nursing homes now. At least that one.

I thought you might enjoy the update. It's important to celebrate the good news happening around us. I'd love to hear yours. Do tell!
Have a great weekend, y'all.
Love, Becky

*Miss Minnie is not her real name.
Photo by daoro, creative commons


Terri Tiffany said...

Reading this reminds me of my days as a social worker. Moving to a nursing home is often difficult due to the many adjustments the patient has to make. I know she appreciated seeing you:) Not everyone gets visitors. Sounds like she has been placed in a good one!

Natalie said...

"Sweetheart, please."
I cried.
Somewhere in time, her sweetheart is waiting.
Thank you for sitting with Miss Minnie, and then bringing us along.

Sharon said...

It's very nice to hear this chapter of "Miss Minnie" and her adjustment to new adventures in a new home. I bet the next chapter will be a good one, too! Please share!

Dawn said...

Thanks for the update. I was wondering about Miss Minnie! Sounds like a lovely place.

Susan said...

Thanks for the update. I'm glad Miss Minnie has a friend like you.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

OH, Becky, thank you for the update. I'm SO glad to hear she's doing well and adjusting fine to her new digs. YAY for Miss Minnie!

Cathy said...

Thank you for updating us about Miss Minnie. The story continues for both of you. Blessings to you for seeing her.

Shauna said...

Have a great weekend! Hope you come visit and follow me too :) Shauna from

CC said...

That's the first happy nursing home story I think I've ever heard.
And yes, it is a Speech Therapist (such as myself) making her do those mean eating exercises. ;)

Red Letter Believers said...

There are so many wonderful things to learn in nursing homes....and you experienced many of them.

Kelly H-Y said...

This warmed my heart to pieces ... and, so good of you to spend time with her.

Jeff Rogers said...

Thanks so much for this latest word on "Miss Minnie." Her improved living conditions and your relational and spiritual fortitude are both impressive.

At the risk of introducing an issue not so wonderful into a wonderful post, I also say, "Thank God for the social workers and therapists and the tax dollars that pay them and provide Medicare support for millions of Miss Minnie's to leave the squalor of substandard living conditions, inadequate hygiene and insufficient nutrition."

Sometimes wonders never cease because we have the corporate will outside the church to help those in our society who cannot help themselves by ensuring that everyone--not just "church-going folks"--pitches in their part to provide for those who cannot provide for themselves.

Amy Sullivan said...

Thank you for updating us on Miss Minnie.

Ever since the condemed sign was put up, I was hoping that wouldn't be the end of your friendship with her. It is good to hear about such a wonderful place because most of my memories are like yours...dirty and smelling of pee.

"I'll see you then, if I'm not already dead..." I could almost hear her saying that one.

Alise said...

Thank you for sharing this update!

My mom worked as an activities director in a nursing home for years as I was growing up, so I spent a lot of time there as a child and adolescent. I have a lot of fond memories of that place and of the people I met there. So glad to hear she's in a good place!

Douglas Dahl said...

Thanks for the post. I read it and the other Miss Minnie's that you had linked. Your work is obviously that of "true religion" as described in James. You also raise some very interesting questions. The note from the church is just embarrasing. How does someone, or maybe even ourselves eventually, end up so alone at the end of life? Can the same stubborness that refuses the nursing the same stubborness that leaves people isolated?

Barb said...

Hi Becky,

What a wonderful update. I know Miss Minnie appreciated seeing you. Keep the updates coming.

Tell Todd that I LOVE his shirt! Period.

Big hugs,

Jenny said...

Thank you for the update Becky. So, so glad she is doing so well and kindly looked after. I have been without my modem for a week and then for two months before it was pretty tempramental (sp). Now I am back and glad to be catching up with you.