Laura Y.

The Nursing Home Project

My next-door neighbor, Anna, got sicker and sicker after she retired seven years ago. As I watched her grow older, it frightened me when I saw an ambulance approach her house and transport her to the hospital. Because of her illness, Anna was transferred to a rehabilitation-nursing home center. I often thought to myself, "Maybe I should go visit her." But I was always too scared to go visit the home because I knew I would be upset if I saw people who were disabled and depressed.
 
I remember when I was little that my father once asked me, "Laura, would you like to go and play your violin in a recital for the elderly in a nursing home?" I immediately replied, "No Dad, I’m not ready. The old people won’t like it."
 
But that was not the real reason why I didn’t want to go. I was afraid of the people in the nursing home. I had always envisioned that if I were to go to a home I would be faced with sick people who could no longer enjoy their lives. Everything would be very clean and calm. Classical music would be playing in the background. I imagined that if I were to go and visit them and offer to read a book or play a game, their answer would be, "No! Nonsense!" This kind of interaction was not my typical idea of fun.
 
I began helping out at a nursing home with my Temple youth group in tenth grade. As I was sitting on the bus before we reached the home, I took a deep breath and said to myself, "Okay, it’s going to be fine. The old folks will all be so happy to see us." I kept trying to reassure myself with positive thoughts.
 
When we first met the residents, it was just as I had imagined. They were all in wheel chairs, and most of the elderly were slouched over so that we could not see their faces. We all grabbed chairs and sat next to the people and it was silent. I wanted to start a conversation but when I softly said "Hello, how are you?" I received blank stares or little nods. At the time, I was quickly discouraged by this first encounter but I later realized that I had not spoken loud enough for the people to hear me.
 
We started our visit by going around the room to introduce ourselves. The residents began to become more lively. One resident named Elise, when asked how old she would be turning the next day replied, "Why, I’m only turning eighteen!" We all laughed and I was very surprised to see that many of the residents had a good sense of humor. Another resident even offered to give us French lessons!
 
The activity for the night was bowling. Because all the residents were in wheel chairs, the bowling alley was set up differently from a usual bowling alley. There was a ramp on which the bowling ball sat, and in order to strike the pins, the residents had to push the ball down the ramp. It was sad to see how much energy and effort it took for the ball to roll down the ramp. But I instantly returned to happier spirits when there were big smiles on all the people’s faces. Many residents clapped wildly after someone had done a good job and there was the constant murmur of residents saying, "Oh, she did well! She must now be in first place." All the residents were happily engaged in the bowling game to my pleasant surprise. This, once again, was not the response that I had envisioned.
 
When it was time to say goodbye, we brought the residents back to the medical center. I came home excited to be able to visit the home again. During the following week, we were informed that the only thing the residents were talking about was "the children who had bowled with us."
 
During our next visit to the nursing home, we decided to play BINGO. I sat next to a woman named Rita, a cheerful, energetic lady who had just turned ninety-one years old. She was hard of hearing, but we got along well. I repeated numbers to her and she checked both her board and mine for any numbers that had been called. Rita was very happy to spend time with us. At one point during the game, she asked me, "Who is that boy over there? Is he your boyfriend?" When I told her that he was not my boyfriend, she smiled and said, "Well, he has been looking at you the whole time. But shh! Don’t tell him I said that!"
 
At this little outburst I nodded and laughed and I thought to myself how excited and happy she must have been to be able to have young people come and bring some "drama" into her seemingly dull life at the nursing home.
 
Eventually, Rita won a round of BINGO. The nursing home was giving out small prizes for each winner. Rita won a magnet that said "Welcome Friends." After looking at her prize for a short time, Rita turned to me and said, "Here’s a present for my new friend." This little token of our new friendship not only made Rita feel good, but it also made me happy. We both had benefited from my visits to the nursing home—Rita had made a new friend with whom she could spend time and I had succeeded in helping someone have a better day.
 
On the way out that evening, we passed by a resident named Roger. He had just received a new wheelchair. We admired his new wheelchair, and pushed the buttons to see how we could move the chair in all different directions. Roger seemed happy that we had taken an interest in him, but then he said, "Keep your laces on as long as you can." Roger made sure we understood that no matter how much fun pushing buttons might be, the restriction of a wheelchair is no match to the freedom of walking on your own two feet.
 
When I first heard about my Temple’s project to visit the nursing home, I could not wait until it would end. But as I visited the nursing home and got to know the people on a personal level, I realized that what I had envisioned was wrong. The folks at the home were not always grumpy and depressed, but like everyone else, they were looking for fun times and human warmth. It made me feel good that through my visits, I was able to bring excitement and laughter into the lives of the people in the nursing home, and I myself had a good time along the way. I learned that small things could make big differences in people’s lives, and that there is little in life that I can take for granted, including just being able to stand on my own two feet .





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