The Healing Curve Journey 1980-1998
The Personal Care Boarding Home Description
The home was a one story older home with full basement and lower apartments located high on a hilltop in a rural area with rooms and accommodations for 30 residents plus live-in staff. Access to the home was a long and winding dirt road. There was well water, a septic system and the electric power was provided by overhead lines. An oil furnace was the heat source. For the boarding residents there was a sunroom with seating for several, a living area with television and upholstered chairs, a dining room, a long hallway with doors to many individual bedrooms and two bathrooms with each having large tubs and a shower. There was a “beauty parlor” cove with facilities for hair and other services. The kitchen area was large and a section for staff meals was at one end. There was an office on the main floor. The back stairs led to the basement and the pantry and several storage rooms plus an area for the laundry, including a toilet. The downstairs apartment was where the owners and the elderly mother lived. They both had full bathrooms, bedrooms and living rooms.
Rules and Guidelines
Visitors were free to visit at their convenience and enter the main door in front. There was no lockdown or rules regarding visits. If they brought gifts of foods they were sent to the kitchen for safe-keeping and distribution to the recipient at appropriate times. If the visitors brought clothes, they went to the laundry to be marked before being put away in resident’s room. There was a list on the wall with each name noting their bath day, and other personal care needs. This was checked by the personal caregiver employee as the service was completed. There was a weekly menu posted for all to see. It was planned by the manager/owner. A fire drill was performed on a regular basis and everyone was led, marched, pushed in wheelchairs or walked in a line to the outdoor area in a serious manner. ONLY the registered nurse (the owner) would distribute medicines to the residents, and all medicines were kept in a locked cupboard. No resident was allowed in the kitchen area. Once a day there was an organized walk around and through the dining hall and main hall by all who were able to exercise. Everyone was fully dressed and out of bedrooms in the morning and, unless ill, not in the bed during the day. This was because the beds were remade and the rooms were fully cleaned during the day. A medical physician was always on call and also visited regularly and administered whatever was needed.
Beverly - the owner, boss, registered nurse, shopper and driving force.
Alvin - the owner’s husband, cook and bottle washer, and jack of all trades.
Christy - the owner’s adult daughter
Bruce - Christy’s husband
Corey - Christy and Bruce’s baby son
Mae - the owner’s elderly mother
Luann - the personal caregiver employee
Other personal caregivers employed
Gere - the laundry manager and part-time bookkeeper employee
Residents (Most were full time, some were part time.)
These are the only ones I can remember by name
Barbara - mentally slow and self sufficient
Clara - nice and very cooperative
Daisy - devilish without knowing it - pockets always full stolen things
Lena - very sweet, slight dementia, always pleasant
Margaret - argumentative with dementia but usually cooperative
Marie - frozen spine in question mark position, used walker, tried hard
Marion - helpful and industrious to all, a busy bee
Mary - character, former boozer and rowdy, but cooperative
Natalie - annoyed at being there and then very ill
Rose - demented, sweet and cooperative, wheelchair bound
Ruth - loved her bath, wandered unrestfully, dementia
Sadie - quiet and ladylike
A husband and wife together
Arthur - wild dreams and thoughts daily, a little feisty
Bernie - soft lower lip- drooled, dementia, pesky
Ed - stuck to himself, unsociable
James - smoked, jerky movements, friendly
Joe - ambulatory with terminal colon cancer, masturbated constantly
John - dull and quiet
Mr. Barnhart - hated being there and cried often, frustrated
Robert - sweet, mentally slow
Seth - big man, tendency toward violence, mental condition
It was the year 1980. I had had an accident 6 months previously and sustained a severe injury to my right hand while working in a wood products manufacturing plant. It was also the year I was bushwhacked by infidelity of my husband with a “friend.” I was hurt and depressed and angry and dismayed. I had hate in my heart for my “friend.” The plant had just laid off workers and couldn’t take me back as promised. I had worked 7 years there before my accident and loved the challenge and hard work that gave such a sense of accomplishment at day’s end.
There was an ad in the paper for help at the boarding home which was only nine miles away. I went for the interview and was hired to be the laundry person for the entire home. OK, I took it, never knowing what I was in for! In the past, I had many various jobs. I was a typist, stenographer, saleslady, switchboard operator, front desk manager, waitress (both diners and fancy restaurants) home party demonstrator, apple picker, babysitter, truck dispatcher, business secretary, and more. I thought, “Well, I have always liked doing laundry and had a family of eight, so this shouldn’t be too difficult." Yeah, right! So let me tell you how it went.
When the residents were awakened, dressed, and morning rituals taken care of, the personal caregivers stripped beds, and put all daily laundry in large bags to be brought down to the basement by either Alvin or Christy. The bedding had a large amount of flannel pieces between a plastic cover and a top sheet to absorb accident messes. This was changed every day. I washed and sorted tons of those flannel pieces! The “mussies” were separated from regular. Do you know what “mussies” are? I had to take the bags to the toilet in the laundry area, put on my rubber gloves, and dunk and swish stuff out of the bedding, rags and underpants just like I had done so many times when my babies used cloth diapers. Then the rinsed items were washed separately in one washer with bleach. I went through a lot of beach! I had three working washing machines, and my first job was to sort and decide what consisted of a load and what to wash first in the other two. There was a huge drier that worked very well. My work area had a shelf above the long folding table with 30 cardboard boxes lined up in a row. Each one was marked with initials belonging to individual residents and the laundered, dried, and folded socks, underwear and small items were put there according to matching with the permanent marker initials on each item. Dresses, shirts and trousers were hung on racks and they too were initialized. There were sheets, pillowcases, rags, chair covers, blankets, towels, washcloths, and all laundry of the day was completed at the end of the day. The trek upstairs with everything was great exercise and putting it all away in the boarder’s rooms and multiple linen closets was the completion of the work for the day. Then it began all over again the next day. There was a sewing machine and I made all repairs and adjustments besides re-sewing on buttons. I replaced broken zippers, bra and slip straps, and made pillow cases and small sheets from large ones when necessary.
Interaction with the personal care staff and residents was minimal. However…..many incidents and interesting happenings were evident every day. For instance, daily I gave the kitchen back its silverware that was found in dress and pant pockets. I chased the wandering residents out of another resident’s room with stolen items in their pockets. I helped serve lunch sometimes but didn’t feed or clean up people at meals. As I walked through the rooms, putting the laundry away, sometimes I would help someone adjust the TV or pick up something they had dropped but that was the most of my physical and personal contact. BUT! One time I saw a woman choking on something during dinner and grabbed her around the waist and squeezed hard and she spit it out. It was on Thanksgiving Day and it was a piece of turkey. Of course we worked on holidays. These people needed assistance and the laundry needed doing every day! NO one ever wore diapers or such. Once in a while, Christy would do laundry when I had the day off. I worked six days a week. If Christy wasn’t free to help, I had double duty the day after a day off.
Now, believe it or not, by working there for over four years and actually seeing first hand how hard others struggled to live each day, even with good care, my personal problems were diminished considerably. It was a very good move for me. As I got the laundry down to an organized science, the boss gave me a raise and opportunity to expand my abilities to doing the office work - most of it anyway. I did payroll, I posted income, I paid bills, I set up a system of office management handling all resident financial accounts and concerns and surprised even myself. BESIDES continuing to do all laundry! I ran up and down those basement stairs dozens of times a day. In the good weather I actually hung laundry on outdoor lines strung from trees! It was a five year recovery period for me. In 1985 I left when offered a position in the county extension office as 4-H Youth Coordinator. That was an opportunity not to be overlooked. I gave 2 weeks notice and moved on without a single regret. A new and enriching position to work with youth was then undertaken with gumption I never knew I had. I worked there for 14 years then retired from the “have-to’s.”
It was jumping from working with mentally and physically challenged older folk to working with energetic male and female leaders and kids, plus with highly educated personnel throughout the counties and the state. That was my best motivation to do whatever needed to be done wherever and however. I now understand the human aspect so much better.
Funny how things worked out and my healing was completed. I owe it mostly to the dynamic, sometimes contentious owner of that home who gave me a chance with complete freedom to figure it all out by myself. She was cognizant of my condition and neither pushed nor pulled me in any direction but taught me to really focus on life and its ups and downs with hard work and goals.
Today, the home is gone, after being run for over 25 years, the owner lady has died and the husband was in a nursing care facility and died in 2017. Today I’m still here with these memories and rocking chair thoughts that remain quite clear with compassion understanding.
(I was never a personal caregiver - until now. 2021)