Yesterday I was off. When I went back to work today, I found out one of the residents on my unit developed pneumonia. She was in bed & did not look good.
Around 10:00 the nurse told me, "Gertie won't be here in the morning." And it happens just like that. One day she's fine, & the next she's dying.
I only started to get to know Gertie at the beginning of August when I was first placed on that unit. Four weeks is not a terribly long time. I don't know where she grew up, how long she was married or what her favorite color is.
But I do know some things - a lot, actually. I know that she smiled every time I called her Gertie Goose. I know she sometimes tried to bite the aides, & I know that it was because we needed to use a mechanical lift to transfer her, which had to be uncomfortable & scary. I know the trick is to take her dentures before I transfer her. She was onto my game & giggled every time. I know that she tried to "sneak" something from her dinner tray back to her room each night - sometimes bread & butter or a brownie; occasionally ice cream...even though there was no fridge in her room. I know that when she did not like a fellow resident, she was not afraid to call them a certain unpleasant name. Because of that, I know that in her youth she must have been full of the same spunk & sass she held onto throughout her entire life.
Gertie's son is her power of attorney, & he chose not to have her taken to the hospital for treatment. I'm sure that's what she wanted, & even so I'm sure it was the hardest decision he ever had to make. He was not there this evening.
Gertie's daughter lives in another state. She's currently homebound because of an injury, so she's not able to come to Pennsylvania at this time. Even if she could come, she wouldn't be here in time. I can't begin to imagine how devastating that must be.
And so, there Gertie was - at the end, with only staff members surrounding her. But she spent her last days with us, & in a way we are family too, so it seems somewhat fitting.
I spent a few minutes in her room at the end of my shift. I ran my fingers through her hair & rubbed her back. She was gasping, even though she was getting oxygen. The body that carried her through all these years was failing. Thankfully, she wasn't suffering. She was comfortable. She was sleeping.
When it's time for me to go I kiss her hand; tell her I love her. I know in my heart she can hear me.
Four weeks is not a terribly long time, but it is long enough.
This day is a day that I knew was coming, even before I started this job. But all the preparation in the world doesn't make it hurt any less.
I know that Gertie's absence will be real & strong for a while, but then someone new will move in & we will all move on. I will not think of her everyday, but she will remain nestled in my thoughts forever.
Someday - when a spunky, sassy resident calls someone else a whore - I will think of Gertie Goose. And I will remember that she taught me how to cope with the days like this.