2022?? A Whirlwind!
I don’t know about you, but 2022 was a whirlwind for me! Throughout the year, I kept telling myself, “I’m going wake up one morning, and 2022 will be history.” Well, I wasn’t too far off. I woke up this morning with that realization hitting me square in the face.
To be sure, for the most part, it’s all good. I have few regrets from 2022; if only I wish I had more time to accomplish all that I have in my heart. But that’s ok. I’ve learned over the years to keep taking one step at a time and to prioritize those ideas.
I spent 2022 making up for 2020 and 2021. During 2022, I attended and presented at five national and regional conferences, networked like a house on fire and pulled together a great team of people who share my passion for ramping up volunteerism in our nursing homes. It is so encouraging for me to meet and work with people who share my vision for well-screened and trained volunteers to mitigate the adverse effects of social isolation and loneliness among the people living in nursing homes.
As we know, and frankly have known well before the pandemic, people who are not receiving regular visits from friends or loved ones die prematurely. Moreover, they are twice as likely to die in the same period as those receiving regular visits. So, recruiting, screening, and training people to become “companions” to those living in nursing homes is more than just a “nice to have.” Volunteers meet the basic human need to feel the presence of another human.
I’ve quoted Clarence, at 92 years of age, many times. Unprovoked by me, he said,
“To be human is to be loved and to have someone to love. As far as I can tell, I am still human.”– Clarence
With Clarence in mind, as well as many other people I’ve met over the years, I will continue to push for increasing the role of volunteers, not to replace paid staff, but to add the human touch to long-term care. Of course, I love technology, and people who know me, know this all too well. But technology cannot replace the feeling I get when someone holds my hand or gives me a warm hug.
Recently, I spent a few days in the hospital having a knee replacement. Overall, it was a good experience. However, during those days in the hospital, I had a few personal experiences that solidified my thinking about volunteers.
I watched as nurses and other staff scurried past my hospital room door. I know that staffing is an issue and that these nurses were likely doing the job of several nurses. But, unfortunately, they didn’t have much time to stop and talk.
I thought of this when I needed help and getting ready to push the call button. I asked myself, “Do I really need this help? Is my need worth pulling a nurse away from someone whose need may be greater?”
My internal debate would go on for a few minutes, and I would finally ring for the nurse and then wait. On a few occasions, I waited over 30 minutes. But, again, this is not to disparage the nursing staff; it simply goes to how many needs nurses were trying to meet. During that time of waiting, I would listen for the sound of footsteps outside my hospital room door.
Surprised, I suddenly realized what I was doing. I was learning the footsteps and sounds coming from the hospital corridors:
“What is that sound? Ok, that is the sound of the wheels on the housekeeper’s cart.
What is that sound? Ok, that’s the sound of the wheels of the nurse’s computer on wheels (COW).
What is that sound? Ok, that is the sound of the wheels of the lunch cart.
Wait! Those wheels sound like, could it be…could that be my nurse?!”
With each sound, my emotions would rise and then fall when I realized it wasn’t my nurse. However, when I finally heard the sound of my nurse’s footsteps, it was with great relief.
But when I heard the sound of my wife’s footsteps, my heart raced. And at that moment, I remembered what a nursing home resident once said to one of my volunteers:
“I can hear you walking the halls. I know your footsteps, and that’s enough for me.”
Now, from this personal experience, I know what she meant. I learned and knew footsteps. And hearing my wife’s footsteps brought me great comfort.
When a nurse would come to my room, their demeanor was pleasant and caring while meeting my needs and at the same time moving just under the speed of light. We would laugh or share some quick comments, and then they were gone.
However, when my wife visited me, I breathed a sigh of relief. My whole body relaxed. Whatever tension I was feeling left. It was nice to have her in the room with me, feeling her presence, hearing her familiar voice, and feeling her touch. All this brought me great, great comfort.
Having had this experience, I believe it must be the same for the people living in nursing homes. As I experienced, they, too, must feel a great sense of relief and comfort when someone they love, someone whose footsteps they know, come to visit.
Onward to 2023!
My goal for 2023 is to take what I’ve learned through this recent hospital experience, as well as my many other experiences and training to wave the flag even more vigorously for recruiting and training “companion” volunteers who will go on to visit with and bring that sense of relief I felt.
I’ve already assembled a great team of experts to help me do this, and in a few short months, we’ll be launching the vehicle that will work to make companion volunteers a reality in every U.S. nursing home. Stay tuned…
I love teaching and presenting all things volunteer, so please feel free to contact me about speaking at your next event.