Ask a Nurse: For such a time as this

Pamela is an RN, MSN/Ed.

Pamela is a mother of 6 amazing children ages 11 to 24. She is a nurse educator and loves to travel overseas to work in medical clinics and teach health-related topics to schools and communities. She has been married to her best friend, Steve, for 29 years. She has many different interests including reading, writing (NOT arithmetic!), baking, teaching, and spending time with her family. She lives in central Pennsylvania with her husband and two youngest daughters.

For such a time as this

I have always loved the story of Esther in the Bible. Esther was a Jewish young woman who was chosen to be Queen. Though Esther was a Jew she was taken as the wife of the king of the Medes and Persians. This king had a minister in his court named Haman who devised a plot to eliminate the Jews. Esther’s uncle, Mordecai, learned of the plot and told Esther to talk with the king about the wicked plan. Though Esther was the queen, she needed to request an audience of the king just like anyone else would. To enter the king’s presence without an invitation could get Esther killed.

Mordecai said that Esther was brought to the position she had “for such a time as this.” Esther responded that she would stand up for her people even if it meant death. She was successful in saving the Jewish people from annihilation. I have wondered at times if I am missing my purpose in this life. Every so often, I have thought, “is this ‘such a time’ in my life?”

I am at that place right now.

I have been busy living my life as mother, wife, nursing instructor, and writer. I was fairly content and had just begun to make plans for some more medical mission trips. I was scheduled to go to Tajikistan for a nurse education trip, Peru for medical missions, and was taking the first steps toward planning to move to Ecuador for a 10 month medical mission trip with my husband and youngest daughter.

Well, my plans are on hold. As I write this, I am sitting in my living room, slumped on my couch, sleep-deprived and achy. In my “former” family room, there is no longer a couch and coffee table. In their place is a hospital bed where my great Aunt is currently sleeping. A wheelchair and bedside commode are taking up space where only last week we ate pizza and watched movies. The piano bench has medical supplies and instant hand sanitizer taking up space next to sheet music.

I do not know how long things will be this way. I do not know when I will take another mission trip (or even another shower, at this point!). Everyone thinks I know what I am doing, because I have been a nurse for 27 years. I don’t think I know what I am doing, but I am sure I am doing (or trying to do) what my family and I are supposed to be doing right now. I think my background as a nurse gave me an idea of the commitment involved in caring for someone full time, but nothing can really prepare you until you live it.

My dear Aunt has no husband, siblings, or children. She lived 8 hours away by car. I am only 3 days into caring for her, and it has really made me think about elderly people who live alone. I am going to share some of my scattered thoughts and then try to catch a few winks before she needs me.

  • If you have an elderly family member or neighbor, make an effort to check up on them. Bring them some of a meal you make for your family, better yet, ask them to join you! My Aunt fell in her bathroom, and was trapped for 16 hours before the police rescued her. She began to rapidly decline after that.
  •  As much as possible, allow the elderly to finish their sentences in their own time, let them take their time to do things before you jump in and do it for them. I offer to cut my Aunt’s food, but she really wants to at least try to cut it by herself. She speaks much slower now, but still has a lot to say. I think many older people are cut off before they can finish a complete sentence, because we are too impatient.
  •  Elderly people love to talk about the past, let them. I am enjoying learning some things I never knew about our family, I guess we never thought to ask.
  • If you are a caregiver, let your loved one make some decisions, however small. It may not seem like a big deal to you to let them choose what color socks to wear, or when to eat breakfast, but making choices helps the elderly maintain dignity.
  • Some things I only knew from being a nurse are to not call adult diapers, “adult diapers”. We just call them “Depends” like the brand name, but it is another dignity issue. In nursing homes we call adult bibs, “clothing protectors,” for the same reason.
  •  Use a gentle touch. Elderly people have fragile skin that tears easily, which is not only painful, but can be a source for infection to develop. In the same way, be gentle with hugs and assisting them to move. They may have arthritis or other painful conditions.
  • If they are able to, give them a task to do. Contributing to the family in even very small ways helps them feel useful and needed. Folding clothes (while sitting at a table) or wiping off a countertop does not take a lot of effort; find something for them to do.
  • Above all, love them! Tell them you love them, kiss them good-night, and give them gentle hugs! When you see the sparkle in their eyes you will realize how much they need your signs of affection!

I know this article may not flow well, I hope that I will be able to crank one out each week while I adjust to my new job. Try to think about any older people you know, including family. Do they need help? Do they feel loved and appreciated? What can you do to help? Who knows, this may be your “such a time,” too.

Be Well,


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