“Hi, Mabel! Do you have some time to talk to me?”

Mabel, I knew, had all the time in the world, since she refused to go to activities. She sat across from the nursing station, her hefty frame filling her extra-large wheelchair, watching the nursing staff, the other residents and the passersby.

Her greeting hadn’t warmed during the six weeks I’d been seeing her.

“If you want to,” she replied without enthusiasm. “What are we going to talk about?”

“Well, let’s get started and see where we go,” I said, slowly wheeling her into her room. “Your social worker says…

I settled down to talk to Pearl, eager to hear how she was faring in her new room.

Her voice was strained.

“Well, she’s not rummaging through my closet, like Beatrice did. But she told me everybody likes me better than her.”

“It makes you uncomfortable.”

“Yes! And she won’t talk to me.”

We debated the pros and cons of her past and current roommates for a while.

“You know,” I said, “this reminds of the time I worked in an office that had cubicles, and my computer faced the computer of a woman who was always making negative comments…

When I arrived at Mr. Johnson’s room, he was sitting in the doorway in his wheelchair, frowning at the passersby. He was immaculately dressed as usual, in a button-down shirt and shorts on this hot summer day, looking much younger than his 90 years.

Lately he’d been frustrated that his memory was interfering with his ability to get things done. Last week I’d tacked onto his bulletin board a calendar we’d created to outline the days and times of his favorite activities.

“How are you?” I asked, settling into the chair across from him.

He shook his head. “Not good.”

Margaret was a plump 54-year old woman who was skeptical about psychological services when I first approached her. Three sessions later she sat quietly on the edge of her bed, staring down at her legs, her feet not quite touching the floor.

“I can’t walk. Every time I try to stand up in physical therapy, my whole body starts to shake.” She began to tremble, shivers traveling from head to toe.

“What do you think is going on?”

She clenched her arms around her petite frame, steadying herself. “I don’t know. I guess I’m afraid.”

“Because of your falls?” She’d…

“I need you to see Eddie,” the social worker told me. “He keeps throwing himself out of bed and you know how the administration is about falls.”

Falls were bad. They get reported to the State.

“You hear that moaning down the hall?” she asked. “That’s him. He’s driving all the other residents crazy.”

She escorted me to his room, introduced us and then left me alone with 50-year old Eddie, who could barely move or speak, but had stopped moaning long enough for me try to talk with him. He was lying in his bed, which had been lowered…

There’s a hidden world inside each nursing home. Each center is filled with people striving to live their best lives despite age and disability. Family visitors arrive when they can to offer care and companionship. Staff members devote themselves to this work largely because of their genuine fondness for the residents.

If people would like long lives or to have a place nearby to help care for ailing loved ones, then what’s happening inside these homes is important. Each facility is a vital community resource we hope to never need.

This series of anecdotes will take readers beyond the closed…

I’m Worried About the Emotional Impact on the Staff

Mr. Davis used to sit in the lobby and greet staff members when they walked in the door of the nursing care center. His wife had friendly chats with other residents when she came to visit; his children brought plates of homemade cookies to the nursing station during the holidays. Covid-19 took him, them and every other family from nursing homes during this pandemic.

His bed is now occupied by Mr. Ward, who was transferred from the hospital two days ago with a coronavirus diagnosis. He hasn’t seen his relatives in the three weeks since they brought him to the…

Eleanor Feldman Barbera, PhD

Eleanor Feldman Barbera, Ph.D., is a psychologist, speaker, educator and a leading expert on aging, behavioral health and caregiving. EleanorFeldmanBarbera.com

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