Nursing Home Love Story #4: It’s the Simple Things

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.”

He spoke in slow, measured words, so that sessions with him, while always fruitful, took on his Caribbean pace.

“My daughter Letty is in the hospital and I can’t reach her. She just had surgery and I’m worried about her.”

I could tell his anxiety was high and I worried that it would trigger one of his many medical conditions.

“Can we call her?”

“I lost my cell phone. And I dropped the answering machine with her message giving me the phone number and all my messages disappeared.” He sounded close to tears.

“Is there someone else we could call who might have her number at the hospital? Or does she have a cell phone? Let me see your phone book.”

He dug around in the bag on the back of his wheelchair, pulled out a book, and slowly started flipping through the pages. I held out my hand.

“May I?”

The pages were filled with neatly written phone numbers in no particular order.

“Look for her brother, Clifford Johnson. He might know how to reach her.”

I found the number and handed him the telephone. A brief, pleasant conversation ensued with his daughter-in-law, who then put Clifford on. After a few minutes Mr. Johnson handed me the phone.

“I’m out here in Oregon,” Clifford Johnson told me, “and our sister Annette might have her number, but she’s visiting her daughter in Florida. I appreciate what you’re doing for my father.”

A few minutes later I had Annette on the line. Mr. Johnson gestured for me to talk to her.

“I don’t have Letty’s contact info, but I can give you her boyfriend’s cell phone number. They’re in Chicago,” she said.

Letty’s boyfriend picked up immediately and I explained that her father was worried and wanted to get in touch with her.

“Boy, is she going to be glad to hear from him! If there’s anything else I can help you with, please let me know.”

I dialed and a tired voice picked up the line.



“I’ve got your father here. He wants to talk to you.”

“Oh, good!” Her voice energized immediately.

I handed the phone to her dad, touched him good-bye on his shoulder and left the room.

I was sitting at the nursing station writing notes when Mr. Johnson stopped by and fixed me with a long look.

“God bless you. I will never forget your kindness.”

The sincerity in his voice almost brought me to tears.

“I feel so much better now. It’s like a weight has been lifted.”

He settled in across from the nursing station. Every so often I’d glance over to find him watching me and smiling.

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