I’ve never believed compassion is something that can be taught. Edgar is proof that I’m correct.
Edgar works at Edgewater, the facility in
where my dad is residing for the time being. He’s the lead nurse in a “cottage community” that includes some long-term residents and others who, like my dad, arrived there to recuperate from illnesses and gain strength after hospital stays. West Des Moines
Edgar is not very old – my guess would be he's in his late 20s. But we’ve seen a lot of health-care professionals over the last couple of years, and while I’ve tended to prefer that Dad is cared for by experienced nurses – especially after a recent experience at Iowa Methodist – Edgar is causing me to reevaluate my prejudice against younger professionals.
Dad had a bad night last night. Following a breathing treatment, he became agitated and confused. So as is frequently the case when I’m not able to make things better on my own, I sought out Edgar.
Edgar smells like Abercrombie cologne, so before I see him, I can smell him – it’s hard to explain, but given the situation, I am sometimes soothed by the fact that I can that detect Edgar is around without his being in my line of vision. So last night, I smelled him, and then I saw him, and then everything just seemed to become calmer.
Edgar sat on one side of the bed and I sat on the other. As Dad asked, over and over, where he was and what he was supposed to be doing, Edgar kept his voice low and soft as he repeated the same information over and over. If he was starting to become irritated, I wasn’t able to sense it.
“You are at the rehab place, not in the hospital, and this is your room for now, Charlie,” Edgar said again and again, as Dad was insisting he was at Iowa Methodist. “We’re here to take care of you, and you are safe. It’s OK to sleep now, and I’ll check on you all the time.”
Any nurse would have been able to tell Dad where he was, but the last part got me: “You are safe, and it’s OK to sleep.” To a 91-year-old man whose mind is jumbled with illness and medication, that’s all that really matters: the knowledge that he’s safe from harm, and that someone will be there all night long in case, especially in the dark, the confusion becomes too frightening to handle.
Something else about Edgar: He touches my dad. Again, that might not sound like a big deal, but it’s all about the ability to soothe. Suffice it to say my dad doesn’t always lend himself to being comforted easily. In his confusion and fear, he often becomes angry and belligerent. But none of that fazes Edgar. He’s quick to touch my dad’s arm, pat his shoulder, even rub his head.
Because Edgar has not been a nurse for years and years, his bedside manner isn’t something he’s cultivated over time. But Edgar is from East Africa, and in his culture, older people are treated differently from the way they are in the
. In fact, given things I’ve heard and read, most other countries do a better job than we do of caring for the elderly. Whereas some Americans can’t seem to be bothered with people whose need for intense care is inconvenient, other countries respect and revere individuals who have lived long enough to be very wise. United States
My sister and I, and our dad’s wife, are not able to be with Dad 24/7. We consider ourselves to be pretty devoted, but on weekdays, we're with Dad only three or four of every 24 hours. During the other 20 or 21, Edgar and his team of caring, capable CNAs and other staff members have to step in.
When it comes right down to it, of course we wish Dad could be cared for at home. But we're also fortunate that even though we’re forced to cultivate a pseudo-family to help us care for him, Edgar is part of it.