Did you know that I had the honor of interning in the activities department at a long-term care facility my last semester at K-State? It was part of the requirements for my degree; I was really excited to get the hands-on experience. I think field experience should be required early on, to give students a feel for what they really want to do, before they invest years into their education.
If you were to ask me, what's one of the most memorable/life-changing things you've ever experienced, I would answer: working at St. Joseph Village. I didn't get paid, but that didn't matter. I didn't need payment of the monetary sort. Time with the residents was worth more than gold. I had a million grandmas. They filled a huge place in my heart.
It wasn't an easy beginning. I didn't know much about wheelchair etiquette, dementia, Alzheimer's, activities and charting, whether to yell or talk normal due to their hearing loss, dietary restrictions, privacy, the odors...some moments were intense or really sad, or even scary when people weren't of sound mind or they insulted me, because my heart for people is strong and sensitive.
All of that came to not really matter once I got the hang of it. It was my paradise. Really, truly. And my strength somehow regenerated itself and I came back each day not knocked down, but built up.
I oft wonder how I'd handle the experience again: if I'd have the same patience, compassion, empathy, enthusiasm, mercy. I think I would. But I still don't think it's a career I'll pursue (I'd need more schooling, which I started but then had Wilder); the subsequent jobs I took weren't in gerontology-related fields.
For now, it's this experience that I have to appreciate and be proud of.
And when I live to be 103, like one of the residents, I'll still be gabbing about my precious 6 months tiptoeing about heaven.
Going from room to room, heart to heart.