When do you stop being handicapped and become elderly?

by | Apr 1, 2012 | Daughters of Charity, Vincentian Family

Sister Frédérique writes in “A story of seeing“… I am a Daughter of Charity who is a care aide in a nursing home with aged persons who are handicapped. (According to French law a handicapped person who is 60 years old loses the status of handicapped and takes on that of being an elderly person.)

Her story continues with a description of the impact of a renewal program and rediscovering  the lesson of passing from doing to being…

“Our lay nurse for the unit has proposed a small work team to complete training in a treatment approach coming from Holland called Snoezelen. This technique involves an individual with each of the 5 senses: hearing, sight, smell, touch and taste. From the first day of training I was enthusiastic about this approach which will allow us to question and renew our support of the residents. Renewal is necessary because, in our daily work, we risk forgetting the basics when we just run to do things within a certain time.

The instructor helped us discover how to change our view of the resident from that of “doing” something with the person to that of “being” with the person, of taking his/her pace and not mine; to be guided by what the person wants to experience during the session (which lasts about one hour.) For using this method the institution outfitted a space with a bubble tube, water mattresses, sound wall, mirror ball, light projector, fiber optic lights, basket, etc. We support one individual in this space.

If I were to find one expression for my experiences with Mr. Z, I would say, “the story of an expression.”

From the first session I could see that I was completely mistaken because the Snoezelen environment is designed so that persons freely choose what they want to do in the area even if we guide them in the beginning.

In our work we are always in a hurry. In this space we lose a little of the sense of time because we must be in accord with the rhythm of the resident and believe me, it’s not that simple. For my part, I had difficulty in the beginning allowing the time for Mr. Z to feel at ease in the environment, so totally new to him. It was necessary to let go of things we usually did (taking care of hygiene and activities of daily living). In Snoezelen it is the person who goes where he wants and that changes everything… We are no longer in a relationship of caregiver and cared for but person to person who discover in other ways. It is a little like the little prince of St. Exupéry with the fox who asked him to “tame me”. I learned that it is not getting to know the desires or wishes of the other but, simply put, his own “tune.”

By this training I rediscovered my service to the people to whom the Company sent me. It was an experience that humbled me, revived how I meet the other, the other that is different. I am not one who “knows” but one who listens fully to the other. I found myself in the position of receiving instead of always being the one who brings. The Gospel story of John came to mind, the washing of the feet. In the eyes of the apostles Jesus became even more strongly the servant of the servants. This experience, which I continue to live with another individual, has been like a resurrection of my service with the residents. The way I see is no longer the same; I welcome and listen to the other. My work remains that of a care aide with so many tasks to accomplish, but renewed interiorly. My look has become more of a servant.

sister Frédérique

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