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Stories From The Field

Thoughts on Media Portrayals

Nicole R. Croteau, RN

The below account is a submission to "Stories From The Field."  Click here to share your own story.

The day begins.  Get up in the morning, walk the dog, pack the girls backpacks, make the coffee, get myself ready, get a 6 and 8 year old ready, send them on their way and then my husband and I are on our own way.

My commute, while quite short, gives me 10 minutes to just myself in the car and usually a bit of talk radio.  I savor the minutes.  I haven't been able to really listen to the radio over the past 2 weeks.  Did I miss the weather?  Did someone just mention all of the big news of the day?  My thoughts keep wandering to an episode of a reality television show from about 1 year ago and a recent cartoon that I was watching with the girls.

I'll go back a year.  Late night reality TV (okay, not that late night, probably more like 9PM).  I was watching an episode of a show where it is the person's goal to showcase their talents as a chef and to come out in the end with fame and fortune in their profession.  I enjoy the show.  There seems to be mostly hard work involved and not too much drama.  The challenge of the night is over.  Standing before the judges are the individuals who have been deemed to have presented the worst dishes.  As one of the judges comments on someone's dish, I find myself saying to my husband, "Did she just say that?"  I cannot offer a direct quote, but I imagine that if we were able to view the episode you would hear her liken this dish to something that would be served in a nursing home.

Really?  Do all individuals that live in a long term care community eat bland, colorless, mashed up food?  Does everyone leave their taste buds at the door?  Does everyone forget how to chew?  Does everyone now lack the ability to appreciate fine food?  I emailed the network. (Probably to the wrong site, because no one ever got back to me.)  My question to the network and producers of the show:  Why don't you challenge this group of talented chefs to prepare a meal for individuals who live in a long term community?  Can these chefs, who concoct dishes with words that I need to Google, really make an appealing and palatable dish that can serve both the individuals who were probably at their restaurants last week and those who are now faced with the challenges of aging?

I'll go back 2 weeks.  Not so late night TV.  (I would not want my mother to think the girls were up past 8PM!  This cartoon was on at 7PM.)  I was sitting with the girls watching an episode of a cartoon on a popular children's network.  It seems to be a harmless show.  I have watched it with them before.  A bit of 'potty humor' here and there, but nothing really terrible.  The main character of the show is a young girl.  I would guess she is about 10.  She manages to get herself kicked out of a group she is in and does not participate in her community service one week.  It turns out that this young girl volunteers at a nursing home every week.  How nice.  When she doesn't show up, a man from the nursing home calls to inquire where she is (you never get a glimpse of this man).  His voice is old and cracked.  He seems to be yelling into the phone a bit.  Why is it so important that this particular young girl show up?  Because she chews the food for some of the people who live there when she volunteers.  The call ends with the man yelling into the phone some more.  Now he is coming across as confused and the scene ends with him yelling into the phone more and now he is looking for his pants.

Wait a minute.  My children were just watching that.  My children who attended pre-school in a childcare center that is attached to a nursing home.  My children, who visited with their great-grandmother while she lived the last years of her life in a nursing home.  The girls saw the 'living' that their great-grandmother and her friends did.  They also saw the frailty that affected some people and I want to believe that they will carry some of those memories with them.   My children, who I try to teach empathy to.  My children, who probably didn't really catch what was being said, but who are certainly a part of the next generation to have pre-conceived notions about what happens to the elderly who live in the United States in a long term care community.

The day begins again.  Get up in the morning, walk the dog, pack the girls backpacks, make the coffee, get myself ready, get a 6 and 8 year old ready, send them on their way, and then my husband and I are on our own way.  Today I will look to myself to help change the perception that somehow being a part of a long term care community leads to merely existence and no longer to living.  A sense of purpose to one's life does not end during their final years, in fact it is during this time that an opportunity exists for individuals to reflect on their time here on earth and maybe to realize what their purpose truly was. - Nicole R. Croteau, RN and Director of Nursing Services, Beaumont Rehabilitation & Skilled Nursing Center

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