Sunday, July 11, 2021

A Mormon, A Jehovah's Witness and a Nurse Walk into a House

I retired about a year and a half ago. For close to 30 years I was a Registered Nurse. When I was in my early 30’s and the 4 kids were in school and with the encouragement and financial support from my Best Half, I started nursing school. To this day, nursing has been one of the most challenging and rewarding jobs I could ever have done in my life. Over the years I have held several nursing positions, from long term care to teaching, care management, to triage and clinic work. But my favorite of all was working as a Home Health nurse.

In 1998, after a stint in long term care and then a few years teaching Health Occupations classes, I got a job closer to home. It was as a home health nurse with the local hospital/ clinic. It involved doing nursing visits in people’s homes. The patients were those that were just being discharged home from a stay in the hospital, or maybe those that maybe were deemed by the clinic to need supportive services in order to stay at home, or mother-baby visits to new moms and babies. Put the wide range of variety of patients to be seen and combine it with the rural traveling from house to house and it was pretty much a perfect job for me and how my brain works.

While it may not sound like a lot, I’d usually see 6-8 patients a day and put on about 100 miles a day between houses. Home visits would consist of about 30-60 minutes per patient and then a 20 minute drive to the next house. Visits were always varied for the most part and that kept this ADD brain from getting bored at the job. There were basic skills like med setups, maybe simple wound care to a little more time consuming skills like wound vacs, IV and Central Line care.

My days were filled with seeing patients one person at a time and then driving onto the next patient. For 10 years this job was a good match for me. I had a great Team Leader who knew me well and my love for fishing and the outdoors. Whenever there was a possible pending visit needed, she would call me and tell me to find a nearby lake or river and stand-by. That was code for go fishing until you hear back. So I always carried a rod and reel and tackle box in my vehicle. And I would fish until I heard back from the Team Leader. We had an awesome boss-employee relationship. In my eyes, it didn’t get any better than this, it was a dream job. And to this day, I still carry a rod and reel and tackle box in my vehicle. You just never know when the need will arise to have to pull over and fish.

I met so many local old time Swedes in the community. Many with the last name of Johnson, Olson, Peterson all with the S-O-N spelling I was told the not S-E-N as those were the Norwegians. Many were out in the country on farms that they had been born on. Many had never ventured out much past where they were raised. Oftentimes, because I didn’t have quite the Scandinavian look about me, I would get asked the question by the old-timers, “What are you?”. Meaning what is your heritage, are you a Swede or something else? Because most of the elderly in the area are 100% full blown Scandinavian, I was at first pretty offended and thought they had a lot of huspa to be asking that question in this day and age. I mean did it matter? Haven’t we gotten beyond all that? 

By about the 10th time being asked, I finally got to where I would blurt out every ethnicity I could think of that my parents had claimed. And I would eventually throw Swedish on the list, right after Hungarian, Dutch and French Canadian. As time went on I realized it wasn’t so much they wanted a Swede to take care of them as much as it was they were interested in a person’s culture and ethnicity just because...well they just were interested. Much like  most Minnesotans discuss the weather, these old timers discussed heritage and ethnicity along with it. Over the years I learned there really wasn’t a need to be offended by most of the people who were asking. 

Doing Home Health in a rural setting is quite an experience. Besides distance from town, patient’s homes and lifestyles are also different. There were those that were kind of off grid out in the country and there were those living in the small towns around the area. But the one thing they all had in common was that they needed help in order to keep living in their homes independently. And the Home Health nurse was just one little piece of the big puzzle.

One day, as I was making calls to set up the next day’s schedule, I called one of my younger patients. She lived nearby the Catholic church in town and I knew she went to Mass most every morning. So I knew any visit I would make would have to be late morning or early afternoon. She just needed her vital signs taken and a med setup. I got her on the phone and asked if 11AM was ok to come over. She agreed, but said I would need to leave by noon as she had someone coming out to her home. I thought, Ok, no problem on my end, see you at 11.

Most of the people in the country I saw still got up early as in their farming days. I always tried to take advantage of that so it would get me off early in the day. There were some that wanted a 7 AM visit. When I got to one of the farms one morning, the patient met me at the door and said she couldn’t sit for a visit until the kids were all fed. I was there to see how she was managing around the house with COPD. I was there to check her activity level and breathing status. I was totally confused when she said she had to feed the kids. She was elderly and it was just her and her husband at the farm. Was her oxygen low and making her confused? I came into her kitchen and saw 4 bottles of milk heating on the stove. I was by this time pretty dumbfounded not having a clue what was going on. As she went about heating the bottles I did my assessment of her. She was up and moving about comfortably and not short of breath at all. She gathered up the 4 bottles and handed me 2 to carry to the living room. When I entered the room, there in a play pen were 4 tiny newborn goats bawling to be fed. So we sat down and fed the goat kids. All I could think was, no one is ever going to believe this one.

Well, 11 AM came and I was back in town after making all of the out of town visits I needed to do early in the morning. I got to the house and did the usual vital signs, depression questionnaire and med setup. As we were talking, I asked my patient what her afternoon plans were and she told me she had company coming. I was pretty impressed as she didn’t socialize much and I thought it was great she was having company at her house. She proceeded to tell me that at noon, two young men that were missionaries from the Mormon church (or Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints as they now call themselves) were coming to rake her yard and prune her hedges and take out her garbage. She told me they came by every week and she would have a list for them of chores to do. When they were all done they would sit on her porch step and visit and tell her about their faith and church. Then they would leave and come the following week for their new list of chores and more conversation.

She then went on to tell me that this day she wouldn’t have much time to talk to them as she had 2 women coming out from the Jehovah’s Witness church that was out on the edge of town. They were going to wash all of her windows. She had an inside list of chores for them. I must have had a pretty perplexed look on my face when I finally had to ask the question. I said,” I thought you were Catholic and went to mass every morning? Are you thinking of changing religions?”. She just gave me an incredulous stare for a few seconds and then said, “Well Hell no. I’m Catholic all the way through. I was born and raised Catholic. But the Mormons will do my outside work and the Jehovah’s Witnesses will do my inside work and clean my house, they even do windows. I sat there for a moment and thought about it. She had a pretty good thing going. Free labor that was keeping her able to live alone at home. Then I got up and went to her closet as I had done over the past few months. I got out her vacuum cleaner and started vacuuming her rug. She had a good thing going.

When I went to my next visit, I found my patient sitting out on his docked pontoon boat fishing. I ran back to the truck and got my rod and reel and cast out a line and then proceeded to take his vital signs and set up his meds which his wife had brought out to the pontoon. Yes, in my tackle box I always carried hand sanitizer and gloves. You just never knew when you may be called on to do your home care visit on a pontoon. Best job ever.

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