I have met many different characters as a Certified Nursing Assistant over the years. One such person that stood out was Joe the Shadow Boxer. He was suffering from Alzheimer's in an advanced stage.
Joe was a frail old man that had dark brown hair, and was so skinny-- he looked like he hadn't eaten in weeks. His face showed the effects of time. He had bow legs and when he walked, he would kind of waddle from side to side. (Bowlegs in people that get older is a painful condition that can be caused by Osteoarthritis which is also known as a degenerative joint disease that wears away of the cartilage in the joint.)
When I would see Joe in the hallway, he would come up to me with a huge smile, put up his fists and start boxing. He would duck and weave from side to side as he threw imaginary punches in the air. Even with his bowed legs, he moved back and forth with seemingly no effort. Being the kind of CNA that loved his people, I would shadow box back with him. We did this every day.
Joe told me stories about being a boxer when he was in WWll. He said he was a skinny guy that was scrappy and wasn't easily beat. They didn't have weight classes on the ships, so whoever wanted to box, trained and boxed. There was some dirty fighting at times, and he laughed as he opened his mouth wide showing the large blank area where there were no teeth. I imagined him throwing a low blow to a larger opponent just to bend him over and toss him an uppercut flattening him out.
We loved to talk. He shared some wonderful stories about the war, and his eyes lit up when he talked about his only child that lived nearby the facility. I didn't ever see anyone visit him, so I wondered who he was talking about. People who suffer from Alzheimer's have memory loss and will say things that may be from 50 years ago.
The Head Nurse told me he had a daughter that lived in the area, but she didn't ever come to see him. That is a common problem, I found. A person is brought in by a family member that is more than they can handle for various reasons, and then seem to be forgotten about. Life gets too busy for many and time goes by fast. That is why many people that work in the industry need to be caring and patient, because they, in essence, are all the family this person has.
Night time, for some reason, is not a friend of the elderly. It just seems to be the most likely time someone passes, usually peacefully in their sleep.
I came to work after a weekend off and walked down the hall expecting to see my buddy Joe, ready for a sparring session. I was informed when I didn't see him, that he passed away over the weekend. From what I was told, his daughter who lived very close was notified about his decline, and that is was only a matter of a short period before he would die.
She never came.
Joe, the Shadow Boxer, a World War ll Navy Veteran, husband, father, worker, and buddy spent his last moments of life probably hoping for his daughter to come, but he died alone.
Being a Certified Nursing Assistant is a very emotional job. You can become very attached to the people you care for and have memories that last your lifetime. It is up to us to spend time with these wonderful people and listen to them. Let them talk and tell you all about their lives because you may be the one person that carries on their legacy. Joe, the Shadow Boxer, will never be forgotten.
Being a Certified Nursing Assistant Part 3: Ms. Dobbs, a Southern Belle
Next: Being a Nursing Assistant Part 5: The Quiet Lady Speaks