Sunday, May 26, 2013
End-of-Life Humor: Hospice Caregiver, Dementia Patient Balloon Story
It’s a boy! No, Miss Ruby didn’t give birth at age 89. But, like all her room visitors, she thought her balloon message was hilarious!
What does this have to do with quality end-of-life care? Contrary to what some people think, many terminally ill patients continue to maintain a comic state of mind and often initiate and enjoy participating in humorous activities. Sometimes the humor is unintentional, but the energy is just as exciting. That has definitely been my experience as a hospice volunteer.
I’m a balloon lover. My favorites are Mylar foil balloons with special shapes, themes, and messages. Many of my patients with dementia enjoy balloons as much as I do. Funny scenarios have often resulted after I brought them balloons. This true story came about after I offered to get a seasonal spring balloon in a flowered shape for Miss Robinson, a patient with Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia. But she decided she preferred a green balloon instead. This heart-warming balloon adventure followed.
Excerpt from my book Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes:
Miss Robinson was very emphatic about choosing a green balloon. She couldn’t explain why the color green meant so much to her, except to say it was her favorite color. The party-supply store had many flowered balloons, but green ones were scarce. After a lengthy search with my help, the salesperson found one green balloon in the entire store. Later that week, I brought the balloon to Miss Robinson, tied it to her wheelchair, and took her for an indoor ride around the nursing home to show it off.
“Look, everybody! Look at my red balloon! Did you ever see a red balloon this pretty? It’s my red spring balloon! Hey, everybody, look at me! I’ve got my own red balloon!” she exclaimed.
A few days later, I visited Miss Robinson. Her balloon hovered over her bed like a shiny green pit bull on guard. She could enjoy watching it bobbing around doing its doggie dance and even talk to it if she felt lonely.
“Hi, Miss Robinson. Do you remember who I am?” I asked, giving her a little memory test.
“Sure, I remember you. You’re the hat lady who brought me my purple flag. See, it’s still waving in the air. I just love my purple flag!”
I smiled, thinking of the evolving green balloon that had developed a life of its own. In less than two weeks, it had evolved at three different levels with hidden powers I hadn’t known. It was enough to have gone from a green to red balloon. Now, it had become a purple flag. I couldn’t wait to visit Miss Robinson again before the balloon deflated completely. I looked forward to hearing more about her happy adventure with the green balloon and its miraculous makeovers.
© Frances Shani Parker
Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at booksellers such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble .