Friday, April 24, 2009

Finding a Home in Nursing Homes

The summer I turned 19, with aspirations of becoming a physician, I landed a summer job in a nursing home. I was a Nurse's Aide. Back then, there was no licensure or educational requirements. It was all on-the-job-training. And what training it was! (Especially for a teenaged girl…I'll share more about that later!) After college, I again worked as a Nurse's Aide to gather more hands-on experience before entering graduate school for Occupational Therapy (OT) . Finally, I began my OT career specializing in geriatric rehab. Since I have many stories and experiences to share, this will be an ongoing blog series.

Photo found on Flickr

The Experience

Many people shudder at the thought of nursing homes. They conjure sad images of frail people waiting to die and cold, sparsely decorated rooms. Reality often validates these impressions. But only on the surface.

Nursing homes assault your senses. The smell of cleaning products mixed with body fluids. The sight of people napping in wheelchairs. The sound of pain, confusion, and croaks for help. (Once a woman with a stroke-damaged smile pointed and shouted to me, "There! Do you see it?! A lemming!")

However, the hushed, depressive atmosphere and the sense that you are in a place between worlds are false. In truth, nursing homes are much more warm and familiar, fun and alive, and surprisingly comfortable. A visitor can't experience those depths. Let me take you inside.

In a way, working in a nursing home is like caring for 15 infants and toddlers at once. You scramble to:

  • Wipe noses and wash hands.

  • Help them stand at the sink to wash and dress.

  • Soothe one crying in the corner while catching one trying to escape out the door.

  • Mediate squabbles.

  • Help people use the toilet (and wipe).
At mealtime, there are drink boxes to open, food to cut, and fork-fuls to be fed. And there's diapers! You feel like you are constantly changing diapers. Not to mention, there's always the threat that you'll discover the source of the unseemly odor too late, only to find an artist fingerpainting with poop. Naptime seems like a break, but you've got to make sure that each one has what they require to sleep.

But despite the work, most of my days ended with a smile and a warm heart. Why? Because working with adult-sized people is about more than meeting their physical needs. Each one has a lifetime to share and lessons to teach. History lessons (I've met several folks who were born in the 19th century!). Cultural lessons. And plenty of psychology.

A nursing home is a home-- an extended family. And nothing is warmer than that.


One of my beloved "grandmothers" called me into her room one day. Elizabeth knew I was engaged, and had even met Jason once. She gave me a piercing look, set her lips firmly, and declared "You must have something blue with you when you marry." Then she handed me the embroidered handkerchief pictured below.

Months later she suffered a second stroke. The charge nurse phoned me on my day off to let me know that it was "time". I sat with her for several hours, the other aides joined me when they could spare a few minutes. She quietly slipped away later that night.

And I proudly carried "something blue" down the aisle six months later.

Next time, I'll tell you about another time Elizabeth called me into her room....

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Equilibrium (Personality Talk, part 8)

"We know that three of the four functions of consciousness can become differentiated, i.e., conscious, while the other remains connected with the matrix, the unconscious, and is known as the 'inferior' function. It is the Achilles' heel of even the most heroic consciousness…." Carl Jung, 1959

Time for another personality post! I've been reading more about inferior functions and how stress is expressed in each type. So I thought I'd share!

If you need a refresher, read the Basics of Type Theory first. If you already know your type, you can determine your hierarchy of functions there.

Balance has a unique meaning in type theory. At first glance, you may think that a balanced personality is one that has developed equal competence in all functions. This would result in no clear preferences. Essentially, you would be typeless. But that's not how the human brain develops and functions.

Balance means we develop our inferior function (the 4th function) sufficiently to keep our dominant function from becoming overbearing, over-expressed, and running amok. It's healthy to develop the inferior function to achieve this balance. But no matter how balanced we are, or how skilled we are at using that inferior function, it can also cause trouble, because it remains our least comfortable, least controlled function.

What kind of trouble? Know how you can act out of character when under stress, feeling tired, or ill? When you have a day when you don't recognize yourself? In type theory it's called "being in the grip." And in type terms, it is the eruption of your inferior function. When we are in the grip of our inferior function we experience tunnel vision (become too focused or narrow-minded), lose our sense of humor, and make "all-or-none" statements.

Each inferior function has different triggers or stressors that lead to a grip experience, behaviors that characterize the grip experience, and ways to return to equilibrium. Because of their make up, INFJs and INTJs can be especially stressed when they are forced to focus on details, to face unexpected events, or to be more extraverted. Their inferior function, extraverted sensing (Se), unconsciously comes forward. Their "grip experience" causes them to focus obsessively on external data, to overindulge in sensual pleasure, or to take an adversarial attitude toward the external world. To return to equilibrium, they may need time alone to recharge, to lighten their normal schedule, or to be free from others giving advice or suggestions.

So, as an INFJ (and I can attest to the truth of this) I can get stressed when plans change at the last minute, causing me to pick a fight with Jason, which resolves only after I've had some alone time. :) Or, after spending all day shopping with my extraverted mother-in-law, I just need to sit and eat chocolate, and put off the laundry and vacuuming until the next day (yeah-- that sounds right!)

If you want to know your inferior function, triggers, form of the grip experience, and how to get back to equilibrium, tell me your type in the comments. Let's see how accurate this theory is!

I also want to wish all those who celebrate it, HAPPY EASTER!

Hope your holiday is hopping! (Follow the little ones, they know where the best eggs are!)

(back to part 7)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Neanderthals Among Us

Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, photo by Jason Evans

I was looking at my stat counter log the other day, and I found a most interesting visit. Someone found my blog while searching for "brain function theory INTP." Naturally, I clicked on their search to see what else they found. And I was led to a fascinating site called The Neanderthal Theory. (No, INTPs are not Neanderthals in disguise! LOL!)

I've mentioned in previous posts that I've always been interested in early humans and human evolution. In particular, my imagination has been sparked by the idea that modern humans and Neanderthals lived at the same time. Authors such as Jean Auel have brought this idea to life, exploring the possibilities of interactions between the two hominid groups, including interbreeding. And, genetic research supports this notion.

It's been rather accepted that a Neanderthal could walk the streets of New York City undetected. Their appearance would not be outside the range of modern human variation. A bit shorter, stockier, more muscular, but largely considered unremarkable to other humans. Here is a reconstruction of a Neanderthal child based on research at the University of Zurich (by Elisabeth Daynes, photo by Philippe Plailly).

And now, this Neanderthal Theory takes my imagination to a whole new level. The author proposes that Autism, Asperger's syndrome, ADHD, and Tourette syndrome may not be "disorders" at all, but rather that the symptoms of these conditions are a result of the expression of Neanderthal DNA in the Caucasian genome! Wow-- sounds like science fiction, doesn't it? But the author of this theory presents an interesting case.

Oh, and what did INTP brain function have to do with the Neanderthal Theory? There is mention that there seems to be a correlation between ADHD and the following types: ENTP, ENFP, INFP, and INTP. And that "there is also considerable overlap between criteria of aspie(Asperger's syndrome) and INTP."