When I was a newspaper reporter I wrote a story about a flying club. One of the members asked me how much I knew about flying. “Not much,” I answered honestly. “Then how can you write about us?” she queried. I explained as well as I could that it's an editor's job to research and ask questions about subjects they are unfamiliar with. (If I only wrote about subjects I was extremely knowledgeable about I might starve!)
I thought about this exchange as I write this, my last editorial for Long-Term Living. I've always had a soft spot in my heart for the elderly and, as an adult, I'm drawn to them. However, I'll admit when I came to the magazine, I had some misconceptions about the long-term care field. I thought of nursing homes as places of last resort where most residents lived out the rest of their life. It wasn't a place anyone wanted to end up in. My experience with nursing homes consisted of my dad's stay in one that smelled of urine and had listless, wheelchair-bound people lining the hallways.
I thought of nursing homes as one-dimensional. Little did I know the complexity of the profession and what you do on a daily basis-wrestling with national, state, and local regulatory issues; staffing problems; funding issues; the headaches of running a business; continuing education requirements; burnout; dealing with the public; and most importantly, caring for the frailest people with a multitude of problems and disease states.
I learned quickly how complex and demanding the field of long-term care is.
What I learned the quickest, though, was the special breed of people who take on the privilege of caring for the elderly. I have worked in numerous industries, from the veterinary field to dermatology, and never have I been exposed to people who care so deeply about what they do. For the people who are good at it, working in long-term care is a calling. The long hours, bad pay, and public scrutiny are no match for the emotional return of caring for those who can no longer care for themselves. What a gift.
Some of the people and stories I've been exposed to are humbling in their selflessness. Individual heroics go on every day-quietly and without fanfare. The job just gets done and a thousand kindnesses are bestowed without even thinking twice.
I mentioned earlier that this is my last editorial. I am facing a common Boomer challenge and one that the long-term care profession knows a lot about-that of caring for a sick parent. My greatest wish is that I can do it with the same dignity, selflessness, and love that I have witnessed time and time again in this profession.
That is what I have learned and I thank you for it.
Maureen Hrehocik, Editor Long-Term Living 2010 August;59(8):8