Margaret was a plump 54-year-old resident who was skeptical about psychological services when I first approached her. Three sessions later she sat quietly on the edge of her bed, staring down at her legs, her feet not quite touching the floor.
"I can't walk. Every time I try to stand up in physical therapy, my whole body starts to shake." She began to tremble, shivers traveling from head to toe.
"What do you think is going on?"
She clenched her arms around her petite frame, steadying herself. "I don't know. I guess I'm afraid."
"Because of your falls?" She'd fractured first one foot and then, months later, the other.
"Yeah. The therapist says I shouldn't worry, that he won't let me fall."
"Who's your therapist?"
"Nakeem." Nakeem was a reassuringly bear-like man.
"He's good. I've known him for years."
"Yeah. Logically I know he wouldn't let me fall, but still..."
I looked around her room, which was strewn with religious pamphlets. I pointed to the Bible prominently displayed on her tray table. "Where is God in all of this?"
Margaret's gaze followed my finger and rested on the Bible. I watched as her face lost its tension. "That's what I'm doing wrong! I'm putting my faith in Nakeem instead of in God! I know what I need to do now." She appeared energized, rejuvenated.
Later that day I was writing notes at the nursing station and Margaret called out to me. "I did it!"
I looked up, startled. "You did?"
"Yep! I walked twice. Nakeem couldn't believe it, but I could. I knew I could do it."
"That's awesome!" I told her.
Three weeks later, Margaret walked out the door of the nursing facility and headed home.
Dr. Barbera is an author and a licensed psychologist consulting in long-term care facilities in the New York City area. She frequently lectures on subjects related to psychology, aging, and nursing homes. Dr. Barbera is available for private consulting with organizations, institutions, and individuals around eldercare issues. Visit her personal blog at www.mybetternursinghome.blogspot.com.