The other day, my daughter and I made pizza together. I bought some pizza dough in a tube which, as I’m writing this, sounds gross, but what are you going to do, if you’re not a domestic goddess. We started well in advance of when we needed to be done. We read the directions, popped the tube and Rose went to work rolling out the dough. Only, it didn’t roll out.
While I grated cheese, I watched her grapple with it, her frustration increasing with every pound of her delicate fists. I figured it needed a little more muscle. I put the big guns to work. I kneaded, pressed and patted it. I massaged it with all the pizza love I had in me and, if you’ve seen my wedding cake, you know I have some formidable pizza love. It remained on the cutting board, a cold, unyielding lump the color of death. Even the rolling pin hardly put a dent in it. Meanwhile, the time was fast approaching when my big husband would bound through the door, growling like a hungry bear.
I began to get desperate and a bit silly with exhaustion. Why not? I thought to myself. Nothing else I’ve tried has worked. I whipped that inflexible blob into the air, tossing it just like I’d seen elderly, Italian gentlemen with moustaches do it. I whooped and hooted and tossed, delirious, insane, no longer caring about the time or the fact that what I was doing was making no difference in the dough at all. The difference it made was in me. It released the tension I was feeling. It melted away the frustration.
I work as a health care aide on the geriatric unit of a hospital. A co-worker and I were talking about how important a sense of humor is in the work we do. She told me about how she shared some funny moment from work with a friend and this friend abruptly informed her that such things were NOT funny. It’s true.
We see pain, suffering and loss on every shift. It’s serious and heartbreaking, it’s, literally, life and death. We can be long-faced; we can try to turn off those emotions that don’t fit the gravity of the situations we encounter; we can detach and harden our hearts; we can become depressed and weep over the deep sadness of it all, but none of these things will help our patients heal.
To begin with, the hospital is dark, cold, stark and sterile. It’s unwelcoming and for some, it’s scary. Though they try to dress it up with art and murals, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s an institution and not the comfort and relative safety of one’s home. I believe it’s my job and my duty as a human being, to spread joy, to lighten up the atmosphere around those who are ailing.
The smiles and gentle teasing are part of the rapport that must grow between patient and caregiver to enable the patient to trust and relax. Yes, the confused and demented say amusing things. Frankly, I view these instances as little gifts from God, stress-reducers in an emotionally charged, high-pressure environment.
When we giggle over something the patient says, it’s not to point and laugh at them and, most often, they giggle right along with us. There is a beauty and innocence to many of these people that makes their comments precious and even insightful. I find myself collecting them like pearls on a string. I drop them here and there and their luminosity and sweetness invariably lifts others up.
The people I serve make me happy, even if they don’t know it and I won’t apologize. I only hope, in some small way, I can do the same for them.