Have you ever given much thought to dignity? Yours? Someone else’s?
Respect for your loved one’s dignity? According to Webster’s Unabridged
Dictionary, one of the definitions of dignity is “calm self-possession and
self respect.” So then, what is respect? Again according to Mr. Webster,
“the act of holding in high estimation, deference or honor, a feeling of
esteem or regard.”

My husband was under Hospice care for nine months. One of the “services” that they provided that I admired the most was their respect for my husband’s dignity. For most of that period of time, he was in a nursing home where he was cared for by various nurses, CNA’s and other Health Care Professionals. The utmost of care was given to preserving what dignity he had left.

Let me ask if you have ever had to change a soiled diaper n your parent? Have you needed to help your spouse with their meals? Have you had to take care of an adult with the same care and patience as you would an infant? I found very quickly that there is a knack to doing it without embarrassing them. The most important way to do that is to think how you would like to be treated, and act accordingly.

I remember how embarrassed I got when as a young girl I had to buy my own Kotex. My first trip to the gynecologist. It was nothing compared to the day I had to explain to a male nurse that my dad was having problems with his catheter after prostrate surgery….or having him follow me to Dad’s room and having Dad whip out his “equipment” to show the nurse the problem. I quietly removed myself from the room. I’m sure that if my Dad were not in a great deal of pain right then, he would have been mortified when he realized that he had literally exposed himself in front of his “baby girl.” I felt that I helped him to maintain some of his dignity by removing myself from the room.

My husband had a stroke, totally disabling his left arm. He had to learn to do simple things like eat with his right hand (he was born left handed, you see). I fixed his wheelchair with several things to make carrying objects around easier for him with only one hand. When it came to meals, however, it was impossible for him to do something as simple as open a carton of milk or cut up his meat. I made it a point to join him for breakfast and dinner each day so that I could help him set up his meal. That helped. He was a very proud man and wouldn’t ask the aides to help if he was starving to death.

He usually dropped some food on his clothes when he ate, so I started taking something with me to eat and put bibs on both of us…telling him that if I had to wear one to keep clean, then so did he. A 58-year old man does not want to wear a bib. So we made a joke of it, ended up with clean clothes after each meal, and preserved a teeny bit of his dignity in the process.

My husband also had terminal lung cancer, which as he lost his strength also caused an incontinence problem. At first they used diapers on him, but he always had an essence of urine about him. Further, he was mortified when they had to change his clothing several times a day. They finally inserted a catheter and that problem was solved, but now he had to carry that unsightly bag around with him everywhere he went. He said whenever someone looked at him and saw that bag of urine, he felt like he’d been caught sitting on the “john.” Something as simple as a cloth bag tied beneath his wheelchair to carry the bag saved the day — and his dignity.

One day as I was walking down the hall at the nursing home, an aide opened the door to the shower room, and although I didn’t see the face of the resident, I saw nearly every other part of her naked body. I was horrified. I turned right around and went to the Social Services Department and told them that they needed to do something about that to prevent if from happening again. How would you feel if that had been your mother? The next day they had a shower curtain installed between the door and the shower. Once again, preserving a little bit of peoples’ dignity.

On another occasion, I saw an aide feeding four people at once. She was actually very proud of the fact that she could do that and still maintain a conversation with another aide at the same time. One of the people she was feeding happened to be the husband of a friend of mine or I probably wouldn’t have noticed. While I sat there helping my husband with his meal I noticed that Kenny (our friend) and the others had food slobbered all over their clothes and smeared on their faces. I felt so badly for them. Yes, they got fed faster than if they had received individual attention but at what cost to their dignity?

If you are a caregiver or ever have occasion to be one, please remember that the person you are caring for has feelings too. They may no longer be able to do for themselves, and often can’t speak their mind clearly. But you can just bet that they know if they are being treated with a lack of care and understanding.

Further, if your loved one is in a nursing home, don’t hesitate for a second to make yourself heard if you feel that they are not being cared for properly. The supervisors may not know that there is a problem if you don’t identify it for them. Don’t be afraid to speak up. People with handicaps, be it due to a disease, an accident, or the aging process don’t want to feel like freaks in a side show. Even if your loved one is in a coma or similar state, please don’t assume that they cannot hear you just because they are no longer able to communicate with you. My suggestion is to talk to them as though they are carrying on a conversation with you. If you must talk about them, then remove yourself from their hearing.

Please do whatever it takes to help them retain dignity.

Copyright Shaywardncr 1999