G.O.M. (Grumpy Old Men)

Nov 14, 2011

Not as grumpy as they look

I love Grumpy Old Men. Maybe it’s because if my dad was alive, he would be one. He died at my age, which was 30 years ago and he was a WWII Navy vet, submarines in particular. I was a little girl surrounded by brothers that had to spend part of every vacation touring smelly dark subs or visiting war memorials. That’s likely why I am a drawn to military history; a little odd for a woman.

This affinity for GOM plays out at work, where I frequently have to care for them. The WWII generation is quickly becoming extinct and they are filling hospital beds. I can always spot one because the nurse from the previous shift will be exasperated and worn-out. “Mr. Johnson (not real name) is stubborn and demanding.” Or the softer nurse-language; the patient is “non-compliant”, code word for difficult, or making my job miserable.

This weekend I cared for a GOM two days in a row. He was a challenge. We started our first day together with him demanding milk for his cereal NOW after keeping me in the room for several minutes while he fired questions at me about his doctor, the day’s schedule and when can he get out of here? Now I learned a long time ago that if you give these guys a sense of control, not to mention dignity, in the beginning of your shift, they’ll turn from lion to lamb by the end of the shift. He was no exception. After answering all of his questions the best I could and writing some of it on his board so he could remember it, I RAN to get his milk. When I returned promptly with it, I could tell we’d turned a page together. “You’re a good nurse,” he said. I thanked him and moved on.

The next day I again received an awful report from an exhausted night nurse. Mr. GOM had held the evening and night nurses hostage to his many demands and stubborn refusal to comply with treatment. He was old, in his eighties, and failing. His daughter told me her mother died five years ago and he wasn’t very good at managing alone but would not admit it. Typical of this generation, they don’t complain. They lived through the depression and a horrific war. They are not quitters, something foreign to following generations of protesters and entitled victims.

I stepped into his room and found a very tired AND grumpy old man that needed help getting to the bathroom. As I hooked my arm under his and took little steps alongside him and his walker he asked me, “And how are you on the Lord’s day?” I was impressed because he realized it was Sunday. “Well, I should probably be in church,” I answered. It’s part of the package of nursing, working every other weekend, and this Sunday was particularly tough to miss. Our church had moved to a new building and I longed to be a part of the celebration.

He stopped briefly and turned to me.

“Maybe He wants you right here.”

We smiled at each other and I tightened my grip on his arm as he started to move again. I forgot to mention this. Grumpy Old Men have a lot of wisdom too.