This past Wednesday, Jelly and I reported for duty at the retirement home for our first assigned PALS placement. Despite a few hiccups, Jelly made it through the hour intact. I, on the other hand, experienced some challenges.
At this facility, there are a range of people from middle age onward with a range of impairments. Some residents are confused, others are without speech altogether, and still others are alert and cognitively intact. I will need time to get to know these people, to remember their names, and to understand their quirks.
One fellow initiated a very serious conversation with me in Russian, to which I responded in my native tongue, English. He was as confused with my language as I was with his. I wish I’d been able to communicate with him more effectively but I’ve never been much of a linguist. Another woman petting Jelly’s head told me she had a crack in it. Rather than assuring her Jelly’s skull was intact, I told her I’d check that out.
I may have been struggling, while Jelly was in her element during the visit, but not in the way I was hoping. She spent the majority of her time scrounging for stray food particles off the floor rather than visiting with people. I am hoping that next time we go she will attend more to the people than to their crumbs. Even better, maybe staff will sweep before we arrive.
One thing I can say for Jelly is that she is open to people of all types. She doesn’t care if someone is grumpy, missing teeth, or smells of cigarette smoke; she is an equal opportunity visitor.
Maybe I should qualify this: Jelly may show preferential treatment to those with food particles on their hands. They needn’t know that they’re garnering her rapt attention because they’re tasty.
I don’t know what staff were thinking arranging a special tea during our visit. I alerted those partaking that we could visit with them only after they’d finished their cakes and scones, if indeed they wanted to eat them.
As prepared as I thought I was, I made one significant tactical error. Because I am Jewish, I did not consider how important seasonal attire would be to this pre-Christmas visit. I don’t own an ugly Christmas sweater, and my half-hearted attempts to buy a Christmas outfit for Jelly had not borne fruit. Long, low Bassets need specially sized clothes.
Christmas may not be my celebration, but it is still important to bring the holiday spirit to others, especially those who are unable to be with family. Thankfully, the team leader had brought Jelly a Santa hat for that day.
Having learned from this last mistake, once the visit was over, I made it my mission to procure a seasonal outfit for next Christmas. No, I did not buy an ugly Christmas sweater; that would move this Jew a bit too far outside her comfort zone. I did, however, buy a jingle-bell collar for Jelly with a matching reindeer headband. I think she looks quite smashing, don’t you? Now if I could just get her to look a little happier when she’s fully adorned….