We recently asked our staff to begin sharing their accounts of interactions with their clients, and how they have been affected and moved by them. We hope you’ll enjoy these ongoing installments from those special individuals who deliver our much-needed services to our cherished clients. Today’s story comes from a staff member who works in our senior services department…
Writing a story from the heart… I thought would be cinch, but proved to be a daunting task. How to choose just ONE client from my past 20 years of heartfelt experiences as an RN at JFCS? Every client assigned to me has been in need of not only my services, but of the wonderful village of services and the coworkers who helped to maintain them independently in their homes for as long as possible.
For this purpose, though, I will choose Harry*. Harry was a bachelor who was never sick until his 90th birthday. He lived independently until he developed multiple medical problems. His only family was cousins who lived in Freehold, NJ, who visited him once a year – just for Harry to take them on shopping sprees – never to be heard from again except in between visits and shopping. Harry’s only support was from a woman named Sharon, from his synagogue, who took him shopping to make sure that he had food and life’s necessities.
Sharon called JFCS for help for Harry. I began to make my visits with Harry. Harry did not like to spend any money which he had accumulated well throughout his life. Every one of my visits was prefaced with, “Is this a social visit or a medical visit?” My answer was always, “both.” I became Harry’s case manager and medication nurse. I also became the point person to cooridinate CHHAs, housekeeping, and volunteer services. I was the overseer of his medical problems, and a liaison to his physicians and Sharon. The piece de resistance was that Harry sat in one chair in his living room next to an empty chair, on which sat his unsigned will. Why unsigned?! Because his “lecherous Freehold cousins” would inherit his wealth and be in charge of his burial arrangements neither of which were to his true end of life wishes.
Harry was maintained in this environment for three years with my weekly and/or more visits coordinating all necessary services to keep him independent in his apartment. With deteriorating health, I urged Harry to rewrite his will according to his true wishes which was a monumental feat, but which he did, however, the will still remained unsigned on the empty chair next to him. I asked him why he would not sign it and he answered, “When I sign my will, I will die.” Soon thereafter, his health deteriorated and he was admitted to Kennedy Hospital needing to be resuscitated in ICU five times over a two week period of time.
On my way home this one particular day, I had a gut feeling to visit Harry. How sad to see him totally helpless, ill and exhausted fighting for his life. He was non verbal and could only respond by weakly shaking his head yes and no. He was asked in front of me if he wanted to be resuscitated again as he was in respiratory distress. He shook his head no. When I asked him if he was ready to sign his recent will, he shook his head affirmatively. I immediately called his attorney, explained the situation who immediately came with a notary assistant and will to Harry’s bedside. They asked him if he was ready to sign his will. He nodded affirmatively. He had no strength to sign and when I was given permission to guide his hand to sign in their presence, this was accomplished, notarized and witnessed legally.
Harry died five hours later with his burial plans made according to his true wishes and his inheritance going to charities including JFCS. How sad I felt with the loss of valiant and feisty Harry in my life, but with a heartfelt sense of pride and accomplishment!
*Client names are always changed to protect confidentiality.
To help us create more stories from the heart for our clients through programs and services, donate online to the JFCS Cares Campaign here.