Home Care in San Diego County – Our First Clients

A Client Story

By Tim

I want to tell you a story about one of our clients at A Servant’s Heart.  Actually, it was a couple, and they were our very first clients, in 2003.  They had been married for 62 years when we began serving them and they were in their 80s.

They were what we call “elder orphans”, in that they had no family to speak of, only distant relatives who lived in Texas and who had no role in their lives.  The wife had just one friend who lived nearby, a 74 years old woman with whom she had been friends for years.

Their names were John and Martha.  Actually, that’s not what their real names were, but I’ll call them that for this story, for the sake of their privacy.

When John and Martha first came on service, John was on hospice with a diagnosis of CHF.  They began service with four hours per day, Monday through Friday.

I was their first caregiver, because we had just started A Servant’s Heart and we had not yet been able to find caregivers who met our hiring standards.  I cleaned house and made meals for them along with helping John remember to take his meds.  I was a companion to them for part of my visit time, and over time I visited with them for hours.

John, who was on oxygen, loved to tell stories about his adventures in the military, and Martha, who owned a very successful business in Oceanside before she retired, was an authentic Texas _LADY_ with a very dry sense of humor.

When people ask us why we do the things we do the way we do them, many times I think back to how many of our current policies and procedures grew out of our experiences with John and Martha.  Although caring for them was easy and almost no work at all, we learned a lot from our experiences with them.

One of our policies that has its roots in our care for John and Martha, for example, is that when we start service for new clients, one thing we ask is whether there are any guns in the client’s home.

That grew out a time that we had with John, who was already experiencing some recognizable signs of dementia when we began service.  One day, after we had been providing service for some time, John told me to look in a fanny pack that he kept hanging on a hat rack by the front door.  He winked at me and said, “I’m ready for anyone coming through that door!”.

Lo and behold, there was a loaded pistol with a shell in the chamber ready to fire and the safety off!  Well, we immediately, but very respectfully, worked with Martha and Martha’s friend to get the guns (yes, there were a few more!) out of the house.  To be honest, I don’t think John ever caught on to what we had done.

To this day, I think of our policy of asking about whether there are guns in the home as “The John question”.

John and Martha became very special to us.  That first year that they were on service with us, I cooked their Christmas Dinner for them.  Not long after that, we hired our first personal attendant, and she worked with John and Martha for a couple of years.  She was 69 years old when we hired her, a CNA from Arkansas.  Her name was Ellie.  She worked for us for three years, and she was a terrific personal attendant.  We are glad that she was able to retire, and we still miss her!

Eventually, Martha had a stroke and was in the hospital for a few days and then went to a skilled nursing facility to recover.  John could not be left at home on his own without care, so we began providing 24-hour care for him at home.  John missed Martha very much and wanted to go visit her in the SNF, so Linda and I arranged to take John out to see Martha at the SNF one Saturday afternoon.

When Linda and I arrived at John & Martha’s home, John was standing right at the front door waiting for us, eager to go see his wife of 62 years.  With his hat on and his walker at his side, the first thing he said to us was, “Let’s go see Mama!!”

When we got to the skilled nursing facility, Linda and I helped John out of the car and up the elevator to Martha’s room.  When John walked into the room, Martha said, “Well, you better come over and give me a smooch, Fella.”  Our clients talked and held hands for some time until we could tell that Martha was starting to get tired. We told John that we needed to go so that Martha could get some rest and we told him that Martha would be home in a few days.  When Martha returned home from the SNF, we provided 24-hour care for John & Martha for many months, and many of our caregivers worked with them over that time.

Anyway, after being on service with us for a year or so, John’s health started to decline further (he was on hospice all that time!) and he began to sleep in the spare bedroom.  Eventually, he went on continuous care with hospice.  Martha knew that John was declining more and more each day, and when she went to bed each night she said goodbye to John just in case he passed that night.

Finally, John died peacefully at home one night while Martha sleeping in the other room.  Many of us at A Servant’s Heart felt very close to his couple, and quite a few of the caregivers who had worked with the couple came to the house to be with Martha when we awakened her to tell her that John had finally passed away, along with Linda and me.

Since I knew Martha very well, I went into Martha’s bedroom first to awaken her and give her the news.  I turned on the light in the bathroom and went over to the bed to wake Martha.  She woke right up and exclaimed, “What the hell is a man doing in my bedroom!”  She realized that it was me, and this was an example of her dry sense of humor.  All of us gathered around the bed and told Martha that John had passed away.  Martha said, “That’s okay, I said goodbye to him when I went to bed tonight.  Thanks for coming.  Now I want to go back to sleep.”

We took care of Martha at her home, 24 hours a day, for many more months.    Eventually, after a series of additional strokes she went on hospice herself.

Finally, Martha passed away in December 2005.  It was truly a loss to all of us when she was finally gone.  It was a real privilege for us to be able to be of service to them, and they are a great example of why Linda and I find this business to be so worthwhile and such a great opportunity to help others, especially elder orphans.