By: KATE JOHNSON
Kate Johnson is with the Montreal bureau of Elsevier Global Medical News.
After raising seven children and working for more than 20 years in a profession of caregiving, Carolyn Todd knows that giving love is what she does best. As both a certified nursing assistant and certified medication technician at Heritage Park Skilled Care in Rolla, Mo., she has medical skills, but hugs and words are her favorite tools. “I'm the one who gives the hugs around here,” she said in an interview. “I even tell the mailman that I love him because you never know if that's the last thing a person will hear. Words mean a lot.”
Recently named Mentor of the Year among staff at nine regional Cathedral Rock nursing homes, Ms. Todd says a valuable lesson in caring for the elderly is never take unkind words personally.
As she oversees Heritage Park's Alzheimer's unit, she can be on the receiving end of verbal abuse and even racist slurs from residents. Still, she doesn't let any of it get her down. “I just love it out of them, and I've won so many people over that way,” she said.
Ms. Todd says her passion is “to care for people who don't have a voice.” Working previously with the developmentally disabled and now with the elderly, her gift is being able to see the world through their eyes. “It is the concept I try to instill in our younger employees—that you have to look at things from the residents' perspective,” she said. “They are struggling with depression and denial and with the loss of their independence. Someday that's going to be me, and how would I feel if I had to wait 15 minutes for a drink of water because I couldn't get it myself?”
Even when residents are rude or hurtful, she says she tells employees to look outward instead of inward. “I tell them, yes, they have a right not to be abused, not to be talked down to, not to be insulted. But first and foremost, they have to think about the resident. If they're not going to be there for the resident—if it ends up being all about 'me,' then I tell them they might have to think about going into another field.”
According to Debbie Klesack, the administrator at Heritage Park, Ms. Todd has a “gut feeling” about caring for others. “It is the holding of a hand; it is the sound of her loving voice saying, 'I'm here with you, honey,' to the blind resident who is confused.” In her written nomination, Ms. Klesack said, “Carolyn smiles and she believes that smiles are contagious. She never complains, but you certainly hear her singing.”
That gut feeling is what helps Ms. Todd find the right approach for the varied needs of her residents. It takes listening to one resident obsesses over schedule and punctuality, but then having a detailed conversation with another resident about sports, she explains.
“There's one guy—he can't tell the time—but we can talk baseball and football statistics all day long. I don't know this stuff, but I can sit there and have conversations about it, because he gives me all this information. But then when I say that in 15 minutes, we are going to eat, he doesn't get it.”
While the challenges that residents face are unique, requiring a different touch for each one, Ms. Todd is adamant that sympathy should not play a role in the care she gives. “I tell the other employees that there should be no sympathy here because it's unnecessary baggage. The residents can feel that pity, and that's not what they need—they need love and friendship.”
Carolyn Todd has nursing skills, but hugs and kind words are among her favorite tools. Kelly Roberts