Routines. We all have them, and there are ways in which they sew the fragments of our days together. Here are some of mine:
· Up at 5:00 a.m., shower, dress, make the bed.
· One cup of hot lemon and honey, my pain pills, one coffee.
· Make my breakfast smoothie, make my lunch.
· Drive to the GO station, GO train to Kipling, subway to Christie, Christie bus to work.
Boring, huh? The thing is, I can do all this without much thinking. Once I get to work, there is little routine. Each minute is different and unpredictable. I might have a crisis to deal with before my coat is off and my bags are out of my hands. There might be a voicemail waiting for me, notes on my desk and emails needing my attention. There’s often a resident looking for me.
Routine and spontaneous. We need them both. On the rare morning when I fall asleep after the alarm goes off and wake even thirty minutes later, my whole morning is unsettled. I rush and stumble through my morning, catch a later train, get to work late and generally feel as if my life has been upended. I thrive on the routine of my weekday mornings.
I also thrive on the spontaneity of my life at work. In my early twenties, I worked for two years as a librarian’s assistant. I thought I would enjoy it because I loved books, but I discovered this job was entirely different and the opposite of spontaneous. This was before computers, and I spent my days typing library cards. Each period, space and letter had a rule about where it went, and my job was to follow those rules all day long. I hated it.
Institutional life is traditionally a set of rules and unquestioned patterns which must be followed each day. Residents get up at a certain time, whether they are ready or not. Meals are at specific times. If you are doing an activity and it’s your shower time, you must leave and have a shower. Life is planned by the convenience of the staff rather than the rhythms of the residents. There is no individuality.
“An elder-centred community imbues daily life with variety and spontaneity by creating an environment in which unexpected and unpredictable interactions and happenings can take place. This is the antidote to boredom.” 1
What does this look like?
Residents generally tend to get up at the same time, but their rhythms are respected. One lady is usually up at 4 a.m., so she has her shower and gets dressed then. When the nurse comes on at 7:00, they have a cup of tea and toast together. Another resident had his shower in the morning, but was falling asleep over breakfast. His shower time was changed to evenings, and he went to sleep immediately after. One resident sleeps in and eats her breakfast around 10:00 a.m. She doesn’t eat lunch, but has a few slices of sandwich mid-afternoon and has a good dinner.
What about daily life? Mid-morning, a group of Kindergarten children come in for their monthly visit. They are presented with a card that the residents made for them a few days ago. Later, a family member with their dog visits several residents, and the chaplain brings his infant grandson to each dining room at lunch. A care partner takes a selfie with a resident in the afternoon, and a group gather to sing just before dinner. Routines such as meal times are established, but flexible enough to accommodate each person’s need. Spontaneous visits and fun times are welcomed.
Routine is the slave, spontaneity and flexibility are the masters.
The bottom line is to remember why we are here. If our purpose is to perpetuate an institution we have established, then the routines and rules are imperative. If we are here to bring life, well-being and joy to elders, then let’s hold the rules with the loosest of grips.
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