January 21, 2015

Taking Care of Mr. Robert

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Written by: Nydia O
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Robert and Norma

This story is dedicated to all the people who work as caregivers, CNAs and with hospice services. I am grateful for the opportunity the Valley Catholic gave me to share this story about my stepfather Robert Stroud and Norma Gomez.

Certified Nurse Assistant Norma Gomez opened the front door to welcome family to Mr. Robert’s home slowly as if lifting the curtain for the somber reenactment of a play already too familiar. Her eyes, puffy from crying, could not contain the tears which quickly turned into sobs as she reached out to hug them. Gomez knew the end was near, but today, she had finally said goodbye to her friend.

Mr. Robert is the term of endearment used by Gomez when referring to an 89-year-old WWII veteran from Red Oak, Iowa who had suffered a series of strokes that weakened the left side of his body. Not able to properly care for her husband, Mr. Robert’s wife Josefina hired Gomez to assist him when bathing, eating and walking. For 18 months Gomez performed her duties as a certified nurse assistant (CNA), and soon discovered Mr. Robert’s wit and passion for life. They conversed about the times he relocated to the Valley where he met Josefina, they gardened, watched old westerns, and bird watched. At times Gomez sang for him when Mr. Robert’s frame of mind declined.  “Do you love me Mr. Robert?” she would ask, and Mr. Robert would immediately answer “yes” with a broad smile.

Gomez career as a CNA began like most twists of fate; with an unfortunate circumstance. Gomez and many others were laid off from a local factory after 5 years of work. It was during a visit to the employment agency that she was asked about what she really liked to do.  “I believe I was born to be a CNA. I remember looking at women wearing scrubs, and wanting to be just like them. I love helping people.” Gomez said in her native Spanish.

Gomez enrolled in school, and after completing her degree in 2004, she immediately passed the state examination, and began her career sometimes holding 3 jobs at a time to provide for her family.  Gomez and her husband raised 4 children and have 4 grandchildren.  She has worked at local nursing homes, but relishes on the opportunity to work on a one to one basis where she can bestow her undivided attention to patients like Mr. Robert. The cultural barrier between the two did not prevent Gomez to communicate effectively. “Mr. Robert was a very nice man, and even with my difficulty speaking English I always figured out a way to understand his needs. I even understood his encouragement to get on a diet so I could look as good as his wife Josefina,” Gomez said with a chuckle.

Gomez is a devout Catholic and member of the San Felipe de Jesus Parish in Brownsville.  For Gomez, to be able to do what she really likes is a gift from God, for she believes it is God who provides her with health and the strength she needs to move forward. Through the ups and downs of her career, it is her faith that grants her the joy and love to care for her patients, to cook for her family, to help with her grandchildren, and be the wife God has called her to be. Gomez’ positive demeanor and tremendous love for Mr. Robert was great support for his family as well, for both have great needs.

But on this day, Gomez needed as many hugs and support as the rest of the family. A series of ailments had finally stripped the life out of this strong and patriotic decorated veteran whose body now laid peacefully as if in a deep sleep. He died wearing a PJ with the message “freedom is never free” surrounded by his loving wife who blessed him and thanked him for all the years of happiness and love. Gomez held his hand and smiled at him. It was all over. “Just don’t leave him alone. It will not be long before they take him,” Gomez said, for the hearse was on its way. As Gomez saw Mr. Robert’s body being carried out, it signaled it was time to let go and begin again. Another person in need of her loving care will soon come. “But Mr. Robert will always live in my heart,” Gomez said.

If you feel like you have the talent to seek a career within the medical field, then consider the option of becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant. It takes very special individuals like Norma Gomez to succeed in this field. A good starting rule is to look for great schools that provide the best training; there are several to choose from in the Valley.

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About the Author

Nydia O
A bird does not sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.-Maya Angelou. La Vida Valle is where I write about "la vida" my life in the Rio Grande Valley. From this bi-cultural corner on the tip of Texas, I share my poems and my spiritual and travel experiences. I also blog about the arts, nature and my passion for historic preservation and architecture. But most importantly, let's talk about "la vida" - living our lives - in a vacation state of mind. Contributions and comments are always welcome .


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