Maine Veterans’ Home - Scarborough welcomed one resident in early June who had everyone — staff and residents alike — talking.
An Unusual MVH Admission
Sarosh Kahn, age 27, was “admitted” to the nonprofit home on June 2, where she spent nine days on the B Unit.
Kahn had a stroke resulting in right-side weakness, and she required assistance with carrying out activities such as bathing, eating and walking. She often relied on nurses and CNAs for help.
Because of her diagnosis, she ate pureed food and drank thickened liquid. She also used a wheelchair, which she said made her hands ache. Once better, she graduated to a walker. On her face, she wore a nasal cannula as if she were being assisted with oxygen.
What’s so unusual about that?
Kahn is in her second year of medical school at the University of New England in Biddeford, and her admission was a simulation — part of a “Learning by Living” immersive education experience designed by one of her professors.
“I could not be more pleased with my experience,” said Kahn, a Connecticut native.
Learning From Maine Veterans’ Homes Residents
Kahn said she initially worried about fitting in — something anyone moving to a new home might grapple with.
“My first anxiety was about how I was going to fit in at a veterans’ home. I don’t come from a military family and I don’t have a lot of experience with veterans,” she said. “I felt so lucky, so privileged at how quickly word spread about me staying here, and how quickly they opened their hearts and minds and accepted me.”
One resident she’ll never forget is a woman who was in the Air Corps in World War II.
“She made her wedding dress out of the parachute she carried in the war,” Kahn said. “It dawned on me that I was living among so much history.”
“I wanted to know why she wanted to enlist,” Kahn added. “She said she didn’t just want to make phone calls and write letters while the world was engaged in war. Her sense of adventure, her unrelenting spirit made an impact on me.”
From interacting with residents, families and staff, Kahn experienced a whole breadth of human emotions, day in and day out.
Most of the veterans are men, so Kahn worried about how she’d fit in with that population, but she quickly found that it wasn’t an issue.
“There’s one extroverted resident who took me under his wing,” she said.
Takeaways From Living at MVH
Kahn said living at MVH - Scarborough made her realize many people think the elderly are a homogenous population of people.
Instead, Kahn learned they all have different interests; good days and bad days; and different temperaments, personalities and feelings, no matter their diagnosis.
Kahn was honored to meet an author and former legislator. She met a 99-year-old man who used to equip planes for battle in World War II. She sat with one woman who was dying.
“She was resting comfortably in a chair by the window in her room. In a frame was a picture of four generations of women in her family. A banner on the frame read, ‘4 Generations, Children are Born, Traditions are Passed and Love Continues On,’” Kahn said.
“It was peaceful. It made me think of death in a completely different way,” she added.
And when a resident passes away, staff members lead a walk out that acknowledges the end of the resident’s life and honors his or her memory. If the person who passes is a veteran — MVH cares for spouses and Gold Star parents as well — four or five veterans from the community at large are also called to participate.
Kahn said witnessing these walks helped her understand the true spirit of the homes better.
“The spirit of MVH was evident,” Kahn said. “It was a communal, cathartic experience for the entire home.”
Hands-On Learning at Maine Veterans’ Homes
While Kahn participated in daily activities, ate with residents, participated in therapy evaluations and exercises, and had deep conversations with residents, it’s how she related to those residents with advanced dementia that she said made the most significant impact.
“I learned the value of non-verbal communication, such as paying attention to tone, eye contact, facial expressions and body language to communicate meaning,” she said.
On her last day, Kahn said she knows her experience at MVH will not only make her a better doctor, but a better human being.
“That includes everything from how I phrase something to respecting a patient’s space to the intonation of my voice,” she said.
The CNAs and nursing staff also offered Kahn advice and taught her the value of being humble.
In the nine days she spent at MVH, she wrote more than 50 journal entries that will help her remember all that she experienced.
“The home where I lived was filled with passion, compassion and resilience. I felt the passion and resilience of the residents, who I had the privilege to call my friends,” Kahn said. “I am so thankful to all the residents who accepted me into their community and made me feel at home.”
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