A continuing care staff member recalls a lesson she learned long before her professional career about how it feels to be driven by a ‘call to serve.’

I remember years ago, before I worked in this sector, listening to a health care worker tell me about a continuing care resident who had become non-verbal due to progressive dementia. Every morning, Dorothy (as we’ll her) woke up panicked and inconsolable for some reason unknown to everyone on her care team. She would frantically yank open drawers and cupboards throughout the room and then continue down the hallway and into the rooms of other residents, searching in vain for something that continued to elude her.

Was it nightmares? Was it the jolt of waking up and facing another day? The care staff tried everything — playing classical music, stroking her hair, sitting beside her — to no avail.

It wasn’t until Dorothy’s daughter shared a nugget of information with care staff: Dorothy had lived her entire lifetime as an impeccably groomed fashionista. No matter what the day called for, she was always dressed to the nines with full-on matching accessories.

As for the current frantic morning awakenings in the care home, Dorothy’s daughter reasoned she was most certainly searching for the day’s spectacular outfit. The matching shoes (apparently in the dozens). The oh-so-perfect jewelry. And of course, a wide-brimmed hat.

Years after hearing this story for the first time, I still marvel at the great lengths care staff took to figure out the source of Dorothy’s agitation. They went on to buy a large bag of dollar store jewelry, organized it into a thrift store jewelry box, and placed it at Dorothy’s bedside every morning before they woke her up.

Her morning ritual of fingering through the precious jewels, choosing precisely the right masterpiece to coordinate with her never-any-color-but-red sweatshirt, was the epitome of caring staff going the extra mile to make a huge difference in one person’s life.

Decades later, the story of their care and compassion still stays with me — a testament to what it means to be called to serve the most vulnerable.