Doris Plaster: Home Sweet Nursing Home

Doris Plaster
Doris Plaster didn’t start out to help the elderly. She didn’t start out to be a writer. And she certainly didn’t start out to write flash nonfiction—she didn’t even know what it was.

“I was raised in a Catholic family in Cali, Colombia. I admired the nuns and their dedication and at one time I wanted to be a nun, but I didn’t pursue it.”

Strong church and family influences fueled her desire to help people. She graduated from Universidad del Valle in Cali with a master’s degree in social work and has spent twenty-one years as a social worker, most recently in nursing homes.

Working with children and youth first

“Cali is a city of 2.5 million people with a lot of social and economic problems. After university, I worked in Cali for twelve years with children and youth in city agencies and community organizations. I didn’t want to work with elderly people because I thought it would be depressing.”

In 1999 she moved to the United States, had her university degree validated, and was designated a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Despite her initial reluctance to work with the elderly, she has been employed in nursing homes for eight years and is enriched by her interactions with residents, caregivers, and families. She currently works at a long term/skilled care facility in Springfield, Missouri.

“A co-worker and I interview each new resident. We evaluate their psychological, physical, and social health to develop a personalized care plan with other team professionals.”

A resident with dementia was a veteran whose nightmares of his war experiences often jolted him from sleep. His nearly nonstop talking was mostly unintelligible. On one occasion, he was sitting in the hall and mumbling.

“I wanted to hear what he was saying, so I went to his side. He reached for me and said, ‘Hold my hand, hold my hand, lady! Let’s get to the highway!’ It appeared he was having a flashback and wanted to take us to a safe place. Later, I thought if I wrote something it would help me see beyond his dementia and maybe understand him better.”

Putting off writing
For two years Doris suppressed the urge to write, convinced she was not a writer. The idea of writing returned intermittently, but she never acted on it until last year when she read the blog of a writer.

“I sent her an email and was thrilled she wrote back with encouragement and tips. She told me I didn’t have to be ‘a writer;’ to just write, and that if God wants me to write I will be able to do it.”

She started a blog. Her first story was about why she became a social worker. Then, she wrote about some of her nursing home residents, using only first names, changing the names and genders, and making some characters composites. The stories are poignant vignettes of the lives of nursing home residents. Her U.S.- born husband checks her spelling and grammar.

Her hundreds of blog followers include professional writers, would-be writers, and non-writers who are moved by her sensitivity that brings new levels of compassion to the craft of storytelling. She says her writing is therapy for her and she hopes it helps others.

“I try to be inspirational and to see past the physical challenges of the residents.”

Flash nonfiction leads to her book
She didn’t realize her blog stories were flash nonfiction, often defined as fifty to 1,000 words; she just wrote what she felt it took to tell the stories. Then she came across a blog of fifty-word stories.

“My jaw dropped. I was amazed the stories were so complete and compelling. I accepted the challenge of the blogger to write one fifty-word story per day for a month, starting the title of each story with a different letter of the alphabet, until I finished twenty-six stories. It was so satisfying.”

Her husband encouraged her to publish the stories in a book. The result was Home Sweet Nursing Home: An A to Z Collection of 50-word Stories on Aging and Healthcare, published this year. It is moving and insightful. She deftly weaves beginning, middle, and ending into her stories, often obtaining drama with an unlikely hero and villain.

Doris is doing what many professionals advise new writers: write about what you know.   

Doris may be reached at Hold My Hand, A Social Worker’s Blog.  

Photo courtesy Doris Plaster.

What have been your experiences with flash nonfiction? How has that format helped your writing?

9 comments:

  1. I have a mother with Alzheimer's and visit the nursing home often. I loved Doris's book - it made me wish our alphabet had more letters.

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  2. Every day I thank God for the people who take care of my mother (with mild dementia) in her nursing home, so your blog post about Doris caught my attention. God bless her! (We also used to live in Colombia so that part of her story interested me, too.) Thanks for letting us know about her blog and book. I need to check into them!

    Linda

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  3. Doris is the real deal. She is a delightful gal who takes delight in many aspects of life that we take for granted. This is a very nice synopsis of her background accomplished by Wayne.
    I will be getting Doris' book at the Springfield Writers Guild this Saturday as will many others. A nice portrait of Doris by Wayne.

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  4. Lovely job on the profile - I just recently discovered flash fiction, but never considered flash non-fiction. Have you tried the "Six-Word Memoir" from SMITH Magazine? Very addictive.

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  5. Doris is a friend and I was once her patient. I met Doris when she was my social worker while I lived in a nursing home. It wasn't until I left the facility to live on my own that I really became friends with her. Doris is very real. Her writings are true and all of the compassion that you read in her work is also shown in her actions toward people. Doris isn't someone who just talks the talk, she walks the walk as well. Doris gave me a copy of her book a couple weeks ago and I loved it. Her book and her blog is very inspiring to me. Doris has a way of writing about and showing the sides of people in residential care facilities that aren't always seen. She truly unveils the personality inside the people who we see and wonder about. Doris gets inside and learns who they are and. She's able to do this because she truly cares about her patients and they come to feel the same toward her. I know I did. I can honestly say that I believe she's one of the best at what she does. She not only does her job but also becomes part of the lives of her patients.
    I thank you Doris for all you've done for me. Thank you for your encouragement and insight. You truly are a good friend....

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  6. Thank you, Wayne, for interviewing me, and for your kindness. And thank you everyone for your uplifting comments.

    Blessings.

    Doris

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  7. Dearest Wayne,

    Very well worded about this remarkable lady! Writing in a second language is something I certainly admire. Even if her husband does do some editing, still!
    Wishing her lots of success as a professional and maybe as a true developing writer on the side...?

    A pleasure to have visited you.

    Mariette

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  8. Hi Wayne and Doris .. her book has reached the UK .. and it's great to connect. My mother is in a Nursing Home, but they've converted the lower floor into a Dementia Unit. It's very interesting to learn more about all sides of life - as my mother had a Care Home .. and has always been interested. I have yet to re-read the posts in book form ... but am really looking forward to it - I've lent it to our Nursing Home Manager ... I'm sure she'll be interested. Cheers for now - excellent post - and Doris' blog is brilliant .. Hilary

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