As a registered nurse working in long-term care (LTC), Tristan Squire-Smith has “seen it all”. Now he’s giving others a window into his world through The Wrinkly Ranch, a book he’s written to raise awareness about the realities of living and working in continuing care facilities.
Squire-Smith, BSc’04, BA’05, also hopes to entertain readers through a collection of comedic and poignant stories.
“You can’t make this stuff up,” he said. “It’s real-life. And a bit like the TV show MASH. It will have you laughing and crying.”
Squire-Smith’s first experience with LTC came during his undergraduate years at Western. While majoring in chemistry and modern languages, and competing on the Mustangs swim team, one of his part-time jobs was working weekends in housekeeping at Marion Villa, the LTC arm of (what was then) St. Joseph’s Hospital in London, Ont.
“You can’t do that job and not be exposed to the residents and staff,” he said. “I think those early encounters were the genesis of it all.”
After graduating from Western, Squire-Smith earned a bachelor of science in nursing, a master’s of business administration and certifications in infection control and health executive leadership.
Offering insights from more than two decades in the clinical area of LTC, he’s hoping The Wrinkly Ranch will give people a better understanding of the nuances and complexities of the field, and a richer appreciation for those who rely on it.
“Older adults are just that: older adults. Even if they’re failing physically, they’ve lived full lives and have much value to share and impart.~”Tristan Squire-Smith, RN
‘I gotta write this down’
The book comes from years of Squire-Smith scribbling notes of the “one-line zingers and bizarre, whacky sets of circumstances” on scraps of paper throughout his shifts.
“I was never at a loss for content,” he said. “So many funny things happen, and you think, ‘I gotta write this down.’ And, of course, once you start, you can’t stop. Then it snowballs, because people see you writing it all down and they tell you things that happened to them too.”
There’s the story about Ralph, the visiting service dog. “He gets loose and up to his hijinks,” Squire-Smith said. “But at the end of the day, he will give people their youth back, or sit with someone who is dying.”
Squire-Smith also shares tales of friendship ─ between staff members and residents, and among the residents themselves. A favourite involves two gentlemen who discover their shared past.
“True story,” said Squire-Smith. “One man was German. The other Canadian. They worked out they were on opposite sides of a battle during the Second World War as radio operators. They were tapping out on the table, some of the news and messages they sent back then to sometimes fool the enemy. Apparently, the style of tapping in Morse code is as individual as a fingerprint or handwriting. Seventy years later, they could still recognize each other.”
Each chapter of the book addresses a different topic, with Squire-Smith giving a nod to all the different people providing service in LTC along the way.
“Nurses and frontline workers can get a lot of attention, but there are other important people who rarely get the limelight. Housekeeping is a good example,” he said. “Many of these people are saving money by keeping things clean and preventing infection. Just as important are the kitchen and laundry staff.”
Friendly, frank advice
Squire-Smith also peppers the book with hints on how families can work most effectively with their loved ones’ care teams. And he’s not afraid to tell it like it is in offering practical advice on ensuring wills and powers of attorney are in place well in advance. “No squabbling among yourselves around your loved one’s beside. That is not the time.”
As he continues to work in LTC, Squire-Smith, who is also a real estate agent and business consultant, continues to collect new material.
He hopes his book will remind other health-care workers they’re not alone and also inspire students looking to work in the field.
“It takes a special person to work in health care, period. Different aspects of care appeal to different personalities. Partly because of how it is portrayed in the media, it’s not sexy to work in LTC. It’s not the ER, it’s not the ICU, but there’s a lot going on here. It takes unique knowledge and unique skills. If you’re interested in relationships, LTC is probably for you.”