“It doesn’t matter how slow you go, as long as you don’t stop.” – Confucius
Setbacks, failures, and tragedies are a part of life. We all can relate to someone struggling; someone who has not been dealt the greatest hand. For Catherine Merriman, it was an unending cycle of sickness and rehabilitation for nearly three years. In and out of the hospital, Catherine felt as though she was a revolving door, continuously going round and round with no sign of slowing down.
It all started when Catherine was diagnosed with lymphedema. The long-term condition is incurable, but can be controlled with treatment to reduce swelling and pain. One day Catherine’s aide recommended she go to the hospital. Although she did not know it at the time, Catherine somehow had acquired chronic sepsis. She spent three weeks in the hospital before being discharged and transferred to a nearby skilled nursing facility. After one year of rehabbing, she was transferred to St. John’s. “I used to work here back in the ‘70s so I was familiar with St. John’s Home,” Catherine states. “When I got here, I was doing pretty well, but still could not walk.”
The roadblocks continued for Catherine and it started to become apparent that she may never return home. Catherine developed a cough and spiked a temperature of 105. She was immediately sent to Rochester General Hospital, where she was diagnosed with pneumonia and would spend yet another long month regaining her strength. When she returned to St. John’s Home, she did not have any mobility. “I was weak. It took me a long time to gain my strength back,” Catherine continued. “I was set up with PT (physical therapy) and OT (occupational therapy). OT worked with me to regain strength in my arms and PT helped with leg exercises.”
During all of this, her lymphedema continued to worsen and she had gained an immense amount of weight. “I was 330 pounds. After going on dialysis, I lost a whole person,” Catherine recalls. “In a few weeks I went down to 184 pounds.” With the help of PT and OT, Catherine can now walk with a walker and stand for a certain amount of time. Every day she is getting stronger. “It has been a long journey,” Catherine says with a warm smile. “I am looking forward to going home.”
Catherine has resided on the Tulip neighborhood since she arrived almost two years ago. Over the past year, Catherine has spent a great deal of time with her physical therapist Traci Morley. In anticipation of going home, Traci has consistently worked with Catherine five days a week for four months. “The biggest reward working with Catherine is witnessing the power of perseverance,” Traci explains. “Working in long-term care, it is very rare that someone is able to transition back to living alone in the community after being in a nursing home for as long as Catherine has been.”
After a long journey, Catherine is ready to return home. She looks forward to cooking, doing her own grocery shopping, meeting up with friends, and maybe even purchasing a car. Traci remembers the first time she had Catherine practice getting in and out of a car as part of her rehabilitation. “She immediately asked me if she could get in the driver’s seat because she was planning on getting a car when she got out of here,” laughs Traci. “She is so optimistic.”
Despite all of Catherine’s setbacks and hardships, she remains positive and grateful to everyone who has helped her throughout her road to recovery. “It has been a good experience,” she states. During her time here, Catherine enjoyed playing bingo, going on lunch trips, and attending the Lilac Festival. “I will miss some of my friends, but I will be back to visit. They will all still be in my life,” Catherine confirms. LPN and nurse leader, Lisa Chmielewski, has helped Catherine and watched her grow stronger every day. “She has come a long way; she is one of my favorites,” says Lisa.
With teary eyes and a crowd of people, Catherine exited the doors of St. John’s Home on July 12. “Being here has gotten me to where I am now. It is nice to be somewhere where people care; you can get help whenever you need it,” Catherine says. Though Catherine’s journey has been anything but easy, she is an inspiration to everyone battling injury, sickness, or setbacks. She never once stopped fighting for her strength. “I have already decided what my first meal is going to be when I get home,” Catherine says, smiling.
Editor’s Note: St. John’s lost our dear friend Catherine Merriman in April 2019. This Faces of St. John’s story serves as a touching tribute of her spirit and the impact she made on her friends and family.