Here, there is no routine

Carmen Olivera, one of the residents of the San Juan de Dios residency on calle Sagasta.  / ANTONIO PÉREZ

Carmen Olivera, one of the residents of the San Juan de Dios residency on calle Sagasta.  / ANTONIO PÉREZ

Following both the example and work of San Juan de Dios — a Portuguese man born in 1495 in the diocese of Évora — this hospitaller order, founded in Granada in 1539 is present in 53 countries and is made up of more than 40,000 collaborators and workers assisting about 20 million beneficiaries. Among them are 80 residents, 20 volunteers and 50 workers in the residency which has been located on calle Sagasta in Seville since 1571, where together they form a united family.

“I’M GOING TO THE SECOND FLOOR,” says Maria del Carmen Olivera – or simply Carmen, as she wants to be called – the moment she steps onto the elevator. “I’ve decided to wear these shoes because a journalist is coming today,” she says as she ad- justs her glasses and points to her feet with pride. Accompanied by the chatter in the entrance of the building, the constant ring of the elevator announcing its arrival is heard throughout the residency. As she reaches her destination, Carmen joins her fellow residents to begin her Wii therapy for the day. “It’s cognitive training,” explains Cristina Lucenilla. As the Social Worker and member of the Managing Committee of the center, Cristina is proud to know that the residents participate in such activities to improve their capabilities.

Occupational Therapist Beatriz Gómez (Bea) leads the session. “Very good. Now let’s see, we’re counting the blue and red balls that fall in the basket,” she explains. e four residents that participate today respond immediately and enthusiastically: “Two red ones and three blue ones!” Bea is also in charge of the therapy sessions conducted in the Immaculate Hall of the center. “Here we utilize this panel with everyday tools that some have forgotten how to use,” she says. e panel is made up of light switches, door knobs, a shower head and other essential items. While this panel allows the residents to practice their motor skills, the therapy sessions with the Wii help with memory and mental dexterity.

The support offered by the center allows the residents to adapt to the environment, never leaving them to feel alone. “We are their family,” says Cristina as she wraps herself in her long, white doctor’s jacket. “Our Pepito, our Manolito…”

The staff encourages residents who are more autonomous to continue living their lives as independently as possible. “We are here to help, not to impose a way of life that they are not happy with. They can come and go as they please, as long as there are no risks involved and the organization of the center is respected,” states Cristina. The therapists work together with auxiliaries and volunteers to make sure each resident lives as healthily and comfortably as possible. The center is also designed to fit these needs, with ramps in each entrance and exit, pillars and railings for support and special geriatric bedrooms. “ The beds are made of wood, that way when an elderly person looks for rm support to stand or sit, they don’t find it on a cold piece of metal,” Cristina explains.

The residency is open to any elderly person who needs assistance – regardless of religious beliefs or socioeconomic positions – and never imposes limitations based on the publicly listed values of the center. “We facilitate everything so that any new resident does not feel overwhelmed or traumatized, but they feel they come either as a necessity or of their own choice,” says Cristina.


photo: Beatriz Gómez, occupational therapist at the San Juan de Dios residency. / ANTONIO PÉREZ

Carmen has spent two years living in the residency on calle Sagasta with Cristina, Bea and the rest of the staff’s assistance. “A social worker in a center for the elderly accompanies them in their journey and lives through it with them,” says Cristina.

With her fancy shoes still on, Carmen finishes her daily Wii therapy and walks over to the Immaculate Hall to wait for the journalist who will interview her. “I’ve always lived very close to calle Sagasta,” she says. “In the residency I like to paint, do some mental exercises, practice other languages and various other things,” she says, counting each one o on her ngers. Usually, once the cognitive therapy session is done, Carmen goes to mass, which is held every day at 1pm in the impressive 16th century chapel located on the rst oor of the center. Mass is followed by lunch, then back to the Immaculate Hall to use the desktops. “The new technology is more for the autonomous ones, and most of them even have their own email accounts,” says Bea.

Despite some limitations brought on by age, the residency of San Juan de Dios is full of life. We see this when Rafael Molina’s face lights up as Cristina approaches him in the hallway. “Hello Rafael! I thought you le for a doctor’s appointment today?” asks Cristina. “But now I’m back here,” he says with a smile full of teeth. Rafael wears a carefully pressed shirt and glasses with black frames that fail to hide his big brown eyes. “Here, there is no routine. I’ve been here three years and four months and I like it a lot. Since I’m independent, I come and go as I see fit and alert someone if I will be eating elsewhere for the day, like this coming Saturday because I already have plans,” he says, trying to stifle a laugh. Whoever has the pleasure of spending time with him would never know how much he truly suffers. “I suffer from depression,” he admits calmly.

Rafael spent many years working as an engineer for an American company before finding the residency. “Since I couldn’t go to a doctor or receive any kind of treatment, I’ve just been living with it inside me.” Once he officially retired, he took it upon himself and made the decision to enter the residency. Today, he has both a bedroom and a bathroom tailored to his specific needs, various opportunities to socialize with other residents or to just spend some quiet time, medical services, social services, occupational therapy and sociocultural activities, among many other things. For this reason, Cristina emphasizes, “Those who come for the welcome interview think they come here to live their final days, and we always tell them: ‘no, you come here to live fully’.” •


photo: Rafael Molina, one of the residents of the San Juan de Dios residency in calle Sagasta. / ANTONIO PÉREZ