by Brad Nelson 7/28/16
I will not mention specifc facility or business names in this essay. And there’s no reason to call 911. The people in question are physically well cared for. That is, after all, the goal of the nanny state, at least regarding seniors.
Annie’s latest article is timely. I just spent 5-1/2 hours in the ER the other night. My mother’s heart was racing while doing some exercises. Long story short, all they found was a spot of pneumonia which they’re treating with antibiotics (which is always a good news/bad news situation…she was very sick recently because of antibiotics).
My mother is entering end-of-life issues. But first one must travel through pain-in-the-ass issues. That comes first and can extend for years. I’ve been with her to the ER at least four times in the last two years. Her latest fall a month or two ago broke her hip. She’s had partial hip replacement surgery which went well. Now she just has to decide whether to actually work to get better or to continue to drive the rest of us crazy. Fortunately, she’s been using her walker with some gust of late. There is some hope she’s turned the corner attitudinally. There is some hope she could even return home.
In her latest adventure in the medical care system, she’s gone from the ER to the hospital (for a week or so) to a rehabilitation facility (where she spent a month) and now to a group home where she receives round-the-clock care…along with five other ladies (the maximum allowed for this type of group home). She will be here for probably at least two months. We’ll determine what is next by how well she progresses here.
It’s a nice home with competent help. The food is good. The day-to-day details taken care of competently…quite unlike her one-month stay in a rehabilitation “lodge.” This other place (which she moved to right out of the hospital after surgery) was supposedly one of the top-rated places in the state but it was a joke from start to finish. But, as always, they did provide the minimal necessary physical service (bath, bathroom, food). They would surely pass any and all state inspection. But the atmosphere was definitely one where the smiles were forced and the patients were just bodies to be registered so that they could be reimbursed by Medicare.
This following anecdote regarding this place is typical and not the only one (the eye-raising stories of minor incompetence abound). But it will give you an idea of how even the “best” medical facilities are dicey. One morning my older brother came in to visit mother. He’s an ex-fireman who has some paramedic training so he knows his way around. She was asleep when he got to her room. He noticed that her breathing was shallow and erratic and her lips were slightly blue…surely a sign of not getting enough oxygen. She was in some danger of expiring right there. Did any of the staff take action? Hell no. My brother is no shrinking violet and was proactive and brought this to their attention and some tests were ordered…which later, of course, we found out were never done.
Do not just sit back and trust any of these people. You have to be proactive. Now she’s in what is called a “group home.” And my older brother knows the people who own and run it and they are very fine people indeed. No complaints. And yet the day I (along with my brother and a friend) brought my mother to this facility, it was a depressing experience all around. Yes, everything is clean. They do a good job of that. But it was spiritually dead. The ladies there, who I’ve spoken to now on and off in a friendly matter, just sit around and watch TV, mainly the TV Land channel.
And, good golly, I told them that I would be glad to join them sometime because nothing beats sitting around watching a Gunsmoke marathon with a few Bonanzas and Death Valley Days throw in. You pop the popcorn and I’m pretty sure we could kill five hours before you know it. I could easily do a month there. I wonder if the ladies would mind a little Sinatra?
A couple of the ladies at this facility don’t talk much or at all. One lady can talk but she is 105 and seems to choose not to. A couple others are much more garrulous.
I’ve tried to visit at least every other day. My mother has been there for a couple weeks now. I’ve never seen anyone else visit the other five resident. One of the ladies says she has no family at all. The impression I get — and mind you, this is just a subjective impression — is that none of them is ever likely to receive a visitor. Surely someone is paying for them to be there, and it isn’t cheap. But I think the main part of the transaction (on all sides) is for these ladies to have the decency to do as they are told and to acquiesce to the quiet and efficient assembly line of elderly care.
Upon subsequent visits, I kept thinking of the movie Awakenings starring Robert De Niro. Upon each visit the ladies seemed a bit more comfortable with my presence. In fact, there is this Asian lady who had never ever said a thing. I didn’t even realize she could talk. But the other day she said a few kind words to me and even smiled.
I’m no ray of sunshine. This is not about me. I think the presence of anyone there would have been a ray of sunshine. I get the distinct feeling that there is a dark and dull routine that all involved have accepted as normal. And me visiting every other day (often bringing treats) is a break in that routine. And I don’t wish to slander, but there is the slight possibility of a Nurse Ratched factor going on. Easy for me to say, I don’t have to change anyone’s diapers. And the elderly can revert to children and (as with my mother) you often have to talk to them like children and treat them like children.
Still, there is a vibe there I’m not comfortable with. The one lady there without a family has been “adopted” by my mother who thinks God put her there to bring a ray of sunshine. Now, before you jump to the warm-fuzzies, she says this more as a way to comfort herself. Still, who knows? One of the ladies brightens up every time I visit and goes out of her way to tell me how she loves the cherry tomatoes that I bring. I guess it helps to sort of adopt an Aunt Bee. God knows, I wasn’t born with one.
There is now an unwritten rule for the elderly in our society. They are, like children, to be seen and not heard. The entire Medicare/Medicaid industry has certainly had an unintended consequence for those who voted for this “free stuff.” I believe it has helped to shuffle them off to the periphery. No, care of aging parents is not for the feint-hearted. Not all can do it. But surely the point of Medicare/Medicaid — or a large part of the point — is to shuffle off the aged and disabled to the state so that we are unburdened by them.
And part of the deal is that they remain in the dark rooms in the dark corners and are to be neither seen nor heard if at all possible. But they are certainly physically cared for. That’s something. But for me, it wouldn’t be enough.
Brad is editor and chief disorganizer of StubbornThings.
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