Wednesday, October 14, 2015
I keep wondering what it would be like to be old and live in a nursing home. I wonder about arts and crafts hour. Will I really find it fun to do boring arts and crafts that wouldn't even entertain my ten year old? Will bingo really be the blast that the directors at these place claim it is? Will one weekly outing be enough? Will I (seriously now) find enjoyment from the food?
I have worked at three different nursing homes and I volunteer at three of them. Ask me what really goes on there? I will tell you that even in the best of them it is not "A Place For Mom". That's the headline to a commercial, in case you don't know. I realize some people have no choice but to put someone in a nursing home. This might include a spouse who was so old that soon he would need skilled care as well, assuming that he and his wife had no children. But what I don't understand is why so many Americans think that "busy" is a reason to dump granny. Yea, I think that's a fair term. You ought to see the old people lined up in a wheel chairs at one place I visit. They line the entry way on Saturdays waiting for someone to come get them out. I wondered why so many (read:all) of them were in wheel chairs (can't any of them walk?) but it makes perfect sense: they stick them in wheel chairs, otherwise, the residents would press their nose to the glass!!!! You might wonder why I am so hard on people that do this (nothing get the defenses up like suggesting granny might not belong there), and I will tell you why... First, I see them every day. I get the privelege of playing the piano for those who get left behind on Saturdays. I watch their sad faces in the "social" hall, resigned to the reality that they've been ditched. Again. One day as I was entering, I witnessed the following: a very affluent Asian man, maybe in his forties, drove up to the nursing home in an expensive town car. He didn't even LOOK over at his immaculately dressed Asian mother, but stared out the rear view mirror as she let herself out. She was using a walker (the only one I had seen in the place all week), and she let herself out. Not a good by from him. No "let me get the door". She struggled to get her self, walker and all, out of the car while he completely ignored her. She closed the car door.Then, without a word, he drove off not waiting to see if she got in alright. This is truly depressing because in Asia, they know better; see, over there, they would never think of putting their parent anywhere but in their own home, with the parents grandchildren right at hand. I wonder if the second she got in the door, they didn't put her in a wheel chair to keep her out of the way (I never see walkers in there). What sickens me is too think how fast she will deteriorate. I see it happen all the time. But the closest to home is my own late mother in law. Barbara was a wonderful mother in law, but she was very trusting. Her youngest son was in to drugs and she kept giving him money. He scammed her out of $35,000 before my brother in law helped her get an apartment, and got her a secure phone where she could not contact his scammer brother. But Barb was a co-dependant and it didn't work...her wayward son kept finding a way to get in touch with his mom. He was a user and she was an enabler, so neither of them seemed uncomfortable with the arrangement. We began to question if maybe she was slipping mentally. She clearly needed to be protected from this guy. Before I knew i, my brother in law has put her into a nursing home. "well" I thought, "maybe in this situation it's for the best". I called her the first week, and she told me how much she loved it there. I asked her if she wanted to be their and she insisted it was wonderful. And to be fair, it was a very nice facility. But again, it wasn't home. Well, I waited, and then about two weeks later I called her. She seemed depressed. We came for a visit. "I miss my grandkids" she told me. "Mom, what do you mean? The girls are right here?" My toddler had crawled into bed with her, and my infant was beside her "I mean ALL my grand kids" I asked her if she didn't visit them, and she said they were not visiting all of the time like she had hoped (they lived right around the corner). I could tell she wanted out. Oh but what a war from the in-laws! I never won that fight. Within one month, she was gone. To glory. Departed.
I play the piano at several nursing homes in my area. It really saddens me to see these older people each day; most of them are slumped forward in wheel chairs. Sometimes, they just appear to be sleeping, but what an uncomfortable position! I keep thinking their backs just must be killing them! The first time I saw this, I started to approach the resident when suddenly, they snapped straight up, like they had just been taking a cat nap. "Well" I thought "It's a good thing I didn't interfere. I might have embarrassed them and myself". But as my visits increase, I see this all the time. My daughter suggested to me that maybe they just can't sit up straight. But I know that many of them can. I want to say something, but since it's everwhere, I ask myself....is this just normal? And then I ask myself, Is this kind of normal good? Now I want to talk about something else I see; lack of fresh air. One of the nursing homes I play at doesn't let anyone outside. At least not that I have ever seen. Let's think about what I just said; Inside. Not for days, or weeks, but months...and years. What would that feel like? As a stay at home mom, I kind of know that feeling. But not for months. Why do people seem to think that getting grandma out once a month is so okay? Would any of us be okay with just getting out of the house once a month? How about once a week, would that be enough?
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
I just went to the website at one of the nursing homes I perform at, and it really disgusted me; what I saw online did not match up with what I see everyday. At one of the places, they advertised that they were next door to a park. Well, I walk to that park each day after I play the piano for the elderly, and let me tell you, it is no quick sprint. It takes me five full minutes to walk across two parking lots and past several adjoining living centers to get there. Navigating the traffic on foot can be daunting; there are a lot of vehicles coming and going to the different living centers. I can't imagine someone in a wheel chair making it over there, if they were less than energetic. Plus, I have never seen a power operated wheel chair at this place. These people just struggle and struggle to wheel these things even around a corner, with their frail aging hands. (and almost all of them are in wheelchairs). The other day, as I entered the dining hall, I saw a man struggling to open up a cannister of sugar for his coffee. He had obviously suffered a stroke recently, and he was over at the coffee counter (if that's what you call it) trying to open a tupperware container with one hand. Well I could see, there was just no way!. I raced over there and good naturedly asked if I could give him a hand (as one of his wasn't working). He nodded enthusiastically (he couldn't talk).Feeling like a million bucks, I then asked him how many sugars. Somehow he indicated to me that he wanted five full spoonfuls. Okay, now I was delighted and I told him how I liked lots of sugar in my coffee too. His eyes glowed approval as I heaped teaspoon after teaspoon in his mug. "I'll bet no one gives him enough sugar" I thought "no one ever gets my coffee right the first time". And then I remembered this movie I saw once about a woman who had early Alzheimer's disease. Her family was contemplating putting her in a nursing facility. But her son stood up for her and said "can they do this for her or that for her" (example after example). But the final thing he said really spoke to me. As he gave his mom her evening tea, he said something like "will they know that she likes lemon with her tea?" See, I don't think we really understand the quality of life these people have outside the nursing facility, verses inside. All of those little extras add up to make a day, a life worth living. I see how living inside a facility can take life's joys away one nip at a time. Speaking of which, after I gave him WAYY more than a nip of sugar, I began wondering...what if this guy has limits on the sugar he can have? Should I ask someone? But no one was there. (don't get me started on that subject..) I took his coffee to the table for him and then it dawned on me...how does anyone manage to wheel themselves to a table while carrying coffee? The amount of personal care one would truly need does not match up to the amount actually given.