Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Aging Isn't for Sissies

The days are beautiful here in Califronia, warm, and filled with a lot of sitting and staring out at the road that runs past the rehab center.  This is a place for both long term and short term care, and there is a lot to learn about dementia and Alzhiemer's patients simply by observing their interactions with others.  Though no one wants to spend any amount of time in a place such as this, I have thus far been impressed with the caretakers and their efficiency and kindness toward those residing here.  Sadly, I can also clearly see the need for every patient to have an advocate standing beside them, making certain they are getting everything they need.

Mom is struggling with depression being here, and with the boredom inherent in such places.  Institutions are no place fear people, young or old.  I understand the necessity of having them, but when one sees what it does to a person first hand, it is easy to see it ought to be a last resort, not a first choice.

As of this moment, we have no idea really how long mom will need to be a patient here.  She needs to regain strength and is physically not able to be very stable while walking.  A new problem has crept up with swelling in her feet and ankles that makes rehab painful.  She still finds it hard to focus or concentrate on anything requiring cognitive skills, but can have very normal conversations with people with some lapses in memory, which she now recognizes as such.  However, for only 11 days out, she is doing far better than expected and is antsy to get home.

In the home front, the stomach flu is going through the family, just what Dominick didn't need to deal with (he had it yesterday).  Matthew told me the house was "girl clean" because the girls helped clean it  over the weekend, and the boys all did a little yardwork while Dominick was at work.  School work is getting done, though they have run out of much of what I left them, and it is at times like this when homeschooling becomes complicated...the kids are not just put on the bus and needing care only when they get home, but it sounds as if they are managing well enough for now.

I have received some of the sweetest emails, particularly from Kenny and Angela, which have boosted my spirits considerably.  Angela took the time to write an extraordinary communication with me, one of such heartfelt emotions that it made me cry.  The love and compassion expressed was from the soul of a fifty year old, not a fifteen year old.  I sure do live with some amazing people.  I have often said that I enjoy our days together, and that our kids would be the type of people I would select as friends if they were not related to us.  Their goodness runs deep, and being their mom is a great privilege.

Spending time out front, where several of the more aware patients gather daily to escape the madness inside, you can see the power of community even in a place like this.  There is often great compassion expressed for those who remain inside, unable to comprehend much as they wander aimlessly through the halls.  You can also liken it, for those here short term, to a sort of prison mentality that sets in.  After the first few days, an acceptance of their lot emerges, and there is a sharing of institutional knowledge to help the "newbies" become acclimated to their new surroundings.

"How do you get your laundry done here?"

"Can you get something different for lunch other than what is on the set menu?"

"That one CNA is NOT very nice, and she really hurt my feelings last night." as everyone nods their head in understanding and agreement, then goes on to share their own war stories about encounters with her.

One man, Don, has been here 17 months and does not know if he will ultimately get well enough to go home after repeated back surgeries.  His wife has no way of caring for him by herself, so she visits often.  There is Jackie, the once slim, blond haired former self-proclaimed bombshell who regales everyone with days of drunken madness spent on Mexican beaches, but who after two strokes struggles to find the words to describe everyday objects, and stops sentences mid-stream, totally lost.  Pat is another of the Outdoor Patio Club, and she sat in stunned silence yesterday, trying to hold back the tears as she shared how she had just learned that her only living son had cleared out her mobile home without her permission, giving all her possessions to Goodwill in an attempt to force her to remain here permanently in long term care.

Everyone is resigned to their fate here, however long it might be, and there are no "release dates" known.  Long, endless days are filled with little more than an hour or two of rehab, then trying to find ways to entertain themselves when reading may not be a n activity bruised and battered brains can enter into yet, when remaining inside your room means hearing the moans of one or both of your roommates who depressingly remain bedbound despite having the physical capacity to get up and move.  Each evening the halls are lined with drooping grey heads in wheelchairs...just sitting and staring at nothing.  There is no real conversation to be heard, only mutterings that make no sense to anyone other than the mutterer, and one by one they are wheeled off to bed where they are tucked in like little children, and one has the urge to read them a bed time story or play a lullaby to ease them off into another night of blissful escapist slumber.

The little things can bring a moment of joy.  One day, I brought Pat a couple of tacos from Taco Bell, something she had mentioned craving, and at the same time brought an icy cold chocolate milkshake to Jackie.  The delight of both was a treat just for me.  I sit there on the front patio, hour after hour, keeping mom company in her misery, chatting with the caretakers and others who while away their time there, too.  Two nights ago, as I was leaving for the night, O passed by Don's room...his large frame sitting in the wheelchair in his room where the TV was blaring with some inane show he detests but his roommate adores, and I stepped in to tease him a moment and bid him a good night. He reached up for me, gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek and whispered good night.  The next day as we sat side by side with the Outdoor Patio Club, everyone was talking about the latest shenanigans of one of the singing caretakers here, and Don leaned over and quietly said, "I enjoyed seeing you last night.  No one ever wishes anyone a good night here, and nights are the hardest."

I leave on Saturday, and will struggle with a lot of emotions as I do so.  Having your parent in a place like this and leaving them behind is an awful feeling.  Knowing that, for the moment, there are no other realistic alternatives encourages temporary acceptance.  Dominick had an already pre-planned quick trip out and will follow next Wednesday for a couple of days, and from there we don't know what we will do.  Mom will hopefully regain the strength she needs to live again on her own, as she wishes, returning to her little mobile home which is her beloved cocoon.  I'll try to find a way to come out when she is released to help her get re-settled and, with any luck, convince her to accept some adaptations to make her life safer so she can continue to live as independently as possible.

I have recognized a couple of truths from all of this.  1)  Aging is for the courageous, and I believe it takes a lifetime of experiences to help one through the process.  No twenty something could withstand the terrible pressures and trials of growing old.  2)  Being lower middle class or lower on the socio-economic scale, as the majority of Americans are, means you have few choices.  That is true for all stages of life...choices come with wealth, even in your 70's. The older you are and the poorer you are, the quicker and less gracefully you age...a lifetime of wear and tear on bodies means they break down more quickly.  A lifetime of lower earnings means you take what you can get in terms of care, and complaining will do no good.

I know what category Dominick and I fall into, and it is breathtakingly scary.  I also know I am not a courageous person.  Our old age looms on the horizon, and it won't be "golden years", I fear.  


Anonymous said...

I can picture so vividly these things you talk about, Cindy. Old age is NOT for the faint of heart, to be sure! There's nothing quite like being in a facility for the aged to make us feel that we are indeed "young" and blessed for our good health and working minds. I always feel so young, going to visit my parents...and so welcomed by other residents, as most seem so happy to see visitors walk in the door. You're certainly brightening the days of those you are visiting with on the patio and giving good night wishes to. To continue my story, my dad's kidney stone issues improved, my mother's dementia also, when she was taken off a bladder medication, the side effects which her doctor had warned her about and been hesitant to put her on in the first place. They are finally accepting their nice assisted living apartment as their home, this their new life and reality. Things can improve, and I pray they certainly do for your mom. I suspect your mom is younger than my parents, 86 and nearly 90. They've been blessed truly, but for a time had difficulty counting any of those blessings, depressed and discouraged at all the changes that were needing to be made. May your mom's health return, so she can enjoy more years of independent living in her own home. I can wonder if one day she might be willing to move closer to your family, so she can be more a part of your lives and so you can more readily help her, as the need arises. But I know, with age also comes more difficulties in accepting large changes. It's encouraging to read of the joy you are spreading, as you give to those around you. It reminds me of the ways you and your kids have served and shared their lives with older friends in your community. Please know that I identify so much with what you are going through and am anxious that you remain encouraged and supported in your time there, helping your mom. it can be a very lonely time, but giving back to our parents also really blesses in return.
Nancy in the Midwest

Anonymous said...

Your post is a reminder how important it is to visit people we know (such as through church) who are in nursing homes and may not have family living nearby.


Holly Murs said...

Hi Cindy! I hope that you’re mom gets better. You’re doing such a great job in taking care of her as well as your own family. Your story is an inspiration so we shared it to our readers through our Weekly Digest. You can read it here Thanks!