Tuesday, February 26, 2013

WHAT'S IT LIKE TO LIVE IN A NURSING HOME?

What's it like to live in a nursing home? What might the future hold for you?

If you earn plenty of money and have a great retirement plan, in spite of the bad economy, if you end up unable to live on your own, you might live in one of those fancy assisted living places that has constant activities and great food and a real restaurant. We have at least one of those places here in Jacksonville. I visited there with a friend. The public can go to the restaurant, and they do. It's that good.

My friend Carol is a retired RN. She was at some sort of nurses get together and she won a free lunch at that facility's restaurant. Our first course was cold strawberry soup. It was delicious. The whole place was beautiful.

It also costs thousands of dollars a month to live there, and they don't accept MediCare.

So, let's get real. Let's say you are a person of modest means. You've done your best, but when all is said and done, you aren't a gazillionaire. After you sell your house and turn over all the money to the nursing home, you end up in a place like the facility where I worked. It wasn't the worst place in the world, but it sure as hell wasn't anything fancy.

I'll try to give you some idea of what you can expect.

First, you are going to give up all your independence. You're there for a reason. You aren't well enough or strong enough to live alone, and for one reason or another, you can't live with family. If you can walk when you get there, you probably won't be walking for long because there isn't any place to go. You are going to sit from dawn to dusk and lie in bed from dusk to dawn. If you can see and hear the TV and you have one, you can watch it -- if it doesn't piss off your roommate. One of the big reasons people go into nursing homes is that they've fallen at home and were on the floor for God only knows how long.

One lady told me she fell at home and was wearing one of those buttons to push for emergency help. She couldn't remember how to push the button so she was on the floor till somebody came to check on her. You may think that pushing a button is the easiest thing in the world to do and how could someone forget something like that, but well -- you'll be amazed at all the things you'll forget, you crazy old coot.

As your muscles atrophy and the staff tells you not to get up on your own because it's too dangerous, you'll wish you could just get up and go to the bathroom. But you've been warned against walking without assistance, so you turn on your call light and you wait and wait and wait. If someone takes you to the bathroom before you pee your pants, you'll either sit on the toilet for a long time while you wait for someone to come back to get you, or the person will stay in the bathroom with you. There is no privacy in a nursing home. And if you aren't taken to the bathroom before you pee, you'll be in diapers before you know it.

Second, the quality of care from the staff will vary. Your nurse could be Stacy, who has a master's degree. She works quietly and quickly. She never loses her temper with anyone. Stacy is a perfectionist who suffers along with her patients. After working from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., she goes home and cries all day because she's so afraid she might have done something wrong. After five years, she gets out of nursing and trains for a different career while she's still young enough to make a change.

Your nurse could be Eve, who wouldn't get up off her butt to save her own life.

Your nurse could be Trish, who isn't all there. Some people think she has mental problems and is on some sort of medication. She wanders around, stuttering, and she smokes in the shower room or the day room and she actually thinks no one knows she is endangering everyone's lives (piped-in oxygen).

But you will have more contact with the nursing assistants, who will probably wipe your butt for you because you can't see well enough to get yourself clean. You might get Janie, who is slow and inexperienced and not very strong, but does a thorough job and has a lot of compassion and can recite poetry while she cleans your ass.

If you're really fortunate, you'll get Robin. She is quick and strong and has years of experience and she's filled with good humor.

Or your nursing assistant might be CeeCee. You turn on your call light and ask for the bed pan. She shouts at you that she's busy so just pee in the diaper because that's what it's there for.

Third, expect the food to suck. Monday's supper is soup, Tuesday's supper is soup, Wednesday's supper is soup . . . blah blah blah. Occasionally, you might get a Sunday dinner of roast beef. If you have difficulty swallowing, you'll eat the same food as everyone else, but anything that's solid will be pureed. Anything that's liquid will have a cornstarch mixture added to it to thicken it. No more sodas out of the vending machine for you. Drinks are brought around -- for those who are allowed to have them -- at 3 p.m. The drinks are watered down Kool-Aid. Snacks are passed out almost immediately after supper. There's cheap ice cream, juice, pudding, and half sandwiches.

Fourth, you are going to live with someone you've never seen before in your life. You didn't think you would have a private room, did you? No, no, no. You have a roommate. Your roommate could be a lump of humanity who is in a vegetative state. That's not such a bad deal. You can do pretty much whatever you want and she can't complain. The odor from the poop of someone who is fed through a tube is pretty bad, but the whole nursing home stinks, so what's the big deal? You could have a roommate whose TV blares 24/7. Then you can endure in silent misery, or say something and the two of you will fight like cats and dogs. Some roommates had serious battles, with one who was mobile actually getting up and slapping one who couldn't walk and calling her "that old bitch" -- like the slapper was such a joy to have around.

However, we had a resident who was afraid of everything. She cried buckets of tears. One morning the fire alarm went off. It was a false alarm, but while it was going off, all the doors had to be closed. The crying lady sobbed the entire time, and I couldn't go in her room to comfort her. Her roommate held her and rubbed her back until, at last, the fire alarm stopped, and the world started to turn again.

* * *

Have I frightened you today? Although there are bright spots, it's a pretty depressing picture, isn't it?

If you don't have oodles of money and you have to go to a nursing home, I recommend that you look for one that has a cadre of volunteers. Volunteers can make a world of difference in a facility. They'll decorate for holidays and visit with residents and sometimes organize activities. They'll also see what goes on and complain about abuse.

It's also helpful if the nursing home has a garden with walkways, or at least a place to get outside for a bit. Then a family member or a volunteer can take you out for a walk. Vivian asked if I would take her outside. I ate my lunch as quickly as I could and used the rest of my break to take her out in her wheelchair. As the doors opened and the breeze blew against her face, she said, That feels so good. I've been here for five years and this is only the second time I've been outside.

All I could do was push her chair up and down on the sidewalk in front of the nursing home, but it made her happy.  

As for me, I will never enter a nursing home -- as a patient. If I can't live on my own, my children have strict instructions to kill me or to help me kill myself.

P.S. Elvis Aaron Schwarz once worked in maintenance in a nursing home. He told me he couldn't bear it. He said they dragged the poor people out of bed every morning and sat them in rows in their wheel chairs and there they sat all day long. He would say to the nurse, This guy over here has wet his pants. He needs help.

After a while he got a warning to mind his own business and not bother the nursing staff.

He quit because he couldn't take it.

Now, let's try to end on a happier note with a photo of Elvis Aaron Schwarz.

Hi! Remember me?
I'm Elvis Aaron Schwarz.
I try to stand up for the weary and the downtrodden.





45 comments:

  1. Ughhh. How very sad. My FIL is in a nursing home after a serious stroke and we have seen the rapid decline in him since he's been there. I wish there was a better way available to the masses.

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    1. I'm so sorry. I think it was better when people lived with their families and died at home. Maybe they didn't live as long, but perhaps that was a good thing.

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  2. Well, that was a pick me up. Thank God for Elvis Aaron Schwarz and his picture. I hope I get struck by lightning at a healthy 85 years of age. Relating to a different post, I heard that Evil Office Depot is merging with Office Max.

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    1. Oh, boy. Now Office Max will be ruined.

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  3. You know my dad just died in a nursing home. It is exactly as you described. There was no other option for him. It was the best thing we could do for him. As nursing homes go, it was a good one. As for the staff, like you said, some are better than others. The good ones deserve a medal. The poor ones, should find another job! Once again, thank you for what you are doing for the residents that you come in contact with. It makes such a difference for them. You are a special person!

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    1. Thank you, but it was in the past for me. I broke my back in 2009. I can't do that kind of work anymore. I wish I could. I felt I made at least a little bit of a difference. I loved my job.

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  4. I know many people here get upset when I mention Sweden and all the wonderful benefits the high taxes there pay for. But if you are unable to take care of yourself, as my sister was all of her life, you should not end up like this. In this the richest country in the world, this should not happen. You would not believe what a beautiful place she lived in and how loved and well taken care of she was. I have no children and if my husband dies before me, I will be toast. Can you imagine someone like me with an insulin pump that only I can really work for me? I guess if it comes to this, the best way for me would be to just unplug it.

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    1. Yes, a lot of people get angry when I say we need universal healthcare and that the way we treat people isn't right. And it isn't. Many Americans are so callous. As long as they have theirs, they don't care about anyone else. Let the lazy bastard get a job. Well, what if the lazy bastard is me and I worked hard but now no one will hire me and I can't lift and be on my feet all day and I no longer have insurance?

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  5. Number four really gets me: "You are going to live with someone you've never seen before in your life."

    I'd feel bad for the person bunking with me. ;)

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    1. The person who lives with you will think she's gone to Heaven and moved in with an angel.

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  6. I wish everyone who reads this would go to http://jabacue.blogspot.com and read about my blogger friend Jim's 90 plus year old dad at a VA hospital/retirement home in Canada. The difference is stunning.

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  7. It is a fervent prayer of mine that I never end up in a nursing home.

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  8. Not exactly the most upbeat post you've ever written, is it? If I'm at risk of having to live in a nursing home, I think I'll jump off the roof instead. If somebody, ya know, carries me up there. And, um, pushes me off.

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    1. I don't recommend the off-the-roof method. You could end up paralyzed and unable to finish yourself off. And you're right. I'm not very upbeat right now, but I'm honest.

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  9. Nursing homes can be such a nightmare for the residents and the staff. Sometimes it is unavoidable though, and the big thing I get from everyone is that you need to be vigilant about how your loved one gets care.

    My mom told me about this new option, the granny pod (Don't laugh it's a real thing). You rent a storage unit, kind of like a portable classroom. It arrives at your home and they hook it up to the home's existing plumbing and electric. It is set up like a complete home inside minus the kitchen. It has full monitors throughout AND a lock down feature if your loved one is a flight risk. This way, they can be close to home with some assistance but not hurt themselves. The cost is 110K.. for as long as you need it. And considering the cost of nursing homes now a days, it would pay for itself in two years. When you no longer need it, they come and pack it up.

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    1. That sounds absolutely brilliant, unless the person requires nursing care -- not that people get a lot of care from the nurses in a nursing home.

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  10. I will die before going to a home.

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  11. I know exactly of what you speak. When my mom turned 83 she could no longer live by herself. We toured a ton of places, most of which were like big warehouses with scary smells. The residents all had vacant looks.

    Finally we settled on a pricey assisted living. It was like living at a country club. She flourished there for over a year to the tune of $6K a month. Then my bastard brother moved to a "seniors" apartment complex where she was all alone. Six months later she was gone.

    Unless I'm uber rich and can afford something nice when I'm ancient I'm just gonna sit back with a big tank of helium and have a party. No nursing homes for me.

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    1. I'm sorry about your mom. You have serious plans for the future.

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  12. As Inger said, in Sweden they pay very high taxes as we do in Canada. But we have universal healthcare for EVERYONE! No insurance companies are making a fortune up here in Canada....and rightly so.
    It is the least any democratic country can do to guarantee their citizens....a health care system that is fair and the same for everyone not just the privileged!
    The provincially funded facilities across Canada vary but I know aren't as bad as the ones you have described here, Janie. The one my dad is in is funded by the feds for veterans. It is exceptional.

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    1. Thanks for visiting, Jim. Everything you said is true.

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  13. That's a good tip--selecting a nursing home with lots of volunteers. I must remember this.

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    1. I hope dementia doesn't snatch it from your brain. Better tell your son. Boy, I'm just full of good cheer today.

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  14. I tried to reply under my comment but couldn't. The idea is that they can have some independence but still be under constant care/supervision. Most insurance will cover home health aid visits, and it solves the issue of not having the space for a loved one to move in with you. I esp. love the surveillance aspect, because you could see if they had fallen. The company will also set them up with an ankle bracelet for those that wander...esp. in colder climates. I believe they also found a loop hole to those areas that wouldn't allow an additional structure due to zoning laws. It really is a great idea if the person is not bedridden.

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  15. One should hope and pray they die quickly at a young age, like with a fatal heart attack or stroke. I was sooooo thankful my mom did not end up in a nursing home; she was with my sister and her family up until she went into the hospital and died 10 days later (she was 85). On the other hand, hubby's parents went into assisted living, it was needed because of my MIL's inability to care for herself (Parkinson's, dementia) and my in-laws inability to allow people to come into the home and take care of them. They had PLENTY of money to continue living at home around their own surroundings and things and get help into the home but they refused to because they were so afraid someone would steal their stuff. Sad thing is the stuff they thought was so valuable proved not to be and hubby and me are disposing of their estate and it has caused major grief to me and stress on our marriage. They hated the assisted living place they were at, though it was small and well run, but hated the food, etc. Like I said at the beginning of my comment,one should hope and pray they go young and quickly.

    betty

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    1. Betty, my reply to you ended up below my reply to Alex. I don't know why. The world is a mystery to me.

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  16. It is my sincere hope that the Lord will take me before I have to go in a nursing home, cause if it's up to me,I ain't going unless I'm already dead!

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    1. I think that's the general feeling, Alex.

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  17. You're right, Betty. I'm grateful that my parents died in their 70s and, in my dad's case, very suddenly. My mom was able to live at home until the last couple of weeks before she died, when she was in hospital.

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  18. Janie..my sweet. why oh why? I followed the yellow brick road and found myself here and now..i'm leaving terrified of the idea of nursing homes. Oh dear...

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    1. Oh, Baby, it's okay. You live in Canada. It's a civilized country.

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  19. Dear Janie, this posting presented--truthfully I know because I have a friend in a nursing home right now and another friend in Minnesota worked for years in one--a true picture of what life is in a nursing home. And it scares me because I don't have much money and because I'll be 77 in four weeks. And so I must take care of this body and hope that I can spend most if not all of my remaining years in this house as an independent person. I've got to start exercising!!!!!!!!! Peace.

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    1. I'm really pretty sad that other people know my post is the truth. I wish dozens of people could say, Oh no! Nursing homes aren't like that at all!

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  20. My sister spent a lot of years in a nursing home, eventually dying there.

    So much sadness in those places.

    Such a sad post about the truth.

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    1. Gosh, I feel bad about being such a downer, but it is the truth. Nothing will ever improve if we don't tell the truth about it. People in this country need to demand universal health care and decent care for the elderly.

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  21. Oh, sheesh, I know all this, but you've reminded me to step out in front of a bus before I get to that point. Another big difference I've noticed for people is whether they have involved family members who can do things for them and complain for them. Not that you can do much about that, if yor family isn't willing to visit, you have nothing you can do about it.

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    1. Family members who intervened -- nicely -- could make a big difference. If they were mean to the staff . . . well, it wasn't a good idea because some staff members were very nasty and immature.

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  22. My 97 year old grandfather went into an assisted living facility this past year. It's in Connecticut. It's actually quite amazing...he can still do some things for himself, but they cater around the clock to him...which is great. And it's under $1000/month! I think he gets a lot of assitance from the state, etc. I'm thankful he's not quite ready for a nursing home. He'll be 98 in June and still manages to call me every Friday night...from his cell phone. :)

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    1. Now, there's a bright spot of news. Thank you, Stephanola.

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  23. I live in Canada and my father pretty much drank and smoked his life away. He had a stroke a few months back and is now in diapers all the time and is unable to use the washroom on his own. If he wants go we tell him to go in the diaper or someone takes him to the bathroom as he cannot walk at all.. I am planning on putting him in a nursing facility as it is to difficult to care for him. He is over 70 and could have had somewhat of a healthy life style but he refused to cut down on his drinking, smoking, never exercised in his life. He always thought that he was untouchable and he could continue with his bad habits till the day he died. Not only did he ruin his life but we are also suffering as he never listened to any of us when we told him to stop his bad habits.

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  24. It is true that seniors have bad experiences with nursing homes but you cannot generalize this .Planning and choosing the right place is important.
    nursing home

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