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.
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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.