. . . it's hard to face up to the truth about options for our older relatives
If you have any compassion at all, then the repeated news, during this modern Plague-Year, of the deadly corona virus sweeping through one nursing home after another has horrified you, and the one nursing home with piled-up bodies hidden away was just unspeakable.
The photo above is not the photo I was looking for. If nursing home residents took trips to foreign lands, they might well look like the picture above. No, the picture that I was looking for and could not find, was the line of wheelchairs in the hallway of the nursing home, where you might find one or two lively elders talking and joking, but most of them look bored at best, some look lost, some look despairing, some just sleep. In other words, they're just dumped there. Oh yes, of course, there are opportunities for socialization - bingo games, being seranaded by a frustrated would-be professional singer performing the "Golden Oldies".
But has anyone ever asked these residents what they want to do? In an intake interview, did the nursing home ever bother to find out what the person's interests were when they were in full control of their lives? No. Because the model of nursing home we have today was solidified sometime in the mid-20th century to be one of warehousing bodies, not taking care of minds and souls.
Let's talk specifics. My sister died recently (In the Presence of the Light of God), a few weeks short of her 86th birthday. She had been living with dementia in a nursing home for eight years. She was supposedly healthy and would just slowly fade out. She was not supposed to die suddenly one night, as she did. First, let me say that my sister was in one of the best nursing homes available. This nursing home did have programs that matched residents' interests. Even though my sister's memory had long gone, she not only participated in the home's fine arts program, her work was selected to represent the quality of its offerings in an exhibit.
My nieces expressed their shock to the doctor in charge. He responded that my sister complained in the evening of stomach pain, and that it seemed she may have had an ulcer. May have had? Ulcers and their related conditions do not keep themselves to themselves - and they run in my family. My father had an ulcer. I have had an ulcer. My son is on his way to getting an ulcer. Ulcers are not shy, they let you know loud and clear that something is wrong. A good family medical history would have pointed to the condition even without medical tests. I know how long I suffered until I spoke up - and all that time I felt as if someone were drilling a hole in my stomach. She had to have been complaining all along - and all they did was give her - not Tums - but a "quality" antacid.
Here's the reality: It doesn't pay even the "best" of nursing homes to do real annual physicals. They alleviate the symptoms as best they can, and let nature take its course. Here ends the first case study.