Respect Your Elders

I guess we can breathe a little bit now. Mom was transferred to a rehab to begin her climb back to being the spry almost 83-year-old she was before all this happened. It’s a nice place, as far as a skilled nursing facility goes, but for her it’s one more change. One in the long line of changes to come.

Mom’s experience has really opened our eyes to the state of elder care — something we knew existed but never had the need, or desire I suppose, to find out more about. Ignore it and it doesn’t bother you? Perhaps. Or maybe it was a “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

It’s all so new. And scary. And sad. And a whole lot of things.

Being on a hospital floor dedicated to the elderly was, to say the least, a very interesting experience for mom and for all of us.  I felt a sadness for these patients. They have lived long lives and yet here they were. They all had their own story that spanned decades and decades. Most, hopefully, had some family in their room to keep them company, but not everyone did.

There were a lot of call button lights on in the hallway.  There was a lot of movement by staff, but it seemed slower than I imagined it should be. Elderly patients who need so much help to do everything –I’d wager the nurses work pretty hard.

But I kind of felt, for lack of a better word, a sense of detachment. Maybe it was because she was my mom and I wanted them to feel more compassion for her and her situation. But I didn’t feel enough of the warm and fuzzy. I guess it depended on the shift, the staff personality. The day.

A well-oiled wheel it was not. There were lots of gaps, miscommunications and, in some places, total lack of communication. It wasn’t one thing that stood out, just as a whole, it left me and my family dumbfounded. Is this it? Is this really the way things are?

Looking at the portraits of the people who I think are the benefactors of the elder care wing at my mom’s hospital, they are themselves older Americans. I wonder what they would think if they were patients there. Would they feel the detachment? Would they feel like they were just another old person who had the unfortunate luck to have to come there? On the outside it is a beautiful place. One the inside, at least for us, not so much.

I like to give people, and things, the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the feeling that my mom’s trip into elder care left with us could be because we were muddled up in the middle of it all, looking at everything through magnifying eyes. I’d like to think it was an anomaly and elder care is not always to be this way. But at the end of the day, I am not sure I want to know the answer to that.

(That may be my oldest sister’s cause — the bulldog will be a champion for the elderly. And if she doesn’t get what she wants, I think she might even bite.)

I think we as children don’t want to accept a parent as being old, but then all of a sudden one day they are and they need help and things that used to come naturally to them don’t anymore. For us, the children, it is frustrating and heartbreaking to watch. We try to help and do what we can.

But I can’t even fathom what the parents go through.

Something I guess we will all go through eventually.

Whenever we would encourage my mom to go to a Senior Center or something for older folks in her community, she always said she didn’t want to go hang out with “old people.” We’d laugh because it was funny that as a woman in her 80s, she didn’t think she qualified as being old. And for her to look in the mirror, well she didn’t look her age, so it was probably easy to believe that she wasn’t old.

After the stroke and all the complications that came with it, she sat in her bed one day and as we talked about all the “stuff” we needed to get done — rehab, a visiting nurse, a walker, a dietician, etc… she listened and then looked at us and said. “I am old.”

The words were hard to swallow. For all of us. Of course we immediately told her she was not old. It was just a minor set back and she’d be up and running soon.

The thing about my mom is that nothing about her has changed that much in 30 years. Yes, she is skinnier, and maybe shrank an inch or two and her pace has slowed, but really, she is still the same silver-haired lady we have always known and loved. She still laughs at the off-color jokes her children tell her. And a week prior to the stroke, she was creating painting masterpieces with her 5-year-old grand-daughter and helping to collect pieces of broken fences for her 9-year-old grandson to build a fort in her yard.

The stroke slowed her down a bit, but I do think after a few weeks of physical therapy at the skilled nursing, she’ll be ready to race. We are talking about aqua therapy and getting her moving in the water. She likes that idea I think. And I do think she is ready to embrace a different outlook on life.

She may be a senior, but at least today, she says she realizes that there is alot more to do.

Keep the happy thoughts coming.

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One thought on “Respect Your Elders

  1. This is so very true and sad.

    My grandmother has been in a nursing home SHE picked out and moved to 30 years ago with my grandfather. It is a campus of elderly condos with assisted living and a skilled nursing facility. They retired there and lived in each facility as the needs arose. My grandfather died within a few weeks of being moved to the skilled nursing area. That was 9 years ago now. My grandmother has been in the skilled nursing area now for almost 2 years after falling too many times in her assisted living condo.

    Visiting her is hard, especially because she almost died last year following a series of mini-strokes and we were all gathered around her bed and said our goodbyes. She was SO ready to go. In spite of her own DNR orders, which the doctor signed off on, the nursing staff “pulled a miracle” and continued to feed her through an IV, in spite of her not wanting to eat and her own request to be left alone. Well, she “miraculously” survived the ordeal, only to be lost to us mentally. She has no joy. Children give her no twinkle in her eye. She can’t hear, she can’t see, she can’t get to the bathroom. Her quality of life deteriorated greatly. She doesn’t even respond to us anymore. She doesn’t know who we are. I miss my Nana. It is so hard to see her like this. It is not who she was. I never thought that I wouldn’t keep visiting her. But it’s been over a month now, due to time constraints mostly, but it is also hard to not have her care that you are there. She SO loved seeing us! I would make it weekly in a heartbeat if I knew it would make a difference.

    The other people on her floor rarely have family visiting. When I arrive with my children, their faces all light up and the wheelchairs follow us around corners and down halls. They smile and wave and ask for our names and what our life is like. 😦 Growing old appears to be so hard, and sad, when it can’t be done gracefully.

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