Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Rehab Life in Diapers: What a Nursing Home is Really Like

So you think a nursing home could be a good place to read, write and relax? Perhaps it might be if you could afford a private room, but if a roommate prefers to watch TV most of the time, it's easy to just go with the flow. I've never watched so many soap operas and newscasts in my life! At least I was able to watch Chicago Bears games on Sundays and lots of election hoopla, not to mention depressing economic commentary.

Don't get me wrong; the nursing home where I languished for nearly five weeks wasn't bad, as nursing homes go. It's just that I'd always thought of nursing homes as necessary places for some very old people in the final stages of life. I didn't belong there, or so I thought.

Since I live alone, without a family caregiver, I had no choice but to move from hospital to rehab care after double knee replacement surgery. That's how I got my first-hand look at a nursing home.

Despite a lot of hard effort by the overworked staff, things did not exactly move like clockwork there. There seemed to be a lack of communication among staff members and between staff and patients. Patience became my motto.

I was not able to walk to the bathroom for a while, so I had to wear diapers. I now know why babies cry then they're wet. There were some agonizingly long waits for changes, and later the annoyance of an aide waking me up regularly during the night to ask if I was wet, even after I had recovered enough to shed the diapers. I guess the night shift had too little to do.

I don't think many people get much sleep in a nursing home unless they take sleeping pills. I did not. I was treated to loud post-midnight TV down the hall, arguing and laughing employees, and the occasional loud patient complaint.

Laundry seems to be a problem. Two pair of my sweat pants went to the laundry, where they immediately disappeared. One pair eventually reappeared, but the other is gone forever. My roommate sent her laundry home with her daughter. I solved the problem by begging a few more pair of sweat pants and shirts and just alternating them, dirty or clean. Better soiled clothes than none at all! A hospital gown is not appropriate for all occasions and activities.

We were offered showers every two days. Taking a shower while swathed in bandages was more trouble than it was worth, especially when I couldn't stand up or walk. Showers not only took forever, but they required waiting long after being summoned for physical therapy; the line for showers was always long. I soon insisted on fewer showers and more therapy time.

As an early riser, I spent many hours sitting up in bed watching the passing activity in the hall. It was too dark to read or write, and I didn't want to awaken my roommate. Breakfast never came until almost 8 a.m. However, I couldn't have slept late anyway. A young man from the lab often rushed in about 4:45 a.m., turned on the light, and cheerfully drew my blood. So much for my roommate's sleep, although she seemed able to go back to sleep quickly. I still wonder what all that blood was for.

The food wasn't gourmet quality, but it wasn't bad. My requests for skim milk (rather than 2% or whole) and for cold cereal rather than the awful hot varieties were usually ignored, there wasn't much fresh fruit, and the coffee was undrinkable. Still, the occasional piece of cake, chocolate chip cookie, or small serving of ice cream made the menu bearable. In a way, it was a relief to avoid having to think about what to eat. I was always hungry by the time the food came.

The best feature of my stay was the chance to see and hear from some old friends--visitors. I learned that even a loner like me can depend on friends for help and comfort. I am especially grateful to the friend who stopped by my condo twice a week to pick up my mail and deliver it to me, the employee of the Clare, my future home, who brought me some clothes and some stamps for paying bills, and my former teaching colleagues (I retired nine years ago) who sent flowers. My visitors were few, but very important.

I hope I can avoid nursing homes in the future, but at least I know what to expect. I hated the feeling of helplessness. The secret is patience. A nursing home stay is no picnic, but it's bearable.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne


Anonymous said...

When my 87 year old grandmother fell down at K-Mart and broke her hip her daughters threw up their hands and said, "Mother you cannot seriously expect to go home and recover."
Fiercely independent Grandmother made all the necessary decisions about her care, none of which included 'bothering the kids'.
So, after surgery she went to a nursing home.
Her roommate was a woman who had, during the 1950's, been on local television. In her declining years she still considered herself a star and expected 'star treatment'.
Needless to say my independent grandmother and the star had nothing in common, and during one visit grandmother insisted I take the five dollars she held out, use it to get some groceries and air out her house because she was going to call a taxi in the morning and go home.
Her daughter's upon hearing the news threw up their hands, had fits about why she could not have at the very least spoken to them about it made arrangements for a visiting nurse.
I wish you well.

Darlene said...

I think you handled this ordeal with great stoicism. My worst nightmare is having to go to a nursing home when I am no longer able to care for myself.

Because I had to work and because my husband's illness made lifting him necessary the only option was to place him in a nursing home. Because he was a difficult patient (physically) he was put in the ward with the dementia patients. It was a snake pit and I vowed I would kill myself before being admitted to one. Of course, I may not have that option, but I can hope.

One Woman's Journey said...

Oh, how enlightening this early morning. I am so thankful this ordeal is over for you. If I lived near I would have offered to do something. Like Darlene I hope we never have to experience this. Continue to heal - at home...

Alice said...

Like Darlene, I admire your fortitude and am so glad that part of the ordeal is over for you. Have you looked into a "bridge" loan or have the banks stopped doing that in this new economy? I'm crossing my fingers you find a buyer soon. I know from experience how maddening it can be waiting for your home to sell when the closing date for the new one gets closer and closer. I feel sure the solution is there, though, just not apparent at the moment. Though not worth much, I send my best wishes and hopes for a good outcome!