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