I’m not a sociologist and a damn poor philosopher, but it looks like we humans evolve through distinct stages of our life–zygote, fetus, infant, child, teen, young adult, adult, middle age, old age, nursing care, hospice, ground. (or ocean or urn) I can’t speak for you but after that 21st. birthday the looking ahead was pretty much over for me. As a kid I couldn’t wait to get to high school, then drive, college, then drink, then mate, have kids…stop! I mean we stop looking ahead, because it’s nose to the grind-stone time, baby needs shoes. We admire older folks sometimes and pay no attention to them most of the time. We go from that young adult to that middle-aged person thinking we’re happy behind the wheel of our new Lexus, but in reality we’re on a damn Lear jet flying at light-years speed. Suddenly your grandma, aunt, dad, mom have stumbled “literally” into the nursing care stage or adventure or hell. You are visiting them. You are viewing the next level like the father at the delivery window. The kid looks just like you. You see your Mom in the nursing home. You see you.
I’m spending hours every day in a typical Nursing Home.(USA style) My mom’s vision and hearing had been getting worse the last few years and when her legs joined the “I Quit too” team, it was time to get 24 hour care including 3 squares, baths, laundry, hair, nails, daily pill input, help with the outputs(in the bathroom or oh-oh) help with the clothes, bedding, and on and on.
What can I say about the aides, therapists and nurses who do this type of work? They are the best people on earth. They certainly don’t do it for the pay and the back-breaking job itself. They are the best people on earth…period.
But, you knew there would be a “but”—these places are so depressing. All of those ‘best people on earth’ can’t change the pale that hangs like foul air (oh yeah that hangs there too) in every hallway. The “needs-watching” are stacked up around the circle at the nurses’ station, necks at weird angles, hanging out of the wheel chairs, sleeping…all sleeping. Those who eat in the dining room are pushed to the tables where they sleep too, necks at weird angles. I took these shots yesterday.
Entertainment comes on a few afternoons every week. Entertainers who themselves are usually elderly, like to play piano, guitar, fiddle, sing along and hope they are reaching a few people. Maybe 20-25 folks, again slumped in their wheel chairs who are in their own world. There might be 6-8 people who actually hear the music, none hear the words and a couple will applaud. Today, an out of tune fiddler played with a guitar player and bass player. After three out-of-tune fiddle songs, mom said, “I think he’s playing something different than the rest of them. Can we go back to my room?” (she was right)
My mom doesn’t want to be there. I doubt any of them do. But she’s the youngest mind and spirit of all, even though she’s the oldest chronologically (98 ½). She likes to add the ½ like we did in that “child” stage. “I’m four and one half.” The middle-age-stage are mostly age-deniers and liars, the nursing home stage brags about their age. Good for them.
There are no answers; it’s just a waiting to die stage that we all have to face. (if we live long enough). I mentioned different names in my title above for this stage I’m now observing. For my mom it’s the “hell” stage. I used another word—“adventure” also. I’m hoping I will accept this nursing home level as such…and adventure. So far, I’ve seen no patients who feel that way. There are some characters, besides Mom, who I’ll talk about another day.
I’m grateful that we have provided fine establishments in the last 50 years to house our elderly who can’t take care of themselves. Before we had Medicare or Medicaid, we had “Almshouses” sometimes called poor farms. Ugh.