Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Senior Life

For those of you who wonder what happened to my mother as I diverted off to several sidebars, she is currently living in an nursing home facility that is walking distance (it would be a long walk, but...) from my house. After two operations to open the veins in the left leg, the circulation was restored enough that amputation is no longer an imminent threat. The horror show on her legs has receded to just her entire left foot and her right heel. In speaking with her wound care specialist, who is a gem of a girl who cleans and wraps that nastiness every day with no complaint, the sores on the feet come and go. She will look better one day, and then they will return to their previous state the next. This is in keeping with what hospital personnel told me to expect. Anything - a casual bump, or her general health - can impact their status. And, while her circulation is better, it's not particularly good. This is typical of generic diabetes, as Mother knows since she lost a brother to it some years ago during an operation to amputate his second foot. But, I have to say, in a way, it's a good thing because it keeps her from fighting where she is. Because she does not want to resign herself to living in a nursing home, but the reality of her situation is that she is not mentally or physically able to live anywhere else without constant care. So, her attending physician counseled me to tell her that she is just there until she is well enough to live on her own again. It is not a lie. If that day does come, I will move her. But, we all know that day will likely never come. Mother is blissfully unaware of that fact, even though I decorated her room pretty elaborately. She will occasionally mention "getting out of here", and I just smile in response. I am not sure how many of her fellow residents labor under the same delusion, but probably a fair number. Of those who don't, there is a high percentage that just don't live in the same reality with the rest of us any longer. They have no idea where they are or what is happening to them, so their living situation is completely irrelevant to anyone but their family.

Mother is in a good facility. But, I have to confess that I got lucky in that regard. She first checked in as a rehabilitation patient, and we chose it because it was close, but also because it had an opening - and I do believe it was a single opening at the time. Another facility fairly close by was totally full. My cousin, a retired nurse, checked it out online and told me it was highly rated when I was trying to make the decision where to place her permanently. Additionally, it is less expensive than the natural average, which is $188/day. If you do the math, that is not chump change. And, that doesn't include her medications, which are provided through a third party, or her three (count 'em) jammed storage units to house all her stuff. I always knew her hoarding would have a price to it, and now I see that in action. But, when I priced out what arranging for full time care in her own little apartment would be, it was much higher. So, this is better care at a lower price. So, despite spending all our lives with Mother telling me she never wanted to live in a nursing home, and me insisting I would honor that, here is where we find ourselves. Mother's doctor has run into people like us before, and she was relieved that I saw the light on my own because she knows that reality can be a far sight different than the ideal. Bottom line: we never want to accept that our minds and bodies will break down to the extent that they sometimes do.

While I truly believe the staff takes great care of Mother, make no mistake, this is not the facility Benjamin Button grew up in. I mean, who wouldn't want to live out their days there? A charming old house, full of quirky, engaging residents whose families come and visit in a picnic-like atmosphere every Sunday. The reality is much different, mainly because the residents are much different. I was a little shocked at first by what I found the average nursing home resident to be like, which is not much more animated than - well, I hesitate to say it, but it fits - a corpse. Some of them don't speak at all, others only ramble incoherently. Almost every one is wheel chair bound. Of the few who do seem fairly alert, you find yourself wondering what they're doing there. And I think that's the reason Mother's neighbors are generally like they are. People are living longer and living independently or in assisted living centers longer. So, by the time they wind up in a home, they have outlived their bodies and their minds are betraying them. You realize as you walk past them, some of them literally falling asleep in the hallway as they nodded off from whatever short distance Point A to Point B was, that these are the people who fought to keep the world safe or perhaps invented new technologies that my generation built upon so I can have my iPod or this computer, or at the least took care of us when we were young. Now, they drool and wear diapers and dignity is a thing we afford them, but their own situations do not.

How does Mother fit into that dynamic? Stay tuned, and I'll tell you.

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