Living, and Dying, in Nursing Homes
A woman who enrolled in a Life Stories class in January 2016 enrolled for a second time last fall. She is serious about her writing and makes a point to send me her latest piece in the mail a few days in advance of our monthly follow-up sessions so I have time to edit it before we meet. The first time around, she wrote about her life in somewhat chronological fashion. This time around, she has been sharing her observations on a variety of topics — modern technology, flower gardens, spring cleaning.
Most recently, she wrote about nursing homes, where she has been visiting friends and relatives for years. A very kind woman, she made sure to note that "most nursing homes are permanently understaffed and the nurses aides ... are underpaid and overworked" and that most of the homes "make a real effort to engage the residents" and listed myriad activities offered.
She did not sugarcoat any ugly truths, though: "One of the residents who was a friend of mine rang and rang her bedside buzzer for help. She was not anywhere near the nurses' desk to call out for assistance. So in desperation, she used her cellphone to call the city police. The police called the facility and then an aide came to help her. Another resident who also did not get an answer to her call button pulled a fire alarm. The city fire department came, and evacuated the entire building."
Near the end of her essay she — now 80 herself — considered the "very aggressive treatments" often used to keep the elderly alive and the fact that often "life is prolonged using any and all measures," no matter the amount of money it costs, how exhausted the patient and family become or what the patient's quality of life is. Over the years, she has heard it commented about nursing home residents she has known: "I wonder how many years she hasn't known she is living."
I don't know what this woman will write about next, but I do know that if it doesn't make me laugh it is likely to make me cry.