Tuesdays in the Nursing Home- The New Guy

I saw a new man today, Eddie.  A tall, graying man stuck in the paralyzing grip of his advancing Parkinson's disease.  Every move is made with laborious slowness, each word must wend it's way like a marble in a pinball game, searching for a way out of Eddie's mouth. And those words once delivered, are so soft, feathery whispers of a former strong man.


Eddie was a principal with four children of his own, he has his Master's degree in Education, is a Hall of Famer in Ohio for his prowess on the basketball and baseball arenas.  To find himself stuck inside a body that is slowly turning to hard concrete, unable to speak the thoughts that are in his head with any strength or authority- it is all unthinkably horrible.

"Eddie, are you depressed?" I ask.

"No," he says quickly.  "I'm not that kind.  I'm a cheerful sort."

"Are you angry?" I ask him.

He shakes his head but then thinks about something for a long moment.  "I get...frustrated," he says at last.  "It's been a rough week.  This morning I wanted to brush my teeth, then use the Scope in that bottle," Eddie says softly.  "But I couldn't get the bottle open. That frustrates me."

I wait, sensing more to come.

"I'm so tired,"Eddie says.  "They talk to me like I am a dog. They say sit and they point to a place I'm supposed to sit or they say "Eat!" or "Go back to your room!"

Eddie looks at me with sad gray eyes and I search for the the remnants of a high school principal behind his shell shocked eyes.

"I get firm with them," he tells me.  "I tell them I wouldn't talk to a dog like they talk to us patients."

I agree with him. I share his sense of outrage.  And I feel the sapping of his courage and strength for dealing with these situations.  His thoughts are working inside his head but they sometimes fail to find his mouth in time to say what needs to be said.  His body holds him back and the retirement he and his wife dreamt of was stolen by a diagnosis that arrived the month before he retired.

I want to run out into the hall and scream "Do you know who you're dealing with in here?" But it would be inappropriate as everyone is facing this same denigration of pride.  We have not come any farther today than we were last year or even in the last century.  Nursing homes are way stations along the road to death.  They rarely pretend to be anything more.

I go to see a much maligned aide, a woman I initially overlooked as possibly inept and maybe uncaring because she seemed to move so slowly through her rounds.  But over the month I've watched her, I've seen prayers offered for patients, love and forgiveness in the face of abuse, and humor given and taken between Linda and her hall of patients.

Linda is all right, I think.  And then today I learn she is cutting back on working so many double shifts because she is going to nursing school- after 29 years away, Linda is finally looking for something to better herself and her situation, all while working full time at the nursing home.

We can't lump all aides into one category any more than we can categorize all patients as addle-pated aging children.

Lots and lots of resources and love are needed to fold these factions into a loving, respectful family but on days like this, I can almost see the way through to it. 

A nursing home is a village, a family, in desperate need of support for making our seniors a precious resource again while also mentoring our next generation of aides and future nurses to have the emotional and monetary means to change their world.

There is nothing that love and energy can't change for the better. I do believe this.


1 comment:

David St Lawrence said...

Beautifully written.

I find your posts most thought-provoking.


David St Lawrence