My incarceration began when I enrolled at the residential facility of Bayside Village, an assisted living facility for people who could take care of themselves but could not live alone. It was a pleasant place to live. There were many attendants to help you get dressed or clean your room. Unfortunately, my health deteriorated and I needed the services of a nurse to administer medicines and assist me.
I enrolled in the nearby nursing home called Cedar Rest. It was a lovely place, very clean and nicely decorated. It was several years later that I transferred back to Bayside Village, when it was remodeled to include nursing care. While I was at Cedar Rest, only nurses dispensed medicine. An aide was assigned to you and was expected to see that you got up in the morning and got dressed in time for breakfast. She was also responsible for seeing that you had a bath on your designated day.
The best attendants there were Ellen and Robin. Ellen supervised the distribution of trays at mealtime. She was very efficient. The dining room was run like a good business. Robin was so good to me that one day I offered her a tip. She gave it back saying that she was not allowed to accept it. So, for Christmas, I bought boxes of chocolate-covered cherries and gave one to each aide.
Edith was the most efficient person in service as an aide. She had been bathing people for 14 years. It was a pleasure to shower with her help. I always came back to my room feeling refreshed and ready to go. I was happy to learn that when she left Cedar Rest, she had transferred to Bayside Village. I knew I was going to return there when it was expanded to include nursing care.
There are many volunteers to entertain us like dance groups, guitar players, singers, and an electric piano player. They play the old familiar standards or country songs. We join in to sing. It is fun to sing all together, although the singing is not always the best. Some residents dance to the music. Once I was privileged to dance with a 95-year-old man, a very good dancer. We had a sing-a-long, and I danced with him to a Hawaiian song. Later that same day, he died.
There are also bingo games. Volunteers from the American Legion call the numbers and help the older residents who cannot see the numbers or hear them being called. There are good prizes for the winners. Sometimes there are toys or cash. I win a prize almost every time.
Few outsiders realize what a varied and strange group of people live in nursing homes. Take for example, Mrs. Nash. Her daughter would place her at Bayside Village for a 2-week "baby-sitting" period. She eventually came to Cedar Rest permanently at approximately the same time I moved there from Bayside. She never could remember where her seat was in the dining room. She would ask the certified nurse assistant for directions every time. Observing this procedure at every meal was a boring, 4-year rerun.
Mr. Menge lives in a very quiet way. He stays in his room all day, playing solitaire until the afternoon. At a designated time, the recreation director comes into the activity hall with a handful of cigarettes and distributes them to each of the smokers. They sit together at the smokers' table. After smoking his cigarette, Mr. Menge returns to his room to play solitaire again. He dines alone in his room.
Mr. Stanford is a retired executive. He never lets you forget that fact. He speaks in a pompous tone. He reminds me of my uncle who spoke with that same tone of voice. It gives me a creepy feeling, as though Uncle George has come back from the grave. Mr. Stanford stands up near his dining chair and announces, "There will be a board of directors meeting tomorrow, and I expect all the members to be present. I have serious business to discuss." He is very business-like and convincing. His wife, who is also a patient at Cedar Rest, comes into the dining room after he is seated. She is so sweet and meek. She just sits down with a quiet "good morning." She remains quietly next to him, and he does not respond to her greeting. He always seems irritated with her. She is so sweet with him that it angers me when he speaks to her in a degrading way.
Poor 96-year-old Mrs. Parley was visited by her husband. Occasionally he spent the night. When she heard the news that he had died the day after his last visit, she was distraught and could not say a good word about the people who had arranged his funeral. Frequently I hear of situations in which someone dies and the spouse does not know about it. Mrs. Goodman, age 95, was told of her husband's death 3 days after his funeral. Imagine the shock to both of these women at their ages.
Dorothy came to Cedar Rest to stay with her daughter-in-law, a patient with an inoperable tumor. Dorothy also was quite sick and on the "hopeless" list. She was at Cedar Rest for approximately 2 weeks when she heard of the death of her good friend at Bayside Village. She immediately said, "I wish I could go, too." One week later, she died. I knew she had gone to join her friend in Heaven and I felt they were enjoying God's love as they had enjoyed each other's company on Earth. It is too bad all relationships are not as loving as that.
Mrs. Stone is a real character. She makes a noise like a loony bird and then looks around and says, "Who did that?". No one answers. She comes from another city where she had been helping out in her sister's flower shop. She is constantly rearranging the flowers on various tables.
There is one resident who constantly goes from room to room picking up many objects. She picks up clothing and linens, eyeglasses and jewelry, and there is no way of knowing what else may be missing from the rooms she visits.
I had a roommate who could not speak or eat normally. She was fed through a tube attached like an umbilical cord. Her family frequently visited her. They poured out so much love that it made me love them too. It was a sight to see them kissing and hugging her and telling her sweet things. Her brother included me by giving me a big hug every time they visited. He has since died, and I know she misses him.
It was the best and worst of lives at Cedar Rest. A diversity of people who ordinarily would not live within earshot of each other are now living together in pairs. That is living!
Currently, I live at Bayside Village. The residents in the right wing pay a higher price for their rooms. These are people who were living alone and are well enough to live in a facility for independent living. I am in the left wing for patients who need nursing supervision. The residents of the right wing sometimes come to our side for games, singing and other programs.
Most of the left wing patients want to go home. Some of them have Alzheimer's disease and do not know where they are. However, they do know they are not in their own homes.
One lady came into my room and began to undress. She woke me up when she was about to take the last piece of clothing off. I startled her by calling the aide, who showed her to her room across the hall. She did that "striptease" many times in different rooms, walking back to her room half naked.
There is Hazel. She had a stroke and cannot use her right arm. Her food is liquefied, and she has to have ice cream to help swallow. She cannot use a straw. She sneaks one from her neighbor at the table and often chokes from the large mouthfuls. She coughs wildly, and we all hold our breaths hoping she does not choke to death at the table.
There is a "walker" here at Bayside. She walks around constantly asking, "What am I to do?". There is no telling what she has in mind. Every meal is punctuated with a cry for "help, help, help!". You can imagine what a job it is for the poor aides. It takes a lot of patience. It would be a little easier if there were more aides.
In the activities room, the exercise class is a real experience. At the end, we do the *Hokey Pokey - That's what it's all about!". After exercise class, we remain in the room and listen to the news of the day, including Ann Landers and our horoscopes. This helps the mornings go by quickly.
The aides soothe die tempers of the sick and unhappy individuals, especially the ones with Alzheimer's disease. There is one patient in particular who stands out as the trickiest of all. The doors in the halls are locked by a special digital combination and cannot be opened except by punching the keys with the right numbers. She tries every door over and over. She cannot open any of them. Once she rang the fire alarm. Talk about excitement! Everybody scrambled to get out of their rooms. She escaped. Fortunately, someone caught up with her and brought her back to the building. She must have turned on the alarm five or six times in one afternoon.
The nurses' aides spend a lot of time calming the patients and tending to their needs. How these girls keep up the pace is more than I can imagine. It takes a certain type of personality to take the abuse from patients and sometimes their families. Family members get an unpleasant mind view of what is happening to the resident. Relatives tend to believe the patient instead of the nurse when there is a complaint. Quite often the aide is blamed for a patient's unhappiness.
Of course, some of these aides can be disagreeable too, but you cannot blame them. They are constantly busy with unhappy people. There must be a better way to take care of people who are wholesaled into nursing homes to give families a rest from the daily care of a wayward relative.
Nurses' aides are a special breed of person. They often are too tired to do their job efficiently. Some of them work two shifts that consist of 24 hours. Then, after approximately 5 hours at home, they are back on the next shift.
When we are all sleeping, the aides empty garbage cans and pick up the piles of clothes that need washing. After lunch, most of the patients take naps, so they all go to their rooms. This makes the afternoon quiet for the tired aides. The job is very difficult for the aides who are expected to keep everybody happy, make the beds, wash the clothes, and dress the infirm individuals and keep them dry.
A nursing home is a place where a sick person can be cared for and even receive religious comfort and communion from volunteers and ministers of all faiths. This gives the caretaker the feeling that you are in good hands. It can be a place of fun and games all day long, or it can be a place of sadness. My hat is off to those who choose this career and take on a job such as this.
Names of people and places changed for anonymity purposes.