My father’s stint in a nursing home has crowded everything else out of my thoughts. You’ve heard the old adage, “Write what you know.” I’m writing what I wish I didn’t know.
The nursing home, like any shared-living community, expects people to use inside voices and consider the well-being of others. A person in physical or psychic pain, though, lacks the energy and wherewithal to consider the group. Relatives of a person in pain focus on their loved one. They don’t mean to ignore the community, but it drops to fourth or fifth place among other, more pressing priorities.
When my dad arrived at the nursing home, he was frail and had periods of disorientation. Family members opted to stay at his bedside during visiting hours, which stretch from eight a.m. until eight p.m. Our all-in approach was good for my dad but infringed on his roommate’s privacy.
The roommate was mobile and spent most of his time in the dayroom, which it why it took us a while to realize he might have liked to return to the room and nap in the middle of the day. While he could have drawn the curtains around his bed and slept any time he wanted, he wouldn’t have had true privacy. We didn't encroach on his half of the room; nevertheless, we crowded him.
We focused on our father and didn't anticipate the roommate’s needs. We should have been more sensitive to his situation.
The roommate suggested we were holding my father back. “Leave him alone for five days, and he’ll be fine.” We dismissed the advice as well-meaning but medically naïve when we should have parsed it for its true meaning.
Before long, the roommate let us know he was paying for his nursing-home spot out of pocket and to the tune of $1,000 every three days. We should have parsed that statement, too.
When the roommate's relatives visited, he complained to them about the staff. Aides were foreign and spoke with accents. Some of them were people of color. He said to one, "I'm an American. I don't know what you are."
One morning, the social worker met me and my youngest sister in the hallway and said our dad was being transferred to a private room. We should have been pleased, but patients prone to disorientation need same old, same old. The roommate walked by in time to see me frown.
“I’m paying $1,000 every three days,” he said. Loudly.
Ah. I understood.
My dad is, temporarily at least, in a private room. It’s lovely, and he seems more at ease in it.
Are you wondering why my father got the private room and not his roommate? Me, too. If the social worker knows, she’s not telling. She’s a thoughtful, compassionate woman who speaks with an accent.