Thursday, February 6, 2014

There Must Be Some Mistake

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 na├»ve 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. 


Patricia Rickrode w/a Jansen Schmidt said...

I'm glad your dad was given a private room and that your family can spare the time to stay with him. It's a shame that the other man can't see your side. Sounds to me like maybe he's a little jealous of all of the attention your father's getting.

Hang in there. No matter what you do, someone's going to be unhappy. You can't please everyone.

Patricia Rickrode
w/a Jansen Schmidt

Jennette Marie Powell said...

Well-founded or not, some people will find something to complain about no matter what. Hop your dad's better soon!

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Patricia/Jansen,
You're right that my family can't please everyone, and we've chosen to focus on our dad.

I think as people age, they lose their filters, and if they're resentful, prejudiced, and afraid of their mortality, they reveal all that.

Thanks for the pep talk.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Jennette,
Yes, some people get their jollies by complaining. I make a point of reading Amazon reviews before I buy a book, an appliance, even a bath mat. Some people use a lot of time and energy tearing into products. I wonder what they'd accomplish if their channeled their passion into a productive activity?

Anonymous said...

Hi Pat,

One of the saddest things about nursing homes (that I have observed) is that people lose their ability to speak - most of the day people are tranquilized and just sit there with a television blasting and they literally forget how to speak.

Not in their minds of course and that frustrates them even more because they realize that they can't articulate what they are feeling.

You appear to be very understanding and compassionate about the staff, but beware, there are people working in nursing homes who don't belong there. I once saw a worker in a nursing home take a doll away from an elderly, senile woman (who thought it was her baby) and tease her with it. I think she was the exception and most of the staff that I met were really great, underpaid and underappreciated people.

I'm glad your Dad appears to be in a better situation now, but you haven't told us the really important thing - how is your Mother doing - physically, emotionally, spiritually, etc. This has got to be especially hard for her too. But women are stronger than men and that's in her favor.

- Patrick

Liz Flaherty said...

What you said about losing filters--my mother-in-law does that now, and I'm terrified I'll do it, too. It's a hard thing to deal with from every angle.

I hope things go well with your dad.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Patrick,
My father has had trouble sleeping and has been awake for 24+ hours at times. At one point, I asked the staff if he could be sedated in order to sleep. The answer was no. He's not stable, medically, so a sedative could do more harm than good.

I haven't witnessed over-tranquilized patients, but patients who try to get out of bed at night and risk injuring themselves are put in wheelchairs and taken to the dayroom where an aide sits with them. That means they are upright at least part of the night and get less-than optimal sleep. Not surprisingly, they doze during the day. On the other hand, what is a facility that doesn't offer one-on-one care to do when patients pose dangers to themselves? I'm cursed with the ability to see both sides of the problem.

The story of the patient with the doll rings a bell. I've heard something similar, and it's heart-rending.

I wrote about my dad's former roommate because I'm not emotionally attached and could. Maybe someday I'll write about how my mom is handling the experience, but no promises. Whenever she meets a new-to-her aide or nurse, she introduces my dad as "the love of my life for 64 years." I get teary-eyed every time.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Jeez, Liz, I've already lost some filters, so losing more won't be pretty. I know nothing about medicine and patient care. Why, then, do I suspect I will one day tell doctors, nurses, and aides how to do their jobs. Unfiltered, I'm bossy.

I'm thinking about your mother-in-law and hoping for the best.

Lark Howard said...

So sorry your dad has had such a rough time. His roommate sounds like a curmudgeon who alienated the staff as well as everyone else!

I certainly understand how intrusive other patient's guests can be, however, when you want to rest and recover. MANY years ago I had emergency surgery in St. Croix and had to be put in a 6 person ward because there was no place else to put me. One of my ward-mates belonged to an evangelist church and about a dozen members came every morning and evening to pray (loudly!) with her for about an hour which included singing. The rest of the time, she called out to Jesus to deliver her from her pain. I was in much worse shape than she was and supposed to be there for 10 days. I checked myself out after 7 just to get some sleep.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Lark,
When your ward-mate called out to Jesus, she had no control over the way the message was received. It sounds as if jesus gave the most vulnerable person in the ward--you--the strength to check herself out after seven days.

You have to use the prayers/singing scene in a book.

Coleen Patrick said...

I'm thinking of you and your family, Pat. It's one thing to deal with your dad's illness, but then to add on the stress of a new environment and the other patients and their illnesses? I hope the private room is a bit of relief for you all. Sending you my best, Pat.

Anonymous said...


Sorry about your Dad.

- Patrick

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Thank you, Patrick. I thought we'd have more time with him. He had a good run, though. Ninety!

Coleen Patrick said...

Pat, I just stopped by to check in on you and I'm so sorry about your dad. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Thanks, Coleen. The wake and funeral are over, and my sibs, mother, and I are at the stage where we can laugh as well as cry.

Your thoughts and prayers mean a lot to me.

Anonymous said...


If I could make a suggestion - always talk about your deceased loved ones - don't be one of those Irish families where whenever a deceased person is mentioned the only response is: "She's "gone" now, or he's "gone" now.

George Carlin once did a parody on this - where's Grandma? Oh, she's "gone" now.

And when I say talk about your dad, you don't have to make him a saint either - talk about all his good points, of course, but also his weaknesses, failings, etc. It's no sin to "laugh at" the dead either - it's really not. We do it in my family all the time.

On the other hand, in my father's Irish family the dead were never mentioned again - like it was some sort of disgrace in dying and it was taboo to bring up their names. Sad, isn't it.

People only die when we forget about them.

- Patrick

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Patrick, I took your advice and wrote another post that mentions my dad. Fear not, my family won't stop talking about him.