When I wrote the first Booktown Mystery, I incorporated a subplot where one of the characters resided in a nursing home. At the time, I had never set foot inside a nursing home (or adult resident home as they are sometimes called). I wrote my descriptions based on experiences others had had in the past.
For a good chunk of the summer, I have made an almost daily pilgrimage to a local nursing home and I must say I was shocked, and yet pleasantly surprised by what I found.
For one thing, this is a really NICE nursing home. The first thing I noticed was how incredibly clean it was. I'd been told by several people that nursing homes smell like urine. Not so in this place. The floors are clean, the colors are cheerful, and most importantly, the staff is caring and incredibly thoughtful.
My relative had been hospitalized for just over two weeks at one of the local hospitals. We had always believed the care at this hospital was superb. Not so this time. My relative came out with far more problems than he went in with, and the insurance company couldn't wait to get him out of the hospital and into a nursing home for "rehab."
Just about everything that can be done for a patient in the hospital, can be done for a resident at the nursing home. Things like ultrasounds and x-rays, and it's a lot less traumatizing because these tests can be done in the patient's room rather than a drafty room.
The food is surprising good. (Yup, I've taken a bite now and then.) My only concern about it is that residents seem to be given far more than they can possibly eat, which means a lot of it is wasted. But the logic behind such generosity is simply to offer the residents enough variety that they at least will eat something.
The facility offers at least four or five different activities a day for the residents to participate in. There are games, a book club, a weekly tea, cooking classes, weekly musical entertainment, and many other things for the residents' enjoyment.
Perhaps the most important aspect of this particular nursing home is the staff. From day one we have been grateful for the care and professionalism from the nursing and, in particular, the physical therapy staff. Since my relative is in a rehab situation, the goal is to get him well enough to come home. Sadly, that is not the fate of most of the home's residents. And not everyone at a nursing home is elderly. There are several few middle-aged, quadriplegic men and women living there. They appear to be mostly accident victims. They have their mental faculties, but their world is very small--the size of the facility and its two enclosed gardens (which, in this climate, aren't accessible for a good chunk of the year).
So what was the shock I experienced when I first walked into the nursing home? I was appalled at the sea of elderly people who sit vacant-eyed and alone. Some of them experience some degree of dementia, but they're mainstreamed with the general population, and each and every one of the staff members has infinite patience with them. Example: One elderly gent does nothing but yell most of the day. He suffered stroke and his verbal skills are virtually gone. So he yells all day long out of pure frustration. Instead of shoving him off alone in his room, he sits outside the nurse's station, the hub of activity for this "neighborhood", for most of the day.
Many of the residents are stoke victims, but the staff engages them in conversations, feed them, take them to musical events, and treat them like the once-vital people they once were.
Sadly, most of these people get little or no visits from their family members or friends. It's heartbreaking to hear a frail voice ask a staff member, "Will my daughter (or son) be here today?" and, inevitably, the answer is, "Not today. Maybe Sunday." Let me tell you, Monday to Sunday can be an eternity, especially for people who have nowhere else to go and no one to take care of them.
I'm eagerly anticipating my relative's return home so that the twice-daily trek to the nursing home will no longer be necessary. That life for my family can return to some kind of normal. But I think I will worry about those people left behind with no one who cares about them.
To spend your last days living without love is surely hell on earth.