Watchful eyes

I’ve lived beside Mrs. J for many years, as a child and as an adult. My childhood home was on one side of her house, and I purchased the house on the other side of her almost nine years ago. She was always the type of person to keep an eye on our home when we were gone, making sure the cats were fed, the plumbing hadn’t sprung any leaks, and reporting any visitors that we might have missed during our absence.

There is a window on the end of her house that faces our driveway and is near where she normally sat. Any time we had visitors, it always amused me to see her peeking out her mini-blinds to see who was there. The fact that the light was on in her house and we could see her entire profile lit up in the window never seemed to deter her in the least. We always just pretended that we couldn’t see her and got a good laugh out of it.

These days, we’re the ones watching out for her. We usually go to the nursing home every day and spend a couple of hours visiting with her, which helps keep her spirits up and enables us to stay on top of her eating habits. She lost almost 10 pounds in the first two weeks following her surgery because she wouldn’t hardly eat a thing.

As I’ve mentioned before, the lady that lives in the room with her suffers from Alzheimer’s. Her husband normally sits with her for most of the day, but has recently been hospitalized with IBS and had a colostomy. This change in routine has caused Emily to become rather depressed and combative.

During our visit on Tuesday, she decided that she needed to use the bathroom and asked for our help. After we explained that we would have to page a nurse to help her, she became very angry and assailed us with insults about “not being Christians” and something about Presbyterians, which I couldn’t exactly understand but found quite funny. However, her situation was far from humorous.

The facility where Mrs. J lives is obviously understaffed, although I think that part of the problem lies with certain nurses who simply don’t care enough to take care of business. They’d rather clean up a person after they’ve messed themselves, than to help that person onto a toilet or bedpan.

Yesterday, Emily once again informed us that she had to go to the restroom. We pushed an alert button to call a nurse and the waiting game began. As she became more and more irate, she began pulling her pants down. Considering the fact that she was sitting up in a wheelchair and has around 80% of her motor skills, this was no small feat.

After several minutes of waiting, we finally decided to go into the hall to track someone down for help. After attracting the attention of two nurses and informing them of the situation, they simply told Emily that she would have to wait because they were busy with another patient. Explaining such things to someone in her condition is quite pointless, of course.

Over the next hour, Emily managed to remove her shoes, pants, and soiled diaper and placed all of them on the floor underneath her chair. The call light for her room was on for the entire time, even though we noticed a gaggle of nurses carrying on a conversation in the hallway just outside the room for several minutes. Finally, some nurses arrived, cleaned her up, and put her to bed for the evening.

I can’t help but worry about the care that our neighbor is getting while we aren’t there. I know that most of the time she is taken care of pretty well, but watching her roommate sit in her own excrement for an hour leaves me with plenty of doubt. I suspect Emily’s situation would have never occurred if her husband had been there, as the nurses seem to pay the most attention to patients that have visitors.

Perhaps watchful eyes are a strong motivator, and maybe this is our opportunity to repay her for keeping an eye on us for all of these years.

Author: Brian

Blogger. Bookworm. Michael Jackson fanatic. Lives in Kentucky with partner of 12 years and three fabulous felines.

4 thoughts on “Watchful eyes”

  1. I have to believe that you and Honey are angels wearing skin and bone. Truly, if you were not there to tend to your sweet neighbor (and her roomie), there’s no telling the added agony and suffering they would have to endure.

    As someone who is single and who has no nieces or nephews, I do wonder what will become of me when I am old and in need.

    I also wonder what I am doing today that will make me the kind of person who will be easy to love when I am in dire need of the good will of strangers.

    Several elderly parishioners have got me thinking about this; they’re either a charm to care for or they’ve established lifelong habits of fault-finding and negativity that make me want to back away and stay away.

    I really, really, really don’t want to be a pain in the heinie when I’m old and grey(er). Guess that means getting my attitudinal act together today.

  2. This makes me sick. I desperately want to point my finger at someone. Is it the nurses who are being deliberately lazy and cruel? Is the administration really understaffing them to the point that they don’t have time? (Sounds like this is NOT the case…) I hate to hear of this but I know there are facilities like this all over the place, and nurses who give the profession a bad name. Shame on them. There’s no excuse.

  3. I admire you and Honey for visiting Mrs. J regularly. My grandma is in a nursing home in the town where I work, and I’m ashamed to say, I don’t visit her as much in a year as you have visitied Mrs. J this week. Gratnted, her alzheimers is very advanced, and she is only capable of laying in her bed and talking in baby jabber, so she doesn’t know if I come or not, or even who I am. I notice alot of the same things going on in her facility also.

    On my last visit I decided to visit a fellow church member in the same facility who is in the early stages of Alzheimers, and is recovering from hip surgery. She told me she had to go to the restroom, so I politely ended the visit so she could do her business. As I left I saw that as she kept trying to get up from her wheelchair the corded alarms she was attached to would pull the chair back underneath her. I was afraid she was going to hurt herself by tripping over the chair, so I removed the cords, prompting the alarms to start going off. She then walked to the portable toilet that was sitting in the middle of the room. I left the room and noticed 2 aides in the room next door, so I figured they would take care of it. However, they didn’t seem fazed by the alarm, and something just felt wrong about the whole situation, so I stopped at the nurses station and informed the head nurse of what I had done. She got on the loudspeaker yelling for help in that room, then proceeds to bawl me out for taking the alarm off. As I left, I was so shaken by the whole situation, I exited through a door that was not maked in any special way, but I later found out was a family door for which you need a code, and I made even more alarms go off.

    I think all nursing homes are understaffed, and the workers are underpaid. A good way for you guys to keep an eye on it would be to not always go at the same time of day. Maybe Honey could go some in the morning or lunch or afternoon time. If you varied up the routine the employees would never know when to expect you and may be more on their toes. Just a suggestion.

  4. I have experience with one high quality nursing facility–it was a Catholic home in Pennsylvania, where my mother-in-law spent her final years. We always had the sense that she was well-loved and cared for there, but I don’t think that’s the norm.

    My sister and brother-in-law both died in nursing homes, but they had hospice care which really increased the attention and vigilance that they received. My own mom spent about 6 weeks in a couple of homes one summer, and it was a horrendous experience for her, and for us. She wouldn’t cooperate with the staff, wouldn’t go to physical therapy, and was extremely angry at us for allowing her to be there. She accused us of “…dumping her in an alley!” And she compared it to prison. Eventually we took her out, AMA, and sent her back to her apartment where we knew she risked falling, breaking something, and dying as a result of complications. About a month after she got home, that is exactly what happened.

    So for a long time I felt terrible about that, but now I feel like we gave mom what she wanted, and even though the ending was bad, she had her independence and that was the most important thing to her. The choices we make on behalf of our elders are so difficult.

    I wish there were a good solution. I have many friends whose parents have needed long term care, and in many cases they paid for additional private staff to monitor their loved one. How many of us can afford that? Some people have a spouse who is retired and constantly available as an advocate. But too many are like your neighbor, and there are just not enough folks to keep watch. Your attention to her is so kind. Wouldn’t it be nice if in our society we could all take care of each other in such a loving way? I do think that the quality of nursing home care is linked to the frequency of visits that a patient has. And I do think that there is a lot of loving care provided by many nurses in those facilities. But it’s easy to mistreat so many elderly folks who cannot speak effectively for themselves anymore.

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