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My dining experience

October 1, 2010
by Kathleen Mears
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Radiation therapy for breast cancer many years ago caused me to have permanent bursitis in my left arm-the one arm that is partially functional. Since then I've had a very hard time moving my arm in certain directions, which affects my ability to feed myself.

When I first moved to this nursing home, I ate in the “feed dining room.” Residents were escorted in about an hour before supper. Behind closed doors we sat with aides who were there to keep wanderers in check. I found it interesting that the aides talked only to each other, but they knew that few residents in this dining room could carry on a conversation. Despite this, I found there were some benefits to eating here: I got hotter food and had quicker access to the substitute meal.

After my initial evaluation, therapy deemed I could feed myself. Instead of elevating my elbow to eat as I had done, they raised my food tray and my arms. It was true; I could feed myself this way. But I had to turn my tray around to be able to reach items on the far side. I looked like a marionette with my arms propped up so high. Since I felt conspicuous, I decided I would not use the same setup if I went out for dinner.

The only available place in the “regular dining room” was facing the wall. This worked out as I did not have to worry about the other residents staring at my strange eating setup. Being positioned away from room traffic made it difficult for me to get an aide's assistance, but we devised a system where staff checked up on me at regular intervals.

Therapy exercised me to strengthen my arm but sometimes I only had enough strength to feed myself half a meal and there was not always an aide or nurse available to help me with the rest. About a year later another therapist said that my feeding motion was exhausting me, warning that it would not be good for my digestive system. She told me that the only way to avoid that was to be fed.

As a “feed,” I chose to eat after the other residents. I decided being last could be better because more aides might be available then. However, waiting to be fed in the dining room frustrated me because I did not like sitting around doing nothing.

When I finished eating in the dining room, it was hard to find an aide to assist me with toileting or setting me up at the computer. I've since been eating meals in my room, which allows me to at least stay busy on the computer until it's time to eat. My meals are delivered on a fiberglass tray, usually served on bone or white dishes. Sometimes maroon, thermal bowls are used to keep items to temperature.

My low-calorie diet causes many foods to be very dry so I need to drink frequently during a meal. There are also occasional delays when aides need to do go to dietary to get a substituted or missing item.

Some aides say very little while I am eating, even though I face them. If the aide does talk, I try to make sure that we do not lose track of time.

With all of that said, being fed by another person makes me feel quite helpless.

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Kathleen Mears has been a nursing home resident in Southeastern Ohio for the past 14 years. Long-Term Living 2010 October;59(10):80

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