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What brought me here

October 1, 2009
by Kathleen Mears
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Living on my own years ago, good hired caregivers became scarce, wanted more money, and did not stay long. Replacing people as soon as they learned my routine was wearing me out physically and mentally.

I came to this nursing home in a whirl of activity. All of my caregivers quit. My attorney and the police intervened. I was told to go to the ER for my own safety. The ER sent me to the state psychiatric hospital for evaluation. After a night on a gurney with no sleep, I was deemed sane and sent back to the ER where I slept.

A hospital social worker said I needed to sign myself into a nursing home as an “emergency,” but I refused to sign on principle. However, a court-appointed guardian had me signed in within a couple of hours. This facility was chosen by a caregiver because she knew it was bright and clean. It also had the private room I needed.

The ambulance cart rolled me in at dusk. I saw a blur of folks in the lobby. Then I saw bright wallpaper and the staff's smiling faces. The admitting nurse chased the cart to my room where she chatted with me, fed me a light supper, and made sure I was comfortable.

I had only the flannel nightshirt I wore and my socks and shoes. Since I had not been bathed in over a day, being washed up felt good. Afterwards, staring at my ceiling light, I saw a woman in a white gown with a large pink hat. It was not a decoration, but an illusion of tranquility in the midst of my mental chaos. She remained there for several days.

Residents wandered into my room. I was told they were harmless, but they startled me nonetheless. Residents talked loudly, cried, and sometimes swore. When it quieted I slept. I got sick-vomiting and diarrhea, caused by a combination of anxiety and a lack of medicine.

During the first few days, I was in bed. I met all of the staff. The administrator wanted them to become familiar with me, the new 47-year-old resident. After a few weeks, I talked with another resident about how she adjusted. She chatted with me and we became friends.

Although the home's social worker was young and inexperienced, she suggested an outside counselor, providing me at least one visitor a week. Counseling seemed to help but many times it made me very angry. Some days I followed staff like a puppy, and other days I cried and withdrew.

Over time I got my things and my computer here, giving me more to do. I also started working on a vocational goal, which made me feel that I was helping myself. Then I began to volunteer doing birthday lists and menus.

I worked for the facility part-time for four years doing articles and a monthly newsletter. I liked the interaction with the staff and the comments from residents and family members.

After being private pay here for five years, I had to spend down my funds to become Medicaid eligible. That was a very tough thing to do and was like nothing I have ever experienced. But I survived it.

In many ways I have thrived here because it has been a necessity. It is virtually impossible to stay in your bed here and be sad all the time. The staff will just keep trying until you get up. So I choose to be up. But when I want to be left alone the staff is courteous enough to stay away.

This is my home. I have considered going elsewhere, but I know another facility might not be as good as this one. New admissions here have more amenities. The staff is also more conscious of what residents want. I would like to think that my being here has caused some of the changes. There are younger people here now with greater regularity, even though sometimes they do not stay very long. When they do stay, I still feel a pang in my heart like I had when I first came here. Then I try to help those residents by empowering them to be their own advocates.

Adapting to nursing home life is difficult. But finding something to do and empowering others have helped me.

Kathleen Mears has been a nursing home resident in Southeastern Ohio for the past 13 years.

To send your comments to the editor, e-mail mhrehocik@vendomegrp.com.

Long-Term Living 2009 October;58(10):80
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