Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The geriatric care wing of a pavillion attached to a nearby hospital.

The doctors insist that residents be served water as often as possible.  

Mr "R" sits in his wheelchair, eyes closed , his back stiff against the back of the chair, his white hair curling around the rim of a black felt hat.  Impressive figure.  I put my hand on his shoulder, stroke his arm gently and expect him to open his eyes.  He does not.  I ask if he wants some water - no answer.  I push the glass softly against his mouth and slip a straw between his lips.    Glass empty..... his eyes still closed.                                                                                                                            I feel triumphant.

Mrs "A" had breakfast in bed and invites me into her room. The rosary on her night table compelled me to say that I used to recite the rosary in German.  She delivers a part of it in French as her fingers move the pale blue beads and is eager to tell me that a priest comes to a lower floor later in the day for rosary recital and would I please wheel her there some day.  She can not leave this floor because she does not know the password that opens the elevator door.  I have done so and sat with her while warm memories such as rosary evening and teenage awakening mingled  in my head, going back many many years.  Us girls on our knees in the pew struggling to be next to hold the tiny mirror in front of us so that we could look up to the choir loft where the boys were hanging over the gallery looking down. .                                                                                                                        Pleasant thoughts.

Mrs "L" likes Christmas.  The decorations in her room look tired and the white film covering them is not snow but dust. Her right arm is in a sling she moans about the pain and asks me to inspect the bruises.  I tell her that I'm not allowed to do that and ask her what happened..
She tells me that she was not tied in on the right side of her wheelchair and fell out.  Sometime later I meet her in the 'fish bowl' aka smoking room and as I express my concern about the fact that she is again not tied in she tells me that her fall had nothing to do with being tied in or not but that she fell as she tried to walk.                                                                                           Listen and take in with a grain of salt.      

Mrs "M" sits near the window and turns the pages of a magazine lying on a table in front of her.  She invites me to come closer and points to a photograph of cats playing with a ball and is concerned as to how they can get all that work done in one day.                                                                Then she utters "if my mother came to see me now I would give her a push to get her out of here"  and in the same breath she continues "when I moved out from home mother told me that I could not do that and asked where I will go and what I intend to do and I answered I will do everything that you would like to do now but can't, haha".
I change the subject and ask if I can change the water of the flowers in the vase.  She smiles and as she turns a page in her magazine asks me to leave by saying come again.
                                 I feel welcome.

Mrs 'C' sits in her room facing the open door.  She does not want any of this rotten water.  No she does not want me to turn her chair towards the blaring TV which she says she can't see because they placed it too fu...ing high. I stop trying to turn her chair around, move to the side and watch her knit without needles and wool.  
A heavy Nefertiti bust hangs on a gold chain around her neck.                                                                                                                Harsh words have no power over me.

Mr "P" is a retired pastor.  He rolls back and forth in the corridors as if he were on Main Road and tells me that he is here because his wife left him and mumbles something about for better or for worse.
                Yes, shit can happen in the best families.

Mrs "M", the 92 year old resident is the matriarch of  the 3rd floor.
She rises late, has breakfast in her room, dresses nicely, wears jewellery, has her hair and nails done once a week and loves to push her walker towards an area where her job is waiting. She smooths wrinkles out of hundreds of facecloths and makes neat piles of them.  "Who touched this, none of their business, my job, it's only 11.30 why are they moving towards dining room".
                       Live to the very end.



Tom said...

All too often these people are forgotten, or treating in subhuman ways. Ill-treatment has always lurked in the shadows.

But then along comes an Ellena, or a visiting angel by any other name. And some sunshine comes into otherwise forgotten lives. Bless you!

Sabine said...

You certainly brought me to another world. I mean, I realise it exists and all, but I am still refusing to believe that ageing mean getting old.

My ignorance bordering on arrogance. I have much to learn. Thank you for this post.

Rouchswalwe said...

You've captured snapshots here that open up to a wealth of experience. Thank you for taking us along on your visit, dearest Ellena.

Roderick Robinson said...

Self-regardingly I'm drawn in by the first para, since it concerns Mr R. Then I read the rest. I ask myself this awful question: is it better in these circumstances to be able to draw on memories or to have all memory wiped away. Knowing, of course, that no one in the world can provide an answer.

I'm reminded of something else. I am against capital punishment, however horrible the crime. Far better that the criminal remains alive, ending up like your people here, perhaps able to reflect on what they did. But then I further reflect that such a legal solution would not distinguish between who have committed crimes and those who have led blameless lives. All would suffer in the same way.

This post is painful to read even though I am uplifted by your willingness to do something about these people - whose only offence is to have lived too long. Painful or not we all need to be reminded that none of us is immune and this factor should be one of several we bear in mind as we organise our live. Given this possibility how should we behave?

This is a serious and true post. There are not many such around. My thanks and congratulations.

Lucy said...

I've been uncertain how to comment on this, it is poignant and difficult reading to be sure, but also very dear writing. I admire both what you are doing and the way you write about it. I hope it helps you, I've no doubt you help them.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Ellena, your acutely observant eye, your compassionate heart and your uniquely Ellena-ish humour shine through this post. You are a gift to all who are lucky enough to encounter you, in real life or here in cyberspace.

The scene you describe so well is one I've witnessed here in the UK and in France when visiting elderly relatives or friends 'incarcerated' in similar places. Each time emotions (sadness, horror, anger, fear) cloud my mind so that I can't think rationally about the real problem which is the dependency that ageing condemns us all to endure, to a greater or lesser degree determined by health, financial means, family etc. The way that our society generally approaches this hugely difficult problem often enrages me but I have no better solutions. Your post, and your actions, are exemplary as a model of 'how to'. Thank you.

Anji Knutsen said...

Thank you for visiting my blog and taking time to comment. Next week I will be visiting my 92 year old Mother-in-law who is in a nursing home. Your post has been interesting to me as preparation for that visit. When we visited her in hospital in February to the nursing staff she was just a difficult old woman who had fallen over - again. In reality she is someone who taught herself to read when she was three years old. Worked for the Admiralty in London during WWII and was one of the few who really knew what was happening and what was going to happen. She and her husband created their own successful business after the war. She was a woman ahead of her time. She's also been a great mother-in-law (most of the time).

It seems so unfair that as people get older they're expected to fit in to a system that expects them to be....bland.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Dear Ellena, I don't have your email or I'd be writing you there. Thank you so much for ordering "the Joy..." a while ago, I hope you received the book. I sent it as soon as I got the order. Hope to hear from you. Hope all is well.