Mom's First Morning at Nursing Home Is an Eye-Opener
This is the sixth column
in a 10-part series by Sacramentan Joyce Christensen on her experiences caring
for her elderly mother, Thelma Price. To
read the previous installment, CLICK
Just when you think you've seen it all, boom! -- another curve in the road.
I opened a new chapter of learning. This time, it was on the undeniable truths of life in a nursing home.
Mom and I both knew SunBridge Brittany Care Center was the place she would live, and the place she would die. The reality of this fact hit me like a ton of bricks.
Life experiences I had shared with Mom during the past 20 years seemed like a walk in the park compared to what I saw, and learned, during 18 months of daily visits. The purpose of detailing my hands-on participation in Mom's care is to give you a step-by-step reality check.
I had no idea what strength I would need to draw from when I accepted the responsibility of being Mom's daily backup caregiver. After all, it cost $4,700 per month for her to be there. Of course, most of her needs would be taken care of by a professionally trained and caring staff. Right? I was way off base on that assumption. I now fully understand the word "naiveté."
With luck, I can communicate the importance of understanding what a loved one needs for the best quality of life possible in a nursing home. Some experiences will be good, some bad. Anyone who has dedicated time to the care of an elder person has his own stories. Each story is different.
I hope I can save a few people from making the same, uneducated mistakes I made. If indeed I do, my story will serve a purpose. Most importantly, I can teach you what your expectations can, and realistically should be, regarding most skilled nursing facilities.
The day I signed the papers declaring Mom a permanent patient at SunBridge was a very sad day. My question to myself was, "Am I doing the best thing for my precious mother?" Was there an alternative? If so, what was I overlooking?
I realized immediately that everything in Mom's world, and my world, had changed. What was happening was very real.
I had been told that family involvement at a nursing home was important. I never dreamed that from this day on, for peace of mind, I would need to be a part of Mom's daily care for the rest of her life. Each day, I counted my blessings for having an 88-year-old Mom to love. I strongly committed to make her last years of life happy and to help her keep her dignity. It all seemed to fit a pattern.
I never could have visualized what the next 18 months would bring. Little did I know, my toughest education had just begun. All of the negative stories I had heard about nursing homes and this last step of life seemed to materialize with a loud bang.
The morning after I checked Mom into SunBridge, I arrived at 8 a.m. to make sure she was comfortable. It would take time for her to realize this was to be her "new" home. I wanted to help make this change in her life positive. We would make it work together.
My first surprise happened as I approached Mom's room. I heard someone begging, "Please, somebody help me. I'm so cold. Please help me!" I was sure it couldn't be my mother, but I started to run anyway. I found her shivering, crying and her teeth chattering. Her nightgown and entire bed were soaking wet, including the top sheet. There was no blanket on the bed for warmth. I couldn't believe my eyes!
When I found a nurse, she said, "Everyone is busy. Someone will be there soon." I asked for a blanket. No luck! I put my jacket over Mom. I noticed several rooms had call lights on, so I turned on Mom's light, thinking that might get help sooner. It took 30 minutes for a certified nursing assistant to come. It seemed like two hours.
After Mom and the bed were changed, I asked how this could happen. I received an answer that I would hear over and over again: "We are short-staffed and a lot of people have to wait."
I noticed several call lights were still on. Two of them were on when I arrived at 8 a.m. and heard my Mom. It was now 9:15 a.m.
One of the biggest complaints at most nursing homes is that call lights are ignored for long periods of time. If a CNA walks by a room with a call light on, he or she will ignore the call unless it is in his or her "section."
My question is, what happens if a patient is hurt, or choking, and the call light is not answered? That is when we are all reminded that patients are at the mercy of the efficiency of nursing homes. Who is held responsible if an unnecessary death occurs? Good question!
Next, I wondered how many hours I should spend at the nursing home every day. What could I do to be the most help to Mom? Where do I start? What would be the best time for me to be there? Was it better to come at the same time, or to visit at different times each day?
Within two weeks I learned that it was not good to be too predictable. By making your visiting time different each day, or week, you can learn more about how efficient the care is. It is not unusual to find irregularities when you show up at a time you are not expected.
Often, day-to-day needs such as feeding, personal needs, therapy, and just plain old comfort, are left undone. There is no getting around it. A family member's presence helps improve the quality of care given.
I started by making friends of the people on staff. I asked what I could do to be most helpful with Mom's care. I talked to the CNAs every chance I got, trying to learn the ropes. I was able to determine their individual attitudes toward their job. That alone was an education.
Many of the CNAs were looking for other jobs. They were begging for better communication between themselves and the nursing staff. Some were truly angry, knowing the patients should receive better care.
Every day, Mom asked, "How soon do I get to go home?" She cried, begged and got mad, mostly at me. She told me it was time for her to die. I told her I would miss her.
Through some inner strength, I always managed to make her laugh and think of something fun that had happened in the past. I promised her that we would work together to make life good again. She wanted to believe me. As long as she still felt I needed her, she had a reason to live.
We took life moment by moment and hugged often.
Next week: Lack of communication complicates life in the nursing home.
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Last Updated 4/1/03