You know the kind of day where you’ve set the alarm, or at least think you have but haven’t, and then don’t get up when you’re supposed to? That was today. Last night I just crashed. This morning I awoke to the phone call from the contractor, laughing because I had overslept. I managed to drag myself out of bed, dressed, and opened the door. Immediately we began to clear the boxes and other things out of the living room. FInally, when he began ripping out carpet, I left. A day out while the carpet exchange happened seemed like a good idea.
Taking my purse and laptop bag, I headed out, stopping at the post office before heading in to Crowley. Faxing some papers from the parish library, I headed for breakfast at McDonald’s. I sat at a booth, reading the news online, and reading a book kept me busy for a couple of hours.
Before heading to Southwind, I got some shrimp and rice dressing for Dad’s lunch, hoping this would tempt him. Once in his room, I sat for a while and we talked. I managed to find out what was going on with his medicines and checked up on the overlay mattress that I’d requested. Pain was once more the order of the day, though, and Dad managed only a few bites between longer periods lying down. Most of his time is spent now lying down in bed since his arthritis is most noticeable when he’s sitting up in a chair. He lay there with his eyes closed; I sat and watched him between games of Words With Friends and chapters in a book.
Today I needed to be there for a notary public to drop by and notarize some papers for Dad. After a few hours there, I found myself pondering just how the residents stand being there sometimes.
Maybe it’s the nature of nursing homes, but lately what I’ve noticed as I walk in are the people just sitting and staring. To be sure, some aren’t; some are active, playing bingo or visiting with each other. It’s the ones who are solitary, though, that catch my eye. Day after day, the just lie in reclining chairs, eyes unfocused, mouths open. Sometimes there are family members visit, but I don’t always see this. After all, during the week I don’t manage to spend a lot of time there while the house in being renovated, and Kay is there most weekends. I’m there for dinner each weeknight, and I pop in at other times.
Today, though, I was there for several hours in the middle of the day. A busy, typical day, too. Nurses give medicines and deal with residents’ health issues. Aides help with other tasks. Dietary workers bring trays to rooms for residents who don’t go to the dining hall.
At no time was it really quiet. Dad’s roommate listens to his radio, not with the wireless earphones provided for him, but with the music blaring. Dad lies there with his eyes closed, probably trying to tune the music out. Occasionally he opens his eyes and talks, but not always.
The constant noises of staff working formed one layer of today’s soundtrack. The radio in the room was another.
The most disturbing layer, though, came from a resident down the hall — a woman who wails and screams for an hour. At no time does she relent. I’ve seen her at other times, quieter, but rolling herself around the halls and wandering into other people’s rooms. I’ve heard her a bit agitated at times, but nothing like today. This is markedly different. And much more concerning.
Does this happen every day? What sets her off? And why doesn’t anyone go down to deal with her? Not once in that hour did I see any staff head to her room.
I know that nursing homes, even the good ones like Southwind, are often understaffed, especially on weekends. Nights are also often understaffed. Day shifts, though, are supposed to be the most fully staffed. And probably the busiest, too, since all sorts of activities go on.
But today I’m just haunted by the images of those silent women and men, sitting alone though close to each other, wondering just what they hear. Are they aware of everyone looking at them? Do they hear the noises I hear? Are they taking anything in at all? In their isolation, they sit. Hour after hour. I don’t always see attendants with them, and seldom see anyone spending time with them or touching their arms or shoulders.
And by the sounds emanating from the room down Dad’s hall, wails and cries that rise and fall for long periods of time.
I was able to leave the sounds and images behind when I left to run more errands. i only had to hear the cries for an hour.
When I called Dad later, halfway thinking I’d take a nap and maybe just stay home, I asked him what he was doing. “Just lying here,” he told me. “Just lying there? Doing what?” I asked.
“Waiting for my daughter.”
i’d be there in a bit, I told him. No skipping. My desire for sleep was not important. Dad’s loneliness was.
I got up. I got in the car. I got a diet Coke and went to Southwind. I walked in, sat down, and he held his hand out to me.
I got up, leaned over and kissed him, and held his hand.
For a long time, I just sat there, letting him have the comfort I could offer him. My hands. My love. My time.
I hope other residents get the same time with their family members. No one should be without companionship, without the simple gift of time.
Tomorrow, I’ll go back. And the next day. And the next.
A day out can be for r&r. It can be to run errands. It can be instructive, too, if we pay attention.