Thursday, March 12, 2009

Nursing Home Blues

So Dad went to the nursing home today. In the afternoon, he was completely exhausted and out of it, but I was really impressed by the place. There were lots of people bustling around -- residents, staff, and visitors, including kids -- and we got prompt and attentive service, and I met Dad's doctor, who hasn't visited him yet but who's board-certified in geriatrics, hospice and nursing-home administration, and promised to evaluate Dad for hospice. The doc's also very personable, which is a plus for anyone, but especially for Dad, who thrives on social contact. Dad's roommate was nice, too.

I zipped home to pick up Gary, and we delivered some stuff from Dad's apartment to the nursing home. Dad was a little more awake, but very confused. He asked plaintively if he was going home with us, and I had to tell him that he couldn't. He asked if I'd come back in the evening, and I told him I'd be back around seven, after dinner. His left arm has become very swollen since yesterday, which alarmed me.

About half an hour after we'd gotten back home, my phone rang. It was Dad. "I'm scared. I just woke up, and I'm scared!" I promised him I'd be there at 7:00. Under the circumstances, I was amazed that he'd a) remembered my number and b) figured out how to work his new phone, which has smaller buttons than he's used to and also requires the caller to dial "9" to get an outside line.

I went over after dinner with a teddy bear for comfort and some family photos for familiarity (not that he can really see them, but I thought he might recognize the shapes). After dark, the nursing home had been transformed into an eerie shell. The halls were empty of both staff and visitors; residents in wheelchairs had congregated, gaping and muttering, around the nurse's station, which was manned by a lone LPN. The wheelchairs and their occupants were everywhichway, as if they'd all rolled downhill down the halls and fetched up in that one spot, and as I passed, the residents muttered more loudly and reached out to me with shaking, skeletal hands. Meanwhile, someone was screaming down the hall. It was like a scene from a zombie movie. (I'm not trying to be unkind here -- Dad's as zombieish as anybody, at his worst -- but I was really expecting George Romero to pop up at any second and yell, "Cut!")

I got to Dad's room. He was in the bathroom. I turned on his radio so he could have some nice soothing classical music, and his roommate asked me to turn it off. Dad's aide came to help him back to bed, and there ensued a string of technical difficulties. She'd rolled his entire O2 concentrator -- one of the big ones -- to the bathroom so he could breathe, but she had to unplug it to get it back to his bed, so he was announcing in tones of increasing panic that he needed air while she pushed the wheelchair and I pulled the concentrator back to his corner and plugged it in. Then the tubing wasn't long enough for him to transfer back into bed comfortably. The aide went to get longer tubing, but wound up disconnecting the tubing and not having the right parts to put it back together. Luckily, Gary and I had put Dad's portable concentrator in his closet (I didn't want it out in the open), so I put him on that until she could find the right connectors, which she eventually did. While she was gone, Dad looked at me and hissed, "What a godawful place!" He was much more cogent than he'd been during the day; I wish it had been the other way around.

We got him into PJs and back into bed. He wanted his meds, which he usually takes between 8 and 9. I went looking for his nurse, and couldn't find anybody. I went back to the room and sat with him a while, and then I heard the nurse's voice and shot out into the hallway to waylay her. But she was already in with another resident, so I glumly told Dad we'd have to wait.

While we waited, I listened to her fielding crises in the hall. She was trying to mix an IV for someone; her aide had vanished; the guy across the hall was screaming "Help!" while she called out, "Just a minute, I'm coming, I'm fixing medicine, I'll be right there!"

Finally she arrived with Dad's meds, and was very kind and patient while he took them. I commented that they seemed to be understaffed tonight, and she told us wearily that she was working a fourteen-hour shift, because another nurse hadn't shown up and they'd asked her to cover, and then the aide had vanished. She was amazingly calm about all this and apologized for the delay in Dad's meds, which evidently he'd been supposed to get at five (it was now nine). When I told her that he was in fact getting them on his usual schedule, she seemed cheered.

Oy. Well, I hope things go better tomorrow. Some of this was just new-place snafus -- we now have an oxygen tube that will stretch to China, if necessary -- and I certainly hope the understaffing isn't chronic (although it may well be, given the nursing shortage). Tomorrow Dad will be evaluated for rehab and will also be seen by the doctor. I'm going to wait to see how all that goes before I pass judgment.

Before I left, Dad told me he was glad I'd come over again. I was glad, too.


  1. Praying with you that things are better the rest of the nights. Does the place have a chaplain on staff or even to volunteer?


  2. Anonymous10:40 AM

    Yeah, nursing homes can definitely be downers.

    My Dad's been in a VA home on the dementia unit for over two years now, so I've gotten used to the depression of the place. Every time I visit I take Dad off his ward and walk him around, just to get him some fresh air and some new sights. It's hard, though, seeing him there. Some days are easier than others.

    This VA home is also understaffed. Thankfully, I have siblings and my mother nearby, so Dad usually gets at least one of us visiting every day, and we're able to stay on top of things. I'm sorry you don't have more support, or someone to spell you.

    Jeff P.

  3. Let's pray the understaffing issue is resolved quickly. That poor girl can only be in one place at a time. My mom had some of the same problems, but on the whole, her care was excellent. I know you are exhausted also, and second-guessing your decisions. Sometimes the pressure to do the right thing becomes more than you can handle. I join you in prayer for your dad, physically, spiritually and emotionally.

  4. Oy, what a day. And night. Prayers continuing.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.