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How much can a heart break until it can’t break anymore? How much sorrow can a person endure until they are numb? Apparently, I haven’t reached that place yet, as I am still crying. I have been strong beyond my ability. (Mainly because it wasn’t my ability, but the Lord’s, that has brought me this far.) Can I trust Him to carry me further still?

There have been no mountaintop experiences in my life for a long time-just valleys that seem to never end. They say that it’s in the valleys that you develop character. (Whoever they are.) I wonder how much pain they have survived, to know such a thing, though I do believe it’s true.  I must be full of character by now, and I’m so ready to cry “uncle.” (It’s an expression for saying “I give up–enough’s enough.”)

But how much is enough? How hot does the fire get, before you run screaming out of it (or worse, are consumed by it?) How lonely do you have to feel, before someone hugs you tightly and says, “It will be okay.”  (Even if you know it won’t.) How invisible (in your pain) do you have to become, before you completely disappear?

Tonight there is another break in my heart, or perhaps it has shattered like broken glass, in a million pieces. (But I suspect there is still more to break.)

I went to the nursing home this evening, and I found my mom sitting on her bed, eating her dinner. She looked very exhausted and tired. There was a strong odor of urine in the room, though I didn’t mention it.

I had tried to call her all day the day before, but had not been able to reach her. I was not able to visit yesterday, as I was not feeling well.  And I had tried all day today as well. (I go at least every other day. Sometimes every day, when I am able.) After calling and calling, I realized that she could no longer figure out how to answer the phone. My brother had left a cell phone for her, and had painted green where the “answer” button was, and red where the “hang up” button was, but the paint or marker had worn off.  So now, she would fumble with the buttons, completely frustrated, trying to answer, with no success. And I would begin to worry when I couldn’t reach her.

This nursing home does not have a phone by the bed, so if you want to reach the outside world, or talk to your loved one, you have to have a cell phone. Cell phones are extremely difficult for the elderly, (and even sometimes for the not so elderly.)

(I have to back up a little to tell the story.) My mom had a fabulous roommate until Saturday. Sophie went home on Saturday morning. It was a very sad time for her and my mom, as they had grown to love each other. They were allies against the nursing home world, and together they could overcome almost every obstacle or trauma. Truly it was a lovely friendship–one made in heaven. On the day she left, my mom requested that Sophie play her German music one more time. My mom had become very fond of it.

Sophie always provided atmosphere in the room. On certain nights, you would think you were in a 5-Star Hotel. Sophie even had a fish, swimming in a serene aquarium, and at night before bedtime, she would dim the lights and play beautiful classical music, or her German songs. (She was from Germany, and had a lovely accent.) It was a charming atmosphere for a nursing home room, while Sophie was there.

Just outside the window, Sophie’s daughters would fill the feeders with bird seed, and the birds would quickly eat all of it in a couple of days. It kept my mom and Sophie entertained, watching the birds that flew in daily.

On the same day that Sophie left, Addie arrived. Addie is a large, very confused, and aggressive woman. It was a total culture shock after sweet, precious soft-spoken Sophie. Addie immediately wanted the blinds closed. She could not figure out why she was there, and she cursed under her breath every moment. When I would try to visit my mom, I would often pull the curtain, so that we could talk in peace, but Addie would pull it back abruptly, without warning. She ordered me around, and I did numerous tasks for her, and she kept asking where the remote for the TV was. Sadly, I had to tell her, that they had said that the maintenance man would bring one–but he never did. Not in weeks. (This has really been hard on my mom, who has a broken hip, and can’t get out of bed to change the channel.) Since her eyesight has grown worse, it doesn’t leave anything for her to do, but lie in bed. She tries to read the paper, or a magazine now and then, but she can’t see well enough anymore, to read for very long.

Addie must have asked 20 times in 30 minutes, about the remote control. Then she wanted to know a million other things…over, and over, and over again. I was nearly crazy, so I know my mom was. She has to live with this 24/7. Even in the night, Addie will curse and say, “I can’t wait to get out of this hell hole. Or, “Oh, God.” (ETC.)

My mom had broken her right foot and her left leg, and had received therapy, and was about to go home, when she fell one night, on her way to the bathroom, and broke her hip. Now, after a painful surgery, she is once again on another regimen of physical therapy, and this time it is very painful, and even more difficult. In order to get through it, she has to have her rest.

Day after day, we all answered Addie’s questions, even though we grew increasingly more frustrated.  Finally last Sunday, we decided to complain. My favorite nurse (a male) was filling in on my mom’s hall on Sunday afternoon. He usually works on the other hall. When I arrived, much to my surprise, my mom was in her wheelchair, putting on lipstick (something she has not done in weeks), preparing to go to complain with us. (I thought this was very brave.)

I told the nurse very politely, that the lady was driving my mom crazy, and that I felt she wasn’t getting any rest. He said that he would submit a complaint, and for me to check back. On Wednesday, I went back and asked him if he’d heard anything, and he said that they would never tell him anything, bu that they would contact us. I told him that I had not heard a word.

The CNA, who often works with my mom, agreed that Addie was driving everyone crazy, and said that my mom had finally gotten her told a few times. (I guess in her frustration, she couldn’t take anymore.) The male nurse said that he and the CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) would file another complaint. He then told me to check with a nurse (I’ll leave out her name to protect the innocent) who would be working on Friday from 2 p.m. through the entire night. He indicated that if I complained again to her, that should take care of it.

So that brings us back to this evening (Friday.) As I said, I walked in and my mom was sitting on the side of the bed, finishing her dinner. She told me that Addie had put on her (my mom’s) clothes, had wet them, and put them in a bag in her wheelchair. (So that explained the horrible smell when I walked in.) My nose led me to the bag.

By this time, I’d had it! I was glad that we had come to complain again. This was just too much.  (Addie was in the dining hall at this time.) When the nurse came in, we explained what had transpired all through the week, as well as what I had just found.  

She said, “You mean that Addie is putting on your mom’s clothes, and then wetting them?” I answered, “That’s what she said, and you can smell the urine.” She agreed, and offered to wash the clothes, as I cleaned my mom’s wheelchair, and Rob gathered up the rest of her clothes to take home and wash. (But none of us could understand how Addie could possibly fit in my mom’s clothes.)

The nurse left the room, and I put away some gowns and clothes that I had brought for my mom. I finished cleaning her wheelchair with antibacterial wipes, and also cleaned her bedside tray. About this time, the nurse returned and asked to see me outside.

She and the CNA were waiting by the entrance, and the CNA proceeded to tell me that my mom had wet the clothes. (This took a moment to process.) “I’m so sorry”, I apologized. “I believed what my mom told me, as she is not one to lie, and she seemed so sure about what had happened.”

We still agreed, however, that regardless of who wet the clothes, Addie was still a problem, and the nurse agreed to file another complaint.

The CNA told me that my mom was getting worse mentally. She said, “She’s in and out.” I told her and the nurse, that my mom had been a brilliant woman all her life, and had lived completely independently until now. I assured them that while she did have a little confusion and some minor temporary memory problems now and then, that she had never experienced the kind of confusion she was now experiencing, after the surgery. I also told them that for the earlier part of this week, she seemed completely clear to me, except for one or two remarks that made no sense.

They said that they would be having her evaluated by the psychiatrist on Wednesday. I asked if I would be told what the evaluation was, and the nurse said that I should call the unit nurse early Wednesday morning, (early being before 7:00 a.m. when the psychiatrist would come) and tell her I would like to speak with the doctor. (More runaround probably. I won’t hold my breath, that I will actually learn anything, but we’ll see.)

Rob and I had been on our way to dinner, on this Friday evening, but things had gotten so complicated that we weren’t able to go. When I got back into my mom’s room, she asked if she could get in her wheelchair, so that we could go for a little walk. (I could not say no–dinner or no dinner for us. I just could not leave her right now.) So I said that would be fine, and called for the CNA to transfer her to the wheelchair, as she can’t stand right now, and it is a tedious process of moving her legs and body in a certain way, to get into the chair.

I went out into the hallway to wait. I found a corner nook, sat down with Rob, and began to cry. It was just too much. I was still trying to process what I had just been told, and the sadness of it all.  The tears were streaming down my face so much, that I had to go to a nearby restroom and get some tissue.

In a few minutes, my mom was wheeled out into the hall, and I tried to hide my tears, though she noticed I was sniffling, and asked if I had a cold.  (I do–a 3 week cold, so that was no lie.)

I apologized to Rob about dinner, and asked if he wanted to go eat alone, or do some errands. He said he would call his mom, while we walked. (His mom is in Assisted Living in Central Florida.)

So Betty and I escaped (at least for a moment.) I took her through the double doors that led to the atrium, where the privileged lived. It was a large open area in the Senior Living residence area. We had visited it before, to see how the “other half” lived. What a contrast between the nursing home, that was tucked away in the back of the building, and the affluence of those who lived in the retirement apartments.

We had a very good time. I told her that we were going to run away. We laughed about that, and wished we could. An elderly woman waved to us from her window that overlooked the atrium, and we waved back. We looked at the bowling area, the pool table, the puzzle area (where 3 dimensional castles had been built, as well as what appeared to be the London Bridge.) We wheeled right up to the fancy dining hall, and then right into it. The lights were dimmed for the evening, and there was only one worker in the back, who seemed to ignore us.

“Wouldn’t you like to eat in a place like this every night?”, my mom asked. (It was a far cry from the nursing home residents’ dining area.)

Then we found the pool. I had always smelled chlorine in the atrium, but never saw a pool. Finally, I reasoned that perhaps they didn’t have one, since the whole place was senior citizens, and maybe it would not be safe. But we found it, just off the dining hall. It was a very small rectangular shaped pool for swimming laps, or doing aquacize.

The sun was still up, so I wheeled my mom outside into the fresh air–something she has not experienced much of since mid June. We walked completely around the building, a very nice long distance, and then back into the front entrance of the apartments. Sadly, we made our way back to her room, but we were happy with the nice walk we’d had, and I made a mental note that I could take her to the atrium sometimes, and we could have our snack there. (I don’t think the people at the retirement apartments would care, and it would be a nice change of scene.)

Once back in the room, she wanted a soda and some crackers, so we sat together at the foot of her bed, and ate peanut butter and cheese crackers. I bring lots of snacks for her, as she has lost 30 pounds since coming to the nursing home (and she is always giving them away to her favorite helpers.) Hey, it doesn’t hurt to bribe the best ones.

So finally, at 8:45 p.m. we said good night, and I kissed her goodbye.

Rob and I decided to go ahead and eat out, and enjoyed a nice dinner (at 9:00 p.m.) and then on the way home, my cell phone rang. (I believe she said it was the nursing home Director Of Nursing.) She was very brash, harsh, and overbearing. She said, “My nurse told me you were upset.” I explained to her that I was no longer upset, but that we did have a problem with my mom’s roommate. She told me that there were only 2 “female beds” available, and they expected a lady to return from the hospital to one, and that the other one was in a room with a lady that sometimes “cried out.” I tried to explain to her that we didn’t want to move my mom, as she had the best room in the nursing home, with a view of the golf course, and lots of bird feeders outside her window. (She said that she could not move the other lady without her family’s permission. And that she (Addie) had previously been in the room with the lady that called out, and her (Addie’s) family had asked for her to be moved.)

At a complete loss, I asked her to please not move my mom to either of those rooms, as she was happy with her bed by the window, (it was just that the other lady was driving her crazy.) This woman was not compassionate or kind. She would not let me say a word, and I finally gave up in total exasperation, (deciding that maybe the devil we knew, was better than the one we didn’t know.)

I asked if Addie was due to go home anytime soon, and she said perhaps in a week. So that was that. I slammed my cell phone shut. So this was the culmination of all those complaints, trying to follow nursing home protocol. I was in the van, and the tears began to fall again. Tonight I was finding the world just too cruel, and even though I have been extemely strong through all this, there are those days when it’s just too hard. And so I cry, and for a moment, I let myself experience the horrible reality that has become my life. (And most importantly, my mom’s life.) And then I dry my tears, bandage my breaking heart, and go on, afraid to even think about more than the next few hours…

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3 Comments

  1. lONNIE, I AM SO SORRY FOR ALL YOUR PAIN. OMG I FEEL IT!!!!!!!!!!! THINK OF YOU CONSTANTLY, WONDER HOW YOU KEEP GOING. WE JUST GOT HOME TONIGHT FROM TAKINF AUSTY HALFWAY BACK. WE DROVE TO TENN THEY DROVE FROM FLA. BOUT 9 HRS A PC & I AM NOT A TRAVERLER. SO SO QUIT HERE NOW . MISS THAT BOY SO MUCH. KNEW I WOOULD BUT THE PAIN SOMETIMES JUST SEEMS UNBEARABLE, AS DOES YOURS. LOVE THE SONG FOR TONIGHT.
    LOVE, HUGS STRENGTH,
    YOUR FRIEND FOREVER SANDY

  2. LONNIE, I AM SO SO SORRY FOR ALL THE PAIN YOU ARE ENDURING. OMG I THINK ABOUT YOU EVERY SECOND EVERDAY. WE JUST DROVE HALF WAY TOOK AUSTY HOME !!!!!!!!! WE DROVE 8 HRS THEY DROVE 8, I AM NOT A TRAVERELERS. SO SO SO QUITE HER KNEW IT WOULD BE, BUT SOMETIMES AS YOU, THE PAIN SEEMS UNBEARABLE!!!!! PLEASE WE NEED TO TRY TO STAY STRONG .
    LOVE , HUGS PRAYERS , & STRENGHT YOUR FRIEND FOEREVER , SANDY

  3. Don’t let the Director of Nursing bully you, Sparkle.
    I know that you feel overwhelmed, but the facility has been informed that the room mate is abusive…
    It is taking a toll on your mother’s mental health. This borders on elder abuse…their occupancy isn’t your problem…insist that Addie be moved.

    I know people hate doing this kind of thing, but if Addie is emotionally effecting your mom, get her out…

    Nothing is worse than having someone like that around them 24/7.

    I know that you are tired and I know how hard this is because my father was in a nursing home when he passed away, but I told the Director of Nursing that I would be coming in at all hours of the day and night and that I would be one of those “nightmare” family members that knows and insists on good nursing care.

    I did go in at all hours and when I found things wrong, I immediately went to the top of the “food chain”…I know this is against your gentle nature but in the world of nursing homes, the hollering, complaining wheel gets the grease.

    I am praying for you and your fortitude. This is hard, no doubt, but it can get harder…it is a fight and it must be won or you will loose your mother to her mental confusion when she is able to leave that place…

    Hold on, Lonnie, hold on and fight.


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