As Frankie returns to the waiting area here at Happy Valley, I observe that there is a curl to his salt-and-pepper gray hair so, to lighten a tense moment, I ask Rose of Sharing where he got such lovely hair. To my mortal embarrassment, Frankie proceeds to tell me where he bought it. Then he reports that “the nurse” says Rose is in the “L-program” and therefore can’t go to Daybreak. L-program, my ass. Rose has Medicaid and is in assisted living, not skilled nursing: Rose is going to some day program, somewhere. Maybe not Daybreak, but the program I came from, which has patients with multiple sclerosis as well as a lot of cardiac patients, might be a possibility.
I have not been able to figure out why Frankie is so adamant that his mother cannot go to Daybreak but now the pattern is beginning to emerge, so I take Frankie outside and have a listen with him.
He has lived with his mother all his life. After his parents sold the farm, they moved to a senior trailer park in Florida. His father died ten years ago. When Frankie went to Florida to visit his mother four years ago, she looked worse than she ever had in her life. The freezer and refrigerator were full but she wasn’t eating. She was sitting by the pool with her friends, smoking two packs a day and drinking a lot. He brought her home, cooked for her, and got her to stop drinking.
His sister, who is no help at all, proposed that she build a mother-in-law apartment on the back of her house. Frankie said, “What good’s that going to do? You and your husband are away from seven in the morning till ten at night. She’d be worse off there than she is now.”
Frankie and Rose had a joint bank account; Frankie worked every day to fill it. When his health started to break down, he cut back to only working five days a week. The money from the farm was going to pay for doctors, nurses, aides. The lawyers gave them advice, but it was no good. His mother told him to take $8000 and put it in a separate account. Frankie said it wouldn’t do any good; Medicaid would get it in the end. They take everything. They take all your money. There’s nothing left.
He knows his mother wants to go to Daybreak, but there’s no money. It costs $97 a day, and there’s just no money. They keep telling him his mother can’t go but he doesn’t know why. His sister should be there; she’s the one who understands this stuff, but she doesn’t come.
Frankie dreads what will happen when he turns sixty-five.
I tell Frankie that he’s a good son; that he’s practically worked himself to death to take care of his mother; that nobody should have to go up against the system alone; that it’s not his fault that he doesn’t understand Natalie; the system is too complex, you can’t work it alone. I tell him that I understand that he has no money; that elder care in our society is just awful, and it’s not his fault; that he’s done a wonderful thing in getting his mother here, where she’s safe and healthy. I tell him I know how much his mother means to him, and how great he’s been, and how tough the situation is.
I tell him I will talk to Natalie tomorrow and see if I can help.