A Day in the Life . . .


Of a nursing home resident.  The Iroquois Nursing Home has 160 beds, 32 single rooms and 64 doubles, 40 beds to each of the four floors.  I have the single room nearest the nurses’ station on the second floor.  Despite the central air conditioning, I have the window open.  This is financially wrong but you know what?  The Iroquois thinks I should enjoy myself.  Wow, is that a concept?

So I sleep with the window open—only ten inches—and wake to feel the breeze and hear the birds.  This morning I woke up around 5:30 a.m. and pressed the call bell.  It was too long before anyone came.  The person who arrived said she was the nurse—a licensed practical nurse—and working alone with two aides who both were new and she didn’t know where they were.  She was moving fast.

She emptied my catheter bag and helped me to the bathroom, where I had a bloody bowel movement.  I am on palliative care; there is nothing that can or should be done—probably—about the bleeding, but it is a primal reaction to be upset when you are bleeding from a body orifice, so I tell the nurse, then go back to bed.

I feel absolutely awful in ways I can’t describe.  Physically and emotionally, I feel terrible.  I lay here in the pre-dawn light and wonder what I want—to live?  To die?  I really don’t know or care.  I don’t want to feel terrible but there’s nothing specific about which to complain, so I just lay here.

After while I pull over the tray table with the laptop on it and get myself into the Iroquois Internet system as a guest.  I check both my blogs, three email accounts, the news and weather—90 today, in the 80’s for the next week—and Facebook.  During this hour and a half, Tom comes in with my juice and Danish, which he has heated in the microwave.

Tom used to work in manufacturing, but the jobs kept disappearing.  Then he got married and needed steady work so he came here.  He’s been here seventeen years and starts at 6:00 a.m. to take residents down the hall for showers.  My first shower with Tom had an unexpected thrill.  He is a complete professional—I am not.

I’m supposed to get coffee at night for my early rising but they haven’t figured out how to do this yet.  No coffee is brewed for patients/residents (I’m still not sure what we are) until later.  Dietary is supposed to bring juice, coffee and pastry the night before for 6:00 a.m.  Two nights ago, they brought an empty coffee mug with a plastic cover and my institutional sticker on it.  We were speechless.  Last night the mug had a packet of instant coffee in it, but this morning neither the mug nor the coffee were anywhere in sight.

I don’t much care.  I care considerably less about such things than I used to.  Why?  Is it the hyperglycemia?  The medication?  The nature of a nursing home?  It’s just kind of an easy slide down.  Do you remember Dr. Sidney Freedman, the psychiatrist in *M*A*S*H*?  What did he say—“Pull down your pants and slide on the ice?”  I often think of that.

Around 7:00 a.m., Deb comes in.  The first day I found Deb to be pushy and didn’t like her.  Now, I see her in the hall and smile.  We are learning each other.  She knows I need water, a little ice; I know she drives a truck but didn’t get her license until three years ago.  By 7:30 a.m. I am groggy with fatigue—my blood sugar level runs around 400 and that causes a lot of sleepiness—so I settle back to sleep.  Breakfast in the dining room is at 8:00 a.m.  If you opt out of that then you will get breakfast on a tray in your room around 9:00 a.m.  Deb decides not to wake me for the 8:00 a.m. breakfast, for which I am grateful.

I have just awakened around—I don’t know what time—when Deb and another woman carrying a breakfast tray appear in the doorway.  Deb tells the other woman to return the tray to the cart in the hall and she will get it later, then Deb helps me wake up—I only feel slightly less awful.  I tell Deb about the high blood sugar and kidney failure.  They tell the aides nothing; she has very little understanding of why I am here.

She gets me up and settled, then brings in my tray.  The food is pretty awful.  Oatmeal, powdered scrambled eggs and small cold toast every morning, with a banana.  Sometimes shredded wheat cereal, tough French toast or a hard-boiled egg. Local strawberries are in and I would die for a cup of them.

At home, at the end, one of the things that worried me most was what to eat:  I didn’t know what to tell the aides to prepare for me.  Additionally, how to make the grocery list, or make sure the aides put the food away properly, or arrange to have enough cash on hand to pay for the groceries.

What I wanted—deeply and desperately—was to have someone simply put a try in front of me.  Now they do, and I eat what is on it.  The food is pretty awful but I really don’t care.  Other people have made the decisions and prepared the food.

But I still miss the local strawberries.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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