Cora and Jeanette

To: Nursing Home Intake Complaints
Fr: Anne C Woodlen
Dt: August 31, 2013
Re: Cora, Rm. 422
Iroquois Nursing Home
Jamesville, NY

“Mo-ther . . . Mo-ther . . . Mo-ther, please help me . . . I made a mess in my pants . . . Mo-ther, please help me . . . nurse . . . nurse . . . nurse . . . I need a bedpan . . . please, bring me a bedpan . . . I need to be cleaned up . . . Father . . . Father . . . Father . . . please come and get me. Take me home. Father, where are you? Why don’t you come? Howard, put the girls to bed . . . Howard, where are you? Howard, why don’t you come for me? It’s time for breakfast . . . why doesn’t anybody come for me? Mo-ther . . . Mo-ther . . . Mo-ther, please help me . . .”

Imagine this tragic human litany being repeated non-stop for twenty minutes every day. You cannot believe how long twenty minutes can be. Jeanette, the Iroquois nursing supervisor, dismisses this by telling me “You need to understand the disease process.”

Here’s what I understand: My roommate, Cora, is 92 years old and suffering from dementia. She has no idea how to use a call bell. Jeanette came in, flounced around, and told me that Cora has a special kind of call bell designed for use with—I dunno—arthritis, probably. It’s a tented kind of thing that apparently can be rubbed or stroked instead of having to grab it and squeeze. However, what Jeanette has is an absolute unwillingness to acknowledge that Cora is cognitively unable to use the bell.

I have been her roommate for a month. In that time, Cora only has used the call bell spontaneously once, which left me absolutely amazed. And once she was able to follow directions as I talked her through it, which left me enormously proud. Jeanette, who, by the way, only works weekends, has absolutely no knowledge that Cora cannot use her call bell—and she willfully refuses to learn it.

Several times a day, I push my call bell to get help for Cora.

So this afternoon, there was Cora, calling, calling, and calling—begging, begging and begging—for help. I pushed my call bell and nobody came. At which time I also discovered that my catheter bag was leaking. You know what the Iroquois does with my catheter bag?

They leave it lying on the floor.

In hospitals, they buy beds that have places on the side-rail to hang the catheter bag. At the Iroquois, they have some beds with hangie places. Based on what I know of the Iroquois, I would bet that they have patients who do not have catheters sleeping in catheter-useful beds and the Iroquois staff is just too rigid—or lazy—or a bunch of dorkheads—to switch out the beds.

So what do I get? Sometimes they wrap my catheter bag in a pillowcase. Sometimes they lay it on the floor on top of a bed-pad. Sometimes they just lay my catheter bag bare-naked on the floor. Oh, gosh, that’s lots of fun. Makes me feel all clean and tidy and cared for.

So this morning when Melia took me home, I brought my catheter bucket back. It’s a (5 gallon?) white plastic bucket that Wegman’s bought filled with icing for their bakery. It’s tidy and clean and sits by the bed and takes care of the catheter bag problem. So this afternoon, while Cora is wailing away and I’m waiting for someone to answer the bell, I discover three inches of pee sloshing around in the bucket.

One of the last two people to drain the bag either broke it or didn’t close it properly. A quarter of the people who—according to Nursing Supervisor Sue Greer, who lied under oath—“were trained specifically by the Iroquois” to meet their standards don’t know how to drain a catheter bag.

Call bells are supposed to be answered in ten minutes. Mine wasn’t answered for twenty. Cora wailing, pee sloshing, we waited. And the Iroquois calls this “comfort care.”

So I went ballistic and did some yelling and it got passed up to weekend Nursing Supervisor Jeanette, who came to see what my problem was. I told her about Cora’s problem: can’t use the call bell, can’t be heard, cries out endlessly, and needs to be moved to a single room by the nursing station where she will be heard and comforted. The mostly-Bhutanese staff are kind people and would take a minute to care for Cora.

To which Jeanette replies, “You don’t make the room assignments.”

No shit, Sherlock.

But I damn well will make a recommendation.

Then I get it; I finally get it. The Iroquois does not consider Cora a person. While Jeanette is lecturing me on “the disease process,” I am understanding that the Iroquois only cares about bodies. There is nothing more they can do for Cora’s body so they have put her out here by the back door, as far away from the nursing station as she can be, so she won’t bother them.

The Iroquois Nursing Home has absolutely no intention of caring for Cora, the person. Only Cora, the body. Cora will get no reassurance that she is not alone, that there are people who hear her, that she doesn’t need to be afraid.

At this point I start talking about how unendurable it is to me to be left alone with a woman who is suffering.

And Jeanette flounces out to go write a progress note about how I am demanding, complaining, uncooperative . . .

In the name of God and my roommate Cora, you bet your ass I am. God has been known to smile on me for being a pain in the ass when arrogant institutional staff aren’t treating his people right. When God looks down on Cora and Jeanette, whose side do you think he’s on?

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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