Cora Coughs


nursing home nhintake@health.state.ny.us

It is 2:00 a.m. and Cora has been coughing incessantly for hours. She is in the very last room in the back of Iroquois Nursing Home and the staff cannot hear her. She has dementia and cannot use the call bell.

At first I thought it was dry throat—there is one cup of water that has been sitting in her room for about two weeks—but now it sounds very congested. The staff made very little effort to get Cora to drink. They asked her if she was thirsty and when she said no then they did not try to get her to take a sip. At my insistence, someone did get Cora apple juice instead of water.

I repeatedly push my call bell but fall back asleep. The staff come in on sneaky feet, turn off my call bell, and leave without asking me what I want and without speaking to Cora. I dream that I am locked on a psychiatric unit with three doctors who all are leaving and I am demanding that they either medicate me or Cora. They will not do either.

It is now 2:12 a.m. Cora has just asked for “a sip of water, something sour . . . like I have at breakfast.” She wants cranberry juice. There is no one here to hear her request and she can’t use the call bell. I have pushed my call bell. The aide comes, Cora and I both tell her, and she leaves to get it. She comes back with juice and another aide and they get Cora to drink some.

Shannon, the night supervisor, came in and said they were getting cough medicine for Cora. She said that at 1:50; it is now 2:15. Do you expect me to believe that they don’t keep cough medicine as a standard supply on the med cart? Fifty cents says they have to get an order but won’t call the doctor.

They’ve started a new initiative today: threatening Cora. An aide brought her into the room for a nap and told her that she had to keep her voice down and not bother me—if Cora disturbed me then she would have to stay in the lounge and would not be allowed to take a nap. Instead of responding to Cora’s cries, they are making her silence herself. It’s not bad enough that they won’t listen to her; now they want me not to hear Cora. Ignore the message; silence the messenger.

I was awakened from a nap at 5:00 p.m. by Cora’s desperate, piteous cries for a bedpan. I pushed my call bell and listened to her continuous woeful cries, evermore frantic, for fifteen minutes before the aide came and got her a bedpan. I have no idea how long Cora had been asking before I woke up.

It is now 2:35 a.m. Forty-five minutes have elapsed since Nursing Supervisor Shannon said Cora would be getting cough medicine. I guess Shannon lied, just like the other nursing supervisor, Susan Greer. Cora is now asking for Vicks VapoRub to put on her throat.

I asked the aide to tell the nurse, Pam, that I wanted to talk to her. Pam has not come. The aide says she delivered the message but Pam didn’t respond.

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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3 Responses to Cora Coughs

  1. John Frantz says:

    Unbelievable. Threatening sleep deprivation?

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