First Anniversary (Part II)

When I was returned to the Iroquois Nursing Home I was put on the palliative care floor. In fact, they moved another woman out in order to put me in the last room at the back of the unit where nobody ever went by chance. My roommate was Cora, a 92-year-old woman with dementia, bedsores, and no ability to use the call bell. She cried out for help endlessly. We were the furthest from the nursing station and nobody could hear her. She was left to suffer. Other people also cried out from bedsores.

Absent my power wheelchair, I was told the aides could take me anywhere I wanted to go in a manual wheelchair. In fact, when I asked there never was anybody who had any time. I was held captive in bed.

The Iroquois only had white patients. The kitchen was staffed entirely by black people. Most of the rest of the direct-care providers were from Bhutan. The Iroquois proudly declared that they trained the Bhutanese to their own standards. Those with the most English worked on the Rehab Unit, where patient’s family and friends frequently visited. Those with essentially no English worked on Palliative Care. Employees could not understand directions such as “Please close the window” or “The yellow pants.” There were significant indicators that the Iroquois was violating Labor Department regulations with these naive Bhutanese employees.

I was confined to bed in a space about 9’x12’; my roommate had more space because the bathroom was on my side of the curtain. I spent most of my time with a demented woman; the aides could not carry on a conversation. If I went to the dining room, I sat at table with women who were uncommunicative, hard of hearing, or simply mute. I sat across from a woman who had cancer eating away her face. She could not feed herself; the Iroquois staff would not feed her.

I began to file complaints with the NYS Nursing Home Hotline, the NYS Dept. of Health, the NYS Ombudsman, the Crouse people who had put me there and were on the board, the president of the board—everybody I could think of. I filed complaints on behalf of the people who had bedsores, weren’t being fed, needed help and couldn’t call for it.

No one responded. The best I got were government bureaucrats explaining to me the triage process whereby my complaint would go here, go there, be investigated sometime by someone without my knowledge. One day I lay in bed and counted: Cora cried out for help 81 times in 45 minutes and was ignored.

I could not endure the isolation and suffering; I was the only person among the 40 patients who was cognitively competent. Powerless to alter my circumstances, I became suicidal. On a trip back to my apartment, I got a cache of potassium powder prescribed by a physician. After a month and a half in this hell, I got up one morning and took an overdose. Shortly, I began to vomit violently. The nurse came in and said I must have the flu, and she would send “my” aide to clean me. “My” aide was late to work; I was left lying covered with vomit. When she finally came, she striped me naked and left me shivering on the bed.

I repeatedly asked for the doctor who was my Health Care Proxy, Trustee and Power of Attorney. When he got there, I told him that I’d tried to kill myself. He immediately had me transported back to Crouse Hospital.

There was another NYS DOH fair hearing with a new judge. This time, the Iroquois brought lawyers. The nursing supervisor, with a 2-year degree, testified that I was psychotic, and that because she’d seen me transfer from a wheelchair to a car I was fit to be discharged to do my own personal care, cooking, cleaning and grocery shopping. The judge decided: that I could remain at Crouse but that I legally was still a resident of the Iroquois; that the Iroquois had to come up with a discharge plan; and that he—the judge—would have to be convinced that it was an appropriate plan.

The Iroquois did nothing. They left me in the hospital for 104 days then I went out AMA on Christmas night. My apartment had been cleaned out; I was homeless so I took the judge’s order in hand and went back to the Iroquois. The Iroquois refused me re-admittance and said that if my Power of Attorney or I ever came back then they would have us arrested.

Crouse Hospital and the Iroquois proceeded on the basis that my problem was uncontrolled diabetes mellitus and that it would kill me. In fact, I learned that myalgic encephalomyelitis is my primary problem. I have been back in my apartment for five months. I have been restored by an entirely different treatment methodology.

I continue to wake up in the middle of the night having nightmares that I am back in the Iroquois, covered in vomit and at risk of dying.

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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