“It Used to be Better”


So Barbara moved into my room at James Square rehab six days ago. She had gone from here to the hospital to back here. She says it used to be better. https://annecwoodlen.wordpress.com/2015/08/07/medicare-fraud-and-james-square/

She was on an oxygen machine, a Bi-PAP, and a nebulizer, and she continued to smoke. She did not know if she was diabetic, but she came back from a trip outdoors bearing a grocery bag containing big bags of Mounds, Butterfingers and chips.

The first night here, the nurses insisted that she let them remove one of her artificial, heavily painted fingernails so that they could check her oxygen level. She refused until I finally snapped at her “Your fingernail or your life, Barbara: choose one.” She let them take the end of one fingernail, and her oxygen level was found to be 80%. She was randomly compliant with using her oxygen supports.

Barbara had lumps all over her upper body. She also had a lump on her lower leg which, according to her, ruptured. She said it was infected, and it burned. From time to time the nurses would change the bandage. At all hours of the day and night, I would wake to hear her crying, moaning and generally bellowing like a stuck cow. When I would ask her what was wrong, she would declare unbearable pain in her leg.

When she would push her call bell for pain medicine, they wouldn’t come for 45 minutes to an hour. Yesterday morning she asked to have the dressing changed again. Her leg was weeping. They told her to put her foot up on a chair. She said, “All that’s going to do is get me a wet chair.” The nurses didn’t come to change the dressing until after dark. Moaning, weeping and wailing, she spent five days sitting up in bed and rocking in pain at night. She went to dialysis three days a week and called repeatedly for the nurse or doctor, neither of whom came.

Last night at 4:00 a.m., the aide loudly crashed my telephone to the floor while emptying the catheter bag. Then she couldn’t turn off the call bell, and prepared to leave our room with it locked on: neither Barbara not I would be able to call for help again. We are both in wheelchairs and cannot access the bathroom without help. The aide says that she is alone with 35 other patients to care for and she cannot spend any more time with the broken call bell.

The compromise is that an aide from upstairs brings down two tap bells for Barbara and me to use, without any certainty that the aide will hear or recognize them. We struggle through the rest of the night with Barbra continually crying for help and me needing to go to the bathroom.

At 8:00 a.m., I call the receptionist at the front desk and ask for the Maintenance Dept. A couple weeks ago, I had gotten a maintenance man up here. He stood in the middle of the room holding a new call bell cord and looking at the old one plugged into the wall. He said there was nothing wrong with it, and walked out.

This time two men came to the room and said they got a new call-bell system about a year ago and it never has worked right. When I ask if it came with a guarantee, they laugh, then change the cord. Now that it works, nobody answers it. Barbara is yelling for the nurse and saying she has to go to the bathroom and needs pain medicine.

The nurse practitioner and her partner come to the room, pull the curtain and start to examine Barbara. The NYS Dept. of Health Investigator whom I called yesterday appears around the curtain to see me.

The nurse practitioners, having finally looked at Barbara’s wound, call an ambulance and send her back to the hospital.

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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