Yesterday


One of the several times that I woke up during the night, I thought it was raining. This morning’s wake-up reveals that it is pouring. The aides all are now elated that the Venetian on the left works. Only because I kept insisting and got it replaced. The last person who had this room spent all his time out of bed walking the halls; consequently the room has not been properly maintained. Window blinds, call-bell, bed—nothing works. I have to repeatedly call to get things fixed.

Anyway, what all the aides are talking about today is that I fell yesterday. Falling is a big deal in a nursing home. They have to report it to the NYS Dept. of Health. With each new aide, I repeat the story. No blame ascribed. Except two months of lousy care.

So yesterday after I fell in the weight room, Kate called Anthony, the med nurse, and they got me up. This is accomplished by them getting armpit-to-armpit with me and hauling me up. I know that I can’t get my feet under me and cannot push up; they simply have to haul me up, turn me, and drop me in the wheelchair. What fun. I am put back to bed; my blood pressure is not checked. Life goes on.

I call for the windows to be closed, the blinds closed, the “air-conditioning” to be turned on, the small desk-top fan turned on, the radio—WCNY classical—to be turned on. This is all to eliminate sound coming in from outside and replace it with low level sound generated inside, but I still can hear her.

She was admitted about a week ago to the Alzheimer’s floor—formally the “Behavioral Unit.” Her room is two floors below mine and we both have our windows open to catch any breeze against the sun beating in. She cries out: “Hello? Hello? Hello?” “Help! Help! Help!” “I need to go to the bathroom!” It sometimes goes on for hours. I cannot endure it. A human being is crying out for help and nobody will go to her.

The first day I tried to figure out what was going on. The second and third days I asked the nurses to call downstairs and have someone intervene. The third day I complained to the nurse manager, who said that in morning report the nurse manager from the Alzheimer’s unit says they’re trying to deal with the problem.

How do you deal with it? You can’t shut the window; she will be too hot. Get a fan? You can’t sedate her—can you? What she needs is someone to sit with her, but that’s labor intensive and costly, and there is no money to care for the elderly in our society. She is probably here because the people at home couldn’t stand it anymore. If her bed was in the living room of a house with a four-generation family then she would be receiving constant small attentions. Alone with a son and daughter-in-law, she became a heavy burden to bear.

The family has broken down so the woman is institutionalized and instead of being a problem for her children she becomes a problem for a dozen strangers. So what does the community do?

And the worst part of it is that she is entirely coherent. She is not babbling nonsense. She is voicing exactly what I would like to say: Notice me! I am alive! Talk to me! Visit me! I need you!

But I am useless; I have nothing to offer you. I could tell you the stories of old times—we would both enjoy that—but you are too invested in tomorrow to gather pleasure from yesterday.

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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