Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Highlights from the Home (September 2011)

My sister and I chose a private care home for My Mom. Per state law, it houses six residents max. When Wyn first moved in they were down to only four, so she received lots of personalized attention. Obviously there are pros and cons to going with a smaller home versus a larger fancy facility. New features for family members, like a cappuccino bar and frozen yogurt station were slightly enticing, but after the bureaucracy of the rehab place, it was a no-brainer for me. I didn't even factor cost. I wanted a homey atmosphere and control over the care of My Mom. I wasn't sending her back to a big facility to let her decline because "that's the rules."
I don't want to hurt any feelings when I describe our private care experience. I have truly adored all the staff that have come and gone over the past year. But yes, they come and go with much frequency. One of the pluses is that the home is directly across the street from my condo -- I can pop in for visits several times a day. I still feel very hands on with her care. (And I never feel like my appearances are spot checks. The system never fails us. It runs like clockwork.) The negative is, the owners don't pay well so the new hires either don't have highly evolved skill sets or they don't stay. They're always nice. That's been a bonus. Same with the food. It's not what I would serve, but with her condition we became more concerned over calorie intake than quality. Frozen fish sticks became part of our lives. We had a couple of amazing people that have stayed the duration, including the facility manager. Overall, the pros by a long shot out-weigh the cons.
My biggest concern was feeling comfortable. I still wanted to spend the bulk of the day hanging out with My Mom like I had when she lived with me, but I didn't want to get in the way of household operations. The original three caregivers were amazing at making me feel welcome. "This is your Mom's house. We're just here to help her. You need to act like you're at her home." They meant it. I felt pretty comfortable. I truly feel like all the staff members were extended family and the other residents for that matter too. For the past six months I even sat through dinner almost every night. Partly because My Mom ate better with assistance, mostly I enjoyed the company.
We had a number of residents come and go over the year. The house is set up in a ranch design with three bedrooms and baths in wings on both ends and a kitchen, dining area and living room in the center. It doesn't seem like there would be much privacy, but not once did I know when a resident fell ill, unless I was informed by one of their own family members.
In fact, twice, I wish I would have known.
The first incident took place when we first arrived, last November. I was encouraging My Mom to walk. We made big circles around the ranch home daily using her "wheelie". (She wouldn't use a "walker" because that's for old people, we had to tell her it was called a "wheelie" and sent by rehab to help her regain her strength.) One day I walked her to the opposite wing where we stumbled upon a large group of family members gathered outside a gentleman's bedroom door. It wasn't until My Mom was right in the mix that I realized the situation was dire. Then I had to get her out of there. Now, our 'command' to u-turn is "Alright, let's hokey-poky it", that means turn yourself about. Not exactly the kind of phrase you want to say in a hospice situation, but it's the only approach guaranteed to work. I tried it. My Mom swung the wheelie around, but just my luck, she started rubber necking to see what was going on. I had to get her out of there.
"Come on, let's see how strong you are," I encouraged. She decided to show off in front of the crowd and picked up a very strong stride heading back to the center of the house. Her head and back impeccably straight. Her gait unbelievably sound. "That's awesome," I continued to coax her away from the drama. "You are walking awesome."
She looked at the gathered family members, rolled her eyes and said in exasperation as if I was a nut. "Well, I should hope so. I've been doing it all my life."
Luckily they took the levity in stride. I think they even enjoyed a little break from their grieving.
Our next interference was a little too over the top to be appreciated by anyone. But again, it was a giant misunderstanding. This one occurred just a few months ago. Another solemn occasion and once again, I wasn't aware of it until it was too late.
We finished dinner and My Mom was having a particularly good day. I had given her a harmonica for Christmas last year, so I grabbed it out of the drawer and brought it to the table for a little after dinner entertainment. She played her heart out. When she first got the harmonica she could play just about anything. But a few months ago she became stuck on one tune. It doesn't matter what song you sing, she now hums "Oh Susanna." So we sang "Oh Susanna," to the tune of "Oh Susanna," then we launched into a few other old classics, but every time it circled back to "Oh Susanna." A rather raucous, lively version. I was so proud of her and feeling light and happy until, once her little lungs were exhausted, I went to return the musical instrument to the bottom drawer of her bureau. Along the way I noticed the door cracked open on the sweetest little lady's room. She was in her final hours. The cool thing about the private home is that residents stay til the bitter end. Most on hospice. And normally it's a quiet, peaceful atmosphere in which to go. This poor family should have been playing soothing music, praying, quietly soaking in final moments with their loved one. Instead any peace was being drown out by the wails of Oh Susanna, oh don't you cry for me on a cheap harmonica.
In this case the family could add the small homey atmosphere to the cons list -- they would have probably much prefered a giant nursing home with very long hallways and My Mom and I housed at the w-a-y opposite end.

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