Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

In January of 2012 my soul mate of 42 years passed away after nearly 12 years of living with severe disabilities due to a stroke. I survived the first year after Don’s death doing what most widows do---trying to make sense of my world turned upside down. The pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties are well documented in this blog.

Now that I’m a "seasoned widow" the focus of my writing has changed. I’m still a widow looking through that lens but I’m also a woman searching for contentment, friends and a voice in my restless world. Some people say I have a quirky sense of humor that shows up from time to time in this blog. Others say I make some keen observations about life and growing older. I say I just write about whatever passes through my days---the good, bad and the ugly. Comments welcome and encouraged. Let's get a dialogue going! Jean

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Nursing Homes and Barbie Dolls Nails



One of my sister-in-law’s had a series of falls a few weeks ago and had to be moved into a nursing home. She’d been living with her daughter who has a severe form of MS and is wheelchair bound which meant my niece-in-law also had to go into a nursing home. My sister-in-law is ten years older than me and for the past few years we’d often had the following conservation…

S-I-L:  “I’m ready to go to a nursing home where they take care of everything.”
Me: “You won’t like it. You have the best of two worlds right here.” They had home care aids coming in for six hours a day, 365 days a year who cooked, cleaned, did laundry, shopped and took care of medications and the daughter’s personal needs.
S-I-L: “It’s too much work to take care of the lawn and snow.”
Me: “What work? We both just call a service, sign a contract and write a check once or twice a year.”

Long story short ever since she’s been in the nursing home, she’s been insisting she wants to go back home which isn’t possible because her family emptied out her house and rented it within the first week, a decision not all the siblings were on board with but that’s not my story to tell. My sister-in-law is giving her family grief doing things like calling 911 because the aids don’t answer her call button fast enough, is discouraging her daughter from getting involved in activities and field trips at the home and is bad-mouthing the other residents.

This week I went with her other daughter to visit. Daughter number two goes twice a week to pick up and deliver laundry and iron out problems. The facility and rooms were nice but the (presumably underpaid) workers were sour-faced and it was depressing to think I could have been looking at my future. I don’t have daughters and sons to support me in a place like that…and it makes a real difference if you do. When my husband’s mother was in a nursing home for many years we went twice a week as well. It was a scavenger hunt each time. Where are her teeth, her glasses, her shoes? Check out Mable’s room first. (She was the resident kleptomaniac who squirreled things away in her closet.) Why is your mom wearing other people’s clothes? How did she get that nasty scratch on her arm?

One of my pet peeves about places like that is how they put red fingernail polish on people who can’t talk to object. I visited an aunt in Hospice Care once who was the next thing to a nun---a humble, simple person---and I was shocked to see someone had put red polish and lipstick on her. She never would have allowed that if she could have talked nor would my mother-in-law who was also painted up like a Barbie doll while in the nursing home. My sister-in-law, however, was happy with her blood-red polish.

Maybe I should write out a manifesto for if and when I go to a nursing home that could be posted on the back of the door next the codes about whether or not to give me the Heimlich Maneuver if I’m choking on a button I found on the floor. 1) No leaving me stark naked and exposed to anyone walking by in the hall while aids go on a coffee break. That actually happened to my husband in the month after his stroke---one of the reasons I brought him home. 2) No red nail polish. At least people who break the second rule can be forgiven because they’re trying to do something nice. People who break rule number one are heartless and border on criminally abusive. Nursing homes are scary places! Back in the late ‘80s two aids who worked at a local nursing home were convicted for killing five residences, the victims reportedly picked out to spell M-U-R-D-E-R with the initials of their first names. They would have gotten away with the murders, too, if an x-husband hadn’t ratted them out.

I should (but probably won’t) visit my sister-in-law on a regular basis like I did when she lived near-by which was a couple of times a month. I’ve always had the ability to say things to her that her kids couldn’t, things to help smooth her ruffled feathers when she gets to complaining too much. She calls me Mother Theresa because, she says, I always know the right things to say and do. I don't agree, but I do know that between my husband’s mother, my dad and my husband I’ve done my time in the ‘healthcare system.’ I want to be selfish, not selfless with the time I have left. Does that make me a bad person when I see an opportunity to help and I don’t want to act on it? Will Karma get me if I don’t? I hope not. At least not today. I’m going to the first meeting of a newly forming book club and I’m happy about that. ©

24 comments:

  1. I don't think you're selfish at all. You've done more than your share of caring for others. I'm at the stage where I think maintaining my sanity and mental peace is my first priority (can't imagine anyone else caring about it).

    Interesting you wrote "..*daughters* and sons caring for you.." - you got that right, as it is the daughters normally who will care for parents.

    I'm also guilty of saying ".. when I go to a nursing home.". and your description of garish makeup on the oldies made me shudder. I'd like to die at home but who knows? I hope euthanasia is legalised soon. I see old people, especially men, sitting in the malls, staring mindlessly into space. I can imagine the young thinking why are these oldies (including myself) taking up space/resources and getting in our way? I have sometimes thought that the native cultures who took their aged to the forest and left them to die was perhaps kind in its own way, because to be regarded, when retired, as useless and with no function is the pits. Even worse, for the retired dad/mum to be treated as an unpaid household servant, as I've seen in some places. Going old is hard.

    Life is peculiar. I've commented before about America, worshipping youth, now considering two past retirement age for the world's toughest job (and China, revering the old, going for younger leaders!)

    Btw, I know that people sometimes get bugged when outsiders comment on local politics, as I have done/do. But I'm venting my frustration at *my* politicians, who happen to be like yours and UK (and a number of other countries). ~ Libby

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    1. One of the websites where I go to debate politics there are always people picking on foreigners for commenting on our politics. I've never understood that! I think it's interesting to hear how the rest of the world views things.

      I admire the way the Chinese seem to value their aging relatives and take care of them. I think we are doing a better job here in this country than we were a recent history...but still not good enough! Growing old is, indeed, hard. My sister-in-law above never visited our mother-in-law after she went into the home. She "preferred to remember her the way she was." So I do not feel too guilty that I'm not planning to visit often. You reap what you sow.

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  2. I know I've said I am ready, but I'm not. I worked in a nursing home and I KNOW what goes on there, which is more than people see visiting Grandma.

    Be selfish, nobody is going to be selfish for you, not really. Do - just as long as you can!

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    1. I'll bet you could tell stories!

      I think I'm developing a talent for being selfish. :)

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  3. When Fred's mother had to go in, she hated it! Cried and wanted to go home. The Aides told us that it takes about 6 weeks and then she'd love it there. And it did and she did. No red nail polish--maybe that is a Michigan thing?

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    1. We have several cosmetology schools in town that teach hair, makeup and nails. They take their students to the nursing homes on a regular basis to practice. They are doing a nice thing but it's just sad when people can't talk and they end up with stuff they'd hate.

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  4. Red nails are the least of it. I'm not fond of screaming red myself, but I'll sure take it over black -- or any of the other "nail art" that I see.

    With no family at all to help me cope with things in my latter years, it can be a little unnerving to think about growing old. So, in the best tradition of Scarlett, I mostly don't. I'll deal with that tomorrow. :-)

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    1. I don't dislike polish on other people who like it (although I don't understand anyone liking black or paying so much for manicures then constantly complaining about not having enough money to pay their household bills). I just don't like wearing bright polish myself and I dread the day when someone puts it on me thinking they are doing a good deed. Now a French manicure, I'm all in for those.

      I'm often in the Scarlett Club of Denial. :)

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  5. Sounds like your sister-in-law has a lot to learn about living in an institution. She can continue the path she's on and make herself and everyone around her miserable OR she can sweeten up, be pleasant, make an effort to like people, look for good in the place, and see her care improve. I'm betting she stays unpleasant. Law requires a minimum of care but that's all she's going to get from an extremely busy, underpaid staff if she keeps this up. People like her seldom change. My motto is that nobody has to like me but they do have to respect me because I respect myself enough to see to it others do. Nope, not going to do it. I'm not going to force myself to visit people who are unpleasant (perhaps if she was my mother). She chose to make herself and others miserable. I choose not to be a part of that.

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    1. I don't mean to paint my S-I-L as totally unpleasant. I've always found her to be very entertaining because she's a bit of an airhead with no filter but I do love her and her quirkiness. Add on top of that she's in the beginning stages of dementia. However she has many kids, their spouses and adult grandchildren living near-by who can step up to the plate. If she didn't, my decision not to visit as often as I did when she was living home would be different.

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  6. After my time with Dad in the nursing home, I have no desire to be a "resident" at one. The aids are assigned up to 15 patients now. That's too many. When I think of how Dad kept me busy, I can't imagine taking care of that many people. My experience is that many of the aids become desensitized after awhile. I know nursing homes are necessary, but I hope that H nor I ever end up in one. I could go on about this, but I'll stop.

    Red nail polish will always make me think of fast women. Ha! Silly, huh? I know what you mean about the red-nail and lipstick treatment, though. I've felt the same way when looking at a friend or relative in their casket - not necessarily in red lipstick, but makeup the person would never have worn in life. I guess we should tell or commit it to writing that our personal makeup be used.

    It's after 3 am. I have insomnia tonight and will not get back to sleep with these thoughts. :)

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    1. I associate red polish with women who don't work. I know that's unfair and they have better polishes now but old habits are hard to break. In my 20s when I briefly tried to wear polish, it was SO high maintenance I gave up.

      You're right about the makeup, too!

      Insomnia is the pits. Hope you don't have anything much to do on Sunday.

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  7. Selfish is a GOOD word ... with such a negative connotation. I think we are being kind to ourselves.

    My Dad was in an assisted living community for two years. It was mostly GOOD, a few glitches in the very beginning. My four brothers lived close and one brother visited twice a week. My sister and I would time our visits so everything would be spread out. The first year we "reserved" a game room and had a family Thanksgiving (we brought all the food!). The Manager would let me sleep in a spare apartment when they were available. It was a fabulous experience, all in all.

    I only do polish on my toes. Too much upkeep on my hands!!

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    1. Your family worked it out wonderfully. Sounds like a nice place. I know a few people in assisted living and those places are far above the nursing homes of my experience.

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  8. Both my parents spent the last year of their lives in nursing homes, and the difference in quality of the two facilities was enormous. (I thank my sister-in-law for getting my mother to consider a different place than the one my father had been in.) Among the things I learned: (1) When choosing a nursing home, check the Medicare ratings; there really are big differences between the 5-star facilities and the 3-star facilities, and you can actually drill down and read reports about specific complaints. (2) Yes, having an advocate helps enormously. Even in the best facilities, staff are run ragged at certain very busy times of day. With both my parents, there was a family member there every day (a much harder thing to manage for those of us without children). I generally found it worked best to make friends with the aides and to assume they wanted the best for my parents (they usually did, even if they couldn't provide it.) (3) You actually can put things in your advance directives like "no red nail polish"! I have "private room if at all possible" in mine. -Jean

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    1. My husband I and learned early on with his mother to make friends with the aids. We'd buy them little gifts and treat them well. It does make a difference. It also helped that my husband was good looking. LOL

      My two nieces are in charge of me if I need oversight but I need to let them know to move me close by them instead of were I live now. I have no friends who'd visit and if I'm in the town where they live, I'll get more oversight. Good idea about putting a note on my advance directives about that.

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  9. No this does not make your selfish!!! (Funny, in my situation I do feel a trifle selfish, so I need to say the same thing to me.) I've never experienced anything as horrible as what you have. >>>shudder<<< My Dad's in an assisted living home, a Taj Mahal compared to a nursing home, evidently. I'm fuming just reading about that level of care. It is also shocking to me that your S-I-L's family flew into action to prevent her return 'home'. I guess they had been lovingly plotting this as their mother's best option for some time? I do remember my own family's lovingly plotting...

    I have only older siblings in charge of my care, and decent relationships with two out of three. "You reap what you sow" Hmmm "Honor your parents" is a greater command in my book. And I'm not a parent, either!!
    Your nieces love you, so yes, let them know you want to move close to them when the time comes!

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    1. I was also shocked that the one member of my S-I-L's family who had the power of attorney was so insensitive about the speed in which he rented out the house. It was unnecessary.

      My worry about my nieces is that they will be overwhelmed with care responsibility for too many older members of the family.

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  10. Oh I'm so happy to see that your blog is back in order. It's fun reading about your thoughts. About nursing homes. I really think that the one in Amherstburg killed my mother's spirit and she just gave up. When she in the hospital ( 6 months ) she was being treated very well and she only fell once and it was by accident. When it came time for her to be put into a nursing home, everything went down hill quickly. In a span of a month and a half she fell 7 times and the last time her hand was black & blue. The machine for her to call the desk was closed. I had to try it myself and finally had to inform them of the problem. The people in the nursing home didn't give a damn about my mother. They eventually just decided to over medicated to keep her shut. One day after I went to see her, I couldn't wake her up. I told them they had better get the doctor to find out whats going on. The next day when I went to see her suddenly her eyes were open and she could see me. Eventually after only being there 5 months, my dear mother passed away. I feel that she just gave up to live because because I feel living there was no use living. The worker were useless and they didn't give a damn about the people living there. Once you were there, it was a death notice and people like my mother just gave up living.
    As you can see I still upset about the nursing home and it has been two years since my mom passed away. Be very careful for your sister - ln - law.
    Sorry that I wrote so much Jean but the anger just opened past cuts about my mother.

    Well, once again, it's nice to see that you are back.

    Cruisin Paul

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    1. Paul, I've actually been blogging twice a week right alone...haven't missed a single time BUT the subscribe by email function doesn't seen to always work and I have no control over that.

      It takes a long time to move pass deep wounds like you and your mom suffered at the hands of indifference's at the nursing home. It happens all too often.

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    2. I guess that you're right. Let's be more positive because you're back writing again and I very happy to be able to read blog again. See ya my friend from Michigan.

      Cruisin Paul

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  11. It's a long story, but my mother in law ended up in a "hell hole" (my opinion based on 4-5 visits -- she lived 2000 miles from us) nursing home in suburban Chicago. We were so dismayed and when we expressed our concern, were told by other family members to butt out; it was not our decision to make. I often wonder if we should have pushed it, but we didn't. The staff there didn't even bother with nail polish, believe me! But I did. On one trip I came in with mani-pedi supplies and I will never forget the delight and appreciation of my MIL, even in her state of dementia, she felt she had been give a Queen for a Day gift. (I used clear polish -- my MIL was NOT a gaudy, fashionista, but a down to earth practical farm girl/school teacher.)

    I am now visiting fairly regularly a woman about 20 years my senior who recently had a stroke. She was in rehab, but now long-term care for the time being, but insurance is not going to pay for anymore therapy, so she is going home and will have in-home care. I don't know her well enough to know all the details, nor do I know her family at all, but I see glimmers of her struggle to improve and am so sad that they all seem to be giving up. She is trying to speak and has some movement on the non-stroke affected side.

    Don't we all just cringe and shake at the idea of being in a nursing home, at the mercy of those who don't know the first thing about us, our care hit or miss, and perhaps no effective watchdog to oversee the whole thing? I keep trying to educate my sons about what I'd want, but they don't want to even entertain the notion that I might be serious; they prefer to joke about it. So, yeah, a manifesto is a good idea!

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    1. Insurance for stroke survivors---at least when Don was going through his rehab---depends on the therapies being able to document a 10% improvement every six weeks. It's very stressful for all involved to meet that benchmark. We are lucky to have a college near-by who do therapies with people once their insurance runs out, using students which, in my opinion, were often better than the ones already in the systems.

      I kid about a manifesto but I really do think it's a good idea. I want visitors to bring me a flower/s once in a while and sweets, books of beautiful art and to do a walk through of the place when it's not visiting hours to see how people are treated.

      People really need to make sure the person/s they put in charge of them if they can't speak for themselves, is a caring detail person. Sounds like the people in your family with the legal power was a bad choice.

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    2. I didn't know that about the benchmark for continued insurance. Maybe her family is NOT giving up, just having to working within the system. I think they are caring and concerned, just hamstrung by the system. Hmmmm...

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