Five night sounds right now | Main | Summer spec

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The nursing home question

Over at Fuel, the question has been raised, "Would you take care of your dying mother (or father) at home or send her to a nursing home?" Very tough question. The reasons for doing so or not doing so are different for every family. I can only say what happened in our family that shaped our decision.

My mom put her own mom in a nursing home. I didn't realize until many, many years later just how much that broke my mom's heart.

My grandma had what was at the time referred to as hardening of the arteries. That was a non-descriptive way of saying some kind of dementia. After my grandfather passed away, she started "imagining things."

Before sending her to the nursing home, we made a valiant effort to try and avoid it, including having yours truly spend nights at my grandma's. I was in the seventh grade. After a couple weeks of that, we had my grandma move in with our cousin (my grandma's niece). I don't remember how long that lasted, but probably not much more than a couple weeks. However long it was, it allowed my mom time to come to grips with the reality of shopping for a nursing home.

Though the next couple years, I dutifully went with my mom most weekends to visit my grandma in the nursing home. I quickly came to detest it, though. The place. The stench. The pretend caring of the staff that was so fucking transparently phony.

And, things happened. Very unpleasant things. Not the least of which was arriving one bright, sunny Sunday afternoon to find my grandma tied to a chair in a straightjacket totally doped up, head lolling on her shoulders.

So, throughout that time, and afterwards, I constantly told myself that I would never let my mom go into a nursing home. N_e_v_e_r.

Jumping ahead 35 plus years. My mother became very ill. She had a tracheostomy. She was on oxygen. She had a feeding tube. Among other things. The level of care that she needed was so far beyond anything any of us were capable of, that there was no choice but to send her to a nursing home.

And all the memories of my grandmother came flooding back. And my heart broke. The nursing home my mom was in can only be described as dark ages hell. Some nights, I would wake up at 4:00 in the morning unable to breathe and scream, "MOTHER!" I tried to blog about it at the time.

Then, something happened and my mom had to go back to the hospital. And while she was back in the hospital, our family made the decision that we would do whatever it takes, learn whatever medical procedures necessary, take shifts, work hard, to make sure my mom would never go back to THAT PLACE. She was coming home. For the first time in what seemed like forever, I exhaled.

There were times during all the medical training when my mom would lean over, hold my hand, and whisper through her little voice apparatus, "it's okay if you want me to go back to the nursing home." To which I would reply, "no way! You're never going back there again." And, I think she exhaled.

For the year that she was home, the spectre of having to make the nursing home decision one day again loomed over my head.

And then she went to be with the Lord.

And we never had to worry about the nursing home question again.

Posted by Marie at August 8, 2006 11:28 PM



Sorry about your Mom. It's pretty bad, I know. (Also sorry I'm not timely with this -- I didn't read you much for the first half of the year.)

My grandma has "dementia" too. I don't think she's imagining things, as far as I know, but she doesn't remember any of us (her kids and grandkids and great-grandkids) anymore. She's in her second home, as of this week -- and I hate it, but none of us can care for her at the moment. She's in a GOOD home, though -- she has 4 kids that love her and want to make sure she's taken care of. I think that's the comfort, for me -- I KNOW we'll all pitch in and make sure she's OK.

I've rambled a bit more than intended, sorry... :)

Posted by: ben at August 9, 2006 12:20 AM

The reasons are different for every family. When my mother had her brain tumor surgery, it fell to me to figure out what to do. PT and OT would be required as would weekly hospital visits for radiation therapy. Bringing her back to Maryland from her home in Michigan to my house seemed wrong. She would lose all contact with her doctors, friends, and church. Having my brother or me move from Maryland back to her house in Michigan to care for her would come at a enormous career, family, and probably financial cost for either of us. So we opted for the nursing home in Michigan. For two days, I toured homes in and around Livonia and saw some bad things, though nothing like what your family endured. Finally late afternoon the second day, I found one that was OK; in all respects about as good as I could hope. While she was there, she got PT, OT, and radiation, she became friends with the chaplain, and the staff did the best they could. It was the best decision at the time and I never had any particular reason to complain. She only lived 5 months there so I don't know what we would have done for a more lengthy stay. Thanks for posting this, Marie.

Posted by: Kem White at August 9, 2006 8:26 AM

I am absolutely dreading making these decisions some day. Thanks, Marie.

Posted by: Rob at August 9, 2006 9:28 AM

Marie, you and your family are great. What a hard thing to do for your mom, and what a wonderful thing, too.

Without going into all the details, my generation of my my family hasn't had to deal with this quite yet. Back in the '70s, though, my parents took in both of their moms, simultaneously -- my dad's was 90 and sharp as anything but failing physically; my mom's was 76 and strong as a horse but falling into dementia after suffering a series of seizures and strokes. They shared the master bedroom, which my parents surrendered to accommodate them. Boy -- these days, you might be able to make it into a cable sitcom. My dad's mom loved candy, and was fond of those little caramel bull's-eyes; you know, the ones with the white center. She would sit in her rocking chair before going to bed and have a few bull's-eyes before retiring (she had a great set of dentures). One night, my mom's mom came stalking out of the room. "That woman! She's in there crinkling candy wrappers. And the smacking of gums!" Sadly, that situation didn't last long. Grandma Brekke had to go into the hospital for what we thought was a few days, and died there. Eventually, my mom needed to go back to work, and Grandma Hogan went into a home in Joliet with one of her sisters-in-law. It was a decent place, though -- I think the difference was that it was run by an order of nuns, and they were absolutely great with the residents. The morning she died, one of the sisters was making the rounds of her floor and found her sitting up in bed. "I'm going to die," my grandma told her -- matter of factly, not afraid. "No, Mrs. Hogan, you're fine," the nun said. "Well, then, tuck me in, then," grandma said. Half an hour later, when the next shift was making its first checks of the day, she had passed away.

Posted by: dan at August 9, 2006 10:08 AM

Marie ... I'm so very sorry. My Mom's mom went to Capitol Care here in Springfield. Opinions on the condition of the facilities and her care differ based on which family member you ask.

I thought they tried very hard to accomodate her ... she was so frail ... nearly deaf ... and her dementia had gotten very bad at the end.

She would sit and cry out, "help me" for hours ... when there was nothing wrong. She was just confused ... and had no idea what was going on. The moment you sat her up, she would cry to lay down ... when she was laying down she would cry to get up. It was just a bad situation.

She passed away about 18 months ago ... and, as sorry as I was to see her pass, at least she's at peace. I can't imagine having to make those decisions about Mom ... I dread the thought.

Posted by: ThirtyWhat at August 9, 2006 12:23 PM