Tuesday, February 20, 2007

George

(Caution: Not a happy tale)

"People don't go into nursing homes to get better," I thought as Hoop and I walked the corridor to AG's room. Hoop's Grandfather, AG (Alzheimer Grandpa), was struck down with Pneumonia a month ago. The hospital transferred him to a nursing home barely two weeks later with promises that they'd release him once he was better. I don't know what I'd expected. But whatever it had been, it wasn't the dank and dreary building we were passing through. There were people in the halls, wheelchair bound and moaning for help. The nurses gossiped nearby with one another, unaffected by their cries. There was dirt in the corners and a stench so foul I gagged just to breathe.

Hoop counted the rooms as we walked. I counted footsteps. One, two, three- a gentleman dragging a colonoscopy bag behind him. Eight, nine, ten- someone screaming like they'd just been burned. I was terrified. But not of them. I'd always imagined the end of life's road being more... dignified. There was no dignity in this. The staff was practically digging the graves beneath the beds. As we came around the corner to AG's room, I clutched at Hoop's arm. I expected the worst. What we found instead was AG, grumbling that he wanted to go home, and George. "Hi!" AG's roommate called out cheerfully as we entered the room. "My name is George. I've been looking after your Grandfather."

Unlike most of the patients, George is mobile and relatively fit. He talks a lot and seems to have no problems following conversations. I've been told since meeting him that he has Alzheimers too. But at the time I couldn't help but wonder why he was there. "I used to be a soccer player." He said, flashing us his smile and his class ring. "My sons came by to see me today. They say my wife is in the hospital." The next time we came to visit there were signs leading us down the hall that said, "George's Room." We found both he and AG fast asleep. I wandered around the room admiring George's pictures and a glittery paper crown on top of the TV. "Is it your birthday?" I asked George, once he'd woken from his nap. "I don't know," he mumbled. "What day is it?"

I laughed and pointed at the crown. "There were signs all over the building leading us to your room." His eyes lit up. "Oh, THAT! We had a party the other day and I was nominated King. A lady down the hall was named Queen and they made us dance. I told her my wife would be angry if she found out." Twenty minutes later George asked, "Did I tell you about the dance?" I nodded, feeling the frown creep into my eyebrows. "I was nominated King and my wife was here. She was the Queen. I wish I knew what was wrong with her. My boys came to visit today. They said she's in the hospital. But they won't tell me why." I stared at him for a moment as he looked into his lap. His hands folded and unfolded.

I remember choking back a sob, some raw bit of emotion that had jiggled loose. It startled me. I looked up at Hoop, who promptly got up from his chair to say good-bye. "We'll be back soon AG!" He called hurriedly from the door. I looked at my feet as we walked out and then sadly leaned my head against Hoop's shoulder. Neither of us spoke for awhile. In the stillness of my own thoughts, pieces of the puzzle were snapping together. Why was he there? Why was he in that room, on that hall? "She's dead, isn't she?" I whispered. Hoop nodded slowly. "She's dead and he doesn't even remember it."

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23 Comments:

At 20 February, 2007, Anonymous susan said...

Growing old shouldn't be so hard...and so tragic.

I'd like to say that the olden days when families all lived together were better...then I think of how hard it is to deal with dementia...I wish there were a better answer somehow...

 
At 20 February, 2007, Blogger Chris said...

:(

 
At 20 February, 2007, Blogger Jay said...

Whe I was in college I delivered pizzas for a local joint. Every once in a while this nursing home would order some pizzas for the staff.

I delivered there once. As I was leaving all these old and very sick people in wheelchairs or walking with canes were begging me to take them with me. It was pretty scary.

One lady grabbed ahold of my arm and wouldn't let go. One of the nurses just stood there and watched and didn't help.

It was kinda like a scene out of a Zombie movie actually. I told my boss I was NEVER going back there.

 
At 20 February, 2007, Blogger mamatulip said...

I do NOT want to go out like that. When my kids are old enough I'm making them sign a waiver saying that they will NEVER do that to me. Ever.

 
At 20 February, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A remarkable, and very real story. I have lived it with my own father, who didn't recognize my mother and thought I was his brother, and I have seen it in countless nursing homes that I have visited.

In their defense, most nursing homes, at least in Canada, do their best to keep the places clean and sanitary. The problem is...VERY few who enter them leave in a vertical position.

Its not nice, but it is reality. Better get back to work so that I will be able to afford a better end!

 
At 20 February, 2007, Blogger graymama said...

My grandmother ended her miserable life in a place like that. My sweet gramms died at our dining room table reading a book. I would definitely choose the latter.

At least George's wife isn't really gone because she still lives in his heart and thoughts.

{{{{tearful hugs}}}}

 
At 20 February, 2007, Blogger Mignon said...

My grandma was in a nursing home after recovering from brain surgery, and my most vivid memories are of her roommate, Ruth. Ruth like to give me graphic descriptions of the indignities they suffer, especially with respect to poo.

How would a compassionate person survive working in a place like that? A man I knew here in Missoula was a respected hospice care worker and he killed himself the day after Christmas.

I know I'm going on and on, but I think reading, writing, thinking about this kind of thing is so important to prepare yourself for what could come for yourself or your loved ones. It's better to approach death with both eyes open.

 
At 20 February, 2007, Anonymous the moody chick said...

Beautiful and heartwrenching post.

I imagine George must have been an exuberant, fun-loving man. That spirit shines through even through that horrible disease.

 
At 20 February, 2007, Blogger Ellie said...

If I could I would give you a hug. I visited my grandpa in a nursing home for years. For the most part his mind was not failing him, but there were times after surgeries that he would ask for my grandma who had been gone several years. It just breaks my heart reading this, because I remember those visits like yesterday and I remember the silence that sometimes followed those visits. What I can definately say is that now that he is gone I'm glad that I visited often because now I have no regrets.

 
At 20 February, 2007, Blogger Mary said...

It's hard. We deal with this from time to time, and its so hard to watch.

I say almost daily "I don't want to be old". Mental issues are the biggest reason why.

(((HUGS)))

 
At 20 February, 2007, Blogger Di said...

That is so hard to see. It is awful when some people can stand by and listen to those cries and do nothing. I have been to some places that are bad and some that are rather nice. Sometimes you don't have a choice though, it is whatever your insurance will cover. I am so sorry!

 
At 20 February, 2007, Blogger Alien said...

This is so sad, Tink. :(

 
At 21 February, 2007, Blogger EE said...

*sob*

Alzheimers is such a sad thing.

:(

 
At 21 February, 2007, Blogger eric said...

i'm sorry about that. it makes me so angry that people in their elder years can't be treated with more dignity.

i'd like to see more posts like this from you.

 
At 21 February, 2007, Blogger Jay said...

Those places are hard to visit for lots of reasons, but I think mostly because they don't give you much hope.

 
At 21 February, 2007, Blogger meno said...

I don't know what to say. Such sadness.

As some famous person like Aristotle once said "The foolish person fears death. The wise man fears illness."

 
At 21 February, 2007, Blogger gawilli said...

This is a very complex issue to deal with at any level. My mom came to live with us for the last year or so of her life. It was not optimum for her. It could never have been optimum for her. Optimum for her would have been to stay in her own home, drive her own car, not have to drag an oxygen tank around... I will keep AG in my thoughts. And you and Hoop, too.

 
At 21 February, 2007, Anonymous TB said...

My grandmother has AZ. It's the hardest thing to have to watch someone completely lose themselves. Every coherent memory, every part of herself, just gone. I don't even know if she knows me anymore. She thinks her parents are still alive.
Sigh.

I'm sorry that AG is in such a place, if it's any comfort at all, it's probably a lot harder on you and Hoop than it is on him.

 
At 21 February, 2007, Blogger Sunshine said...

My great grandpa died when I was a sophomore at college and had Alzheimer's the last 5 years or so of his life. He was always so happy and chipper but never had a clue who any of us were, it was very sad.

 
At 21 February, 2007, Blogger fiwa said...

Aw Tink, I'm sending you hugs. I guess most of us have had our sad brush in some way or another with nursing homes. I sure hope Grandpa gets to go home soon.

Just smile with George and tell him you hope his wife will be better soon.

 
At 21 February, 2007, Blogger Jess Riley said...

That is just heartbreaking. Still, thank you for writing about it, & so well.

I remember my grandfather slipping into dementia before he died--putting birdseed in the water softener, etc. I think we all hope to have our mental faculties to the end...

 
At 22 February, 2007, Blogger butterfly girl said...

How true but such is life.

On a bright note though, my Grandma went to a home to heal from a fractured hip. She came out and is back like nothing ever happened. So it is possible to escape sometimes. When you get older just keep putting one foot in front of the other. I see alot of older people that are head strong and they do just that and they are in their nineties!! It might just work!

 
At 22 February, 2007, Blogger tammy said...

I'm sorry it was such a bad experience, but don't let it keep you frm visiting. I was about 18 when my grandmother went into a nursing home. I hated the place so much, the horrible smells & the moaning people, that I didn't visit often. I have always regretted not going as often as I could.

 

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