I’ve been in a nursing home for almost five weeks. Oh, they call it a “skilled nursing facility” but it’s a nursing home with three sections: skilled care, memory care, and assisted living. We’re here because we need help that we can’t get at home. I’m the youngest person I’ve seen so far, though granted I haven’t seen most of the residents, just the ones in my unit and the ones who go to rehab.
But this is a lonely place. It’s regimented with wake up time, meal times, rehab time, and some scheduled activities for those in Assisted Living; not sure about Memory Care. But we skilled people mostly sit around in our rooms and wait for visitors or rehab or naps or whatever. Some people never have visitors that we see, and I wonder about their support and say a prayer for them. Of course, they could have lots of phone calls and visitors I don’t see, but I’m not betting on it. Because they are so quiet when I see them in the halls, and stare vacantly ahead at something that may or may not be there.
Meal times are particularly odd for me. It’s like eating dinner by myself surrounded by other people also eating dinner alone. We share a table and eat the same foods but no one talks unless I start a conversation. There’s only so many chats we can have about how therapy was or what we did this afternoon, because we didn’t do anything. No talk of family, homes, children, things we like to do. We don’t know what’s wrong with each other and what brings us here. And I think most people are not sure where they are going; they may or may not get well enough to go home again.
It’s terrifying to be alone in a room with a body that’s not working the way it used to for reasons you may not understand, and to not know what’s ahead. Time stands still. Your mind short-circuits the thoughts about how to handle it all and you just start to shut down mentally because it’s too hard to process the pain, the uncertainty, and the isolation.
That’s where I was when I was first at the Olympic Center. My body was doing alien things, people wanted me to do impossible things, and I could see no way out. Add in the “no visitors” policy and I could just deal with whatever was immediately in front of me, without being able to think ahead. When I got to this second place, my mind was clearer but I bawled like a baby when I was shut inside this room and realized this was my space for an indefinite period of time. It’s been brightened up by colorful things including my gorgeous quilt and when the sun shines in, it’s not too bad. But I spend a lot of time here on my own. My attention span is narrow. I can’t concentrate on a lot, including some great books waiting on the Kindle, and waste time watching Food Network shows which have no plot to follow.
If you know someone in one of “those places”, brighten their day with a card or a note. They can pick it up and see that they are remembered even while they are alone. Flowers from the grocery store, a box of soft Puffs for a sore nose, some scented lotion are all lovely and inexpensive gifts. But mostly just remember that people are here, and keep them in your prayers. It can be a very lonely place for most of us. You don’t want to be here unless you have to be – and when you are, you want to be remembered.