Mom doesn't like going down to the eating arena at the rehabilitation joint (again, do NOT call it a "nursing home"). I suspect part of it is she doesn't want to admit she's like "the other ones." No one wants to face their advancing years. One of the reasons why she likes me to come to breakfast every day--she can eat and hide in her room with someone accompanying her. Avoiding the inevitable.
Imagine my surprise when, yesterday, I found her sitting at a table-full of other residents.
I have to admit I was out of my comfort zone. There aren't a lot of things in common I have with rehabilitating elderly folk. But I bit the bullet and sat down.
Immediately the table order fell into place. Just like prison, I imagine. Joan was the ring-leader. I liked Joan right away. Small, yet an intimidating presence, she brayed out for coffee. Her demands were instantly met.
My mom asked Joan how she got such fast service. She replied, "I'm Royalty, here." Again...a prison reply. But it was enough for me. I bowed down to her, believing in her Queenly status. Hell, I'd vote for her if Queen's were popularly elected. This woman kept her tiny chin up, encouraging others.
Then, I was introduced to Carol. Carol said nothing but offered me a nice smile. I assumed she couldn't hear, but I make stupid assumptions from time to time.
No one knew the last woman's name at the table. Fresh meat at the Big House. I stupidly introduced myself only to discover she was asleep. Couldn't tell at first, really. She sat rigid, just thought she had a stony demeanor. We'll call her "The Sleeping Gal."
Breakfast was delivered. Huzzah. Joan dug in, pronounced the "farmer's mix" as good. Mom did her best at a poached egg, cottage cheese and toast. Carol smiled. I think she liked her meal. The Sleeping Gal slept.
At a table behind us, a voice arose. "Why can't anyone bring me a Goddamn glass of water? Something? Anything? Where is everyone? It's a helluva' place no-one can bother to bring coffee..." It went on. Already uncomfortable, I was ready to rush to her rescue, but...
Joan intervened and said, "She's as mean as a junk-yard dog."
Carol finally piped up. "Therapy's good here."
But, aside from "Greek Chorus Carol's" comment, I was still hung up on the "Junk-Yard Dog." Neglected or not, "Dog" has a right to be heard. To have her needs met. Part of me wanted to help her, part of me was terrified of her. Thought she might bite me. Had no idea what to do. My wheel-house broke down.
Finally, the flamboyant male aid (who my mom has a very conservatively wary eye on) came to her rescue. Thank God.
That's when I heard some of the staff chatting about "Dog." A mere ten feet away. One of the nurses flagrantly called her a "pain-in-the-ass." Derisive laughter was bandied about. They made fun of her. My new breakfast pals appeared uncomfortable, obviously having heard the insults. They said nothing, even Queen Joan. But I know they heard it. Grace under fire, they sat in silence.
They handled it better than I did.
I couldn't believe it. I know negative shop-talk is natural within any business. It's part of life. But for a professional nurse to toss insults within hearing range--I'm supposing, under the presumption all old people can't hear--disgusted me. Saddened me.
These people are supposed to be professional caregivers. Instead, they showed a complete lack of disrespect, treating these people like infants. Contempt,almost.
The elderly can't help it. And this nurse is going to be old some day. Who'll be laughing then, Nurse Eat-It?
We, as a collective whole, could take a cue from certain Asian cultures who respect the elderly. "Nursing homes" are considered an affront . These countries embrace the elderly, appreciate their wisdom and years of life, take care of them. With respect.
When my mom rolled off to rehab, I bid my adieus to my new breakfast buddies. Goodbye, Queen Joan, may you reign long and kick ass. So long, Greek Chorus Carol, I hope you continue to love therapy and chime in when absolutely necessary, you woman of few words. Good night, Sleeping Gal, I hope you sleep well and wake healed. And, most of all, I hope you receive that cup of coffee, Junk-Yard Dog.
I tossed off a "nice to meet you ladies, I'm sure I'll see you around."
Queen Joan regally responded, "We'll be here."
And I'll see them tomorrow. Oddly enough, I think I'm looking forward to it.