Aug 23, 2014

A Nursing Home Mini-Series: Praying Is Praying, aka Right Pew, Wrong Church

Beatrice drank water and wasn't dehydrated anymore, and improved to the point where she could participate in the nursing home activities.

Though Beatrice didn't know my ethnicity, she said, "Do you want to go to a worship service with me?" 

The nursing home had a hall where any event could be held. Last week, a Polka tribute. This week, a worship service.

The worship service was at 7pm and I knew it wasn't the Jewish kind. We, as Jews, don't say worship service. Every Saturday morning, we say "Shabbat" service, and on the many holidays throughout the year, we have a service to commemorate that holiday, or Holy Days, as with the case of Rosh Ha'Shanah and Yom Kippur. 

But we share a Bible--the Old Testament--and when it comes right down to the heart of it, we're all praying to the same God, so I said, "Sure. I'll go with you." 

I figured, with a stroke and following my drop-foot surgery, a bunch of prayers couldn't hurt. In other words, I needed all the prayers I could get.

Beatrice was in worse shape than I was, so I followed the aide who was pushing Beatrice's wheelchair in my wheelchair through the narrow curves in the hallway, negotiating and steering with one left hand and foot. I didn't take the cane because it was too darn far.

At last, we arrived at the massive hall, and I thought of the chairs as pews because it was a worship service. There were hushed and whispered sounds all around. Beatrice and I sat in our own wheelchairs outside the "pews." 

A few people handed out booklets from Baptist Homes Society Sunday Chapel Service which contained the notes and lyrics to the service, and minutes later, the tall pastor entered and a pretty pianist, who was already seated at the piano, started to play "Call to Worship and Lord's Prayer."

Glory be to the Father and to Son and to the Holy Ghost....

I could have hummed the melody because I could read the notes from my extensive music background. But that didn't sit right with me. I was on auto-pilot. My brain didn't want to do it, to sing those words I didn't believe in. 

I mouthed the words slowly so that I would reach of end of the "Shmah" when all the gentiles would reach the end of "Call to Worship and Lord's Prayer." Translation: "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the LORD is one," found in Deuteronomy 6:4.

The next song  was "Jesus, Lover of My Soul." I didn't ever sing to Jesus. I automatically sang, under my breath, "Ein keloheinu." Translation:
There is none like our God, There is none like our Lord, There is none like our King, There is none like our Savior. Who is like our God?, Who is like our Lord?, Who is like our King?, Who is like our Savior?
Let us thank our God, Let us thank our Lord, Let us thank our King, Let us thank our Savior.
Blessed be our God, Blessed be our Lord, Blessed be our King, Blessed be our Savior.
You are our God, You are our Lord, You are our King, You are our Savior.

There were 3 songs left, and I sang silently the "Ma'Nishtana" for Passover and the blessing over the candles and the Dreidel song for Hanukah. It was a mish-mash of songs, in the wrong order and/or holiday, that I remembered from going to Hebrew school for 10 years and services for almost 60 years.

Then the pastor told a little tale that had to with, when I was listening, a man, some fish, and a river. I was distracted by the auto-nicity of my brain to sing the Hebrew songs rather than the gentile ones.

The service came to a close 45 minutes later and the pastor, with two hands, grabbed both Beatrice's and my wheelchairs and took us back to our rooms, Beatrice in front and me in back, confident in the knowledge that we both prayed. 

Deep in my heart, I knew that God would understand. 

Aug 19, 2014

A Nursing Home Mini-Series: Seeing Things That Aren't There, aka Hallucinations

Maggy was a fall risk, never knowing when she would pass out, and Beatrice, who fell in her kitchen, had an IV bag attached to her arm because she was dehydrated. They were relegated to their rooms for all activities, including therapy. And Cassey was, at last, home. So I had to find a new "eating" table, the most popular activity in the nursing home.

I chose to sit with Tillie because no one else wanted to. Tillie was always seeing things. She was 92 years old and she talked about the cats she saw so clearly on her feet, in the garden, through the plants. But there were no cats to be seen. She had a stroke 12 years ago, had macular degeneration, had a recent fall, and she was hallucinating. She was healthy otherwise, knowing that people rejected her but not knowing why.

During breakfast, she said, "Of course, the mother cat looked after her offspring. She was tawny in color and searching for food the kittens could eat." And she described the kittens, one being all white and one being striped. And she had a vision of dogs playing in the courtyard of our nursing home--one a blonde cocker spaniel, the other a tan and black beagle. 

So I decided to do some research on seeing things that weren't there. 

Oliver Sacks -- Hallucinations
The hallucination [that's what most neurologists call them] is convincingly apparent, produced by the same neural pathways as real-as-life perceptions. 

Oliver Sacks, a professor of neurology at the N.Y.U. School of Medicine and the author of a book called “Hallucinations," wrote this excerpt in The New York Times in 2012: "People with impaired sight, similarly, may start to have strange, visual hallucinations....Perhaps 20 percent of those losing their vision or hearing may have such hallucinations." Remember Tillie had macular degeneration?

Sacks added that Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS) is a condition where people with vision problems begin to experience visual hallucinations. This condition -- CBS -- usually belongs to the elderly. They may see active cats or flying birds, for example. Remember Tillie saw cats and dogs?

New medications or a faulty mix, or a quick change in environment, may cause hallucinations as well. I remember when my grandfather suddenly moved to a nursing home and he "saw," though nobody else did, a variety of animals soon after. Tillie went into the nursing home suddenly, too.

Given the imperfection of the human body, aka nobody is perfect, it is more than likely that something in the brain
is at fault. After all, the brain controls everything, as individuals, that make us who we are, like strokes, for instance. Any of those factors -- macular degeneration, Charles Bonnet Syndrome, sudden change in environment -- could have contributed to Tillie's hallucinations.

However, it didn't matter. Tillie, at 92, is who she is and lucky to be alive, and seeing things that aren't there is a part of her. I'd always sit with her because hearing odd shit is who I am.

Aug 15, 2014

A Nursing Home Mini-Series: Life with Old People

Some of you missed my last post -- -- in which I told the outcome of my stroke-related surgery. The surgeon said the operation was successful. I say the surgeon did the best he could with what he had to work with. 

Anyway, I'm in a nursing home now, which is divided between residents (I say "lifers") or, as with me, people who go here to recuperate. I had surgery so I fall into the second batch.

The nursing home serves three complete meals a day -- breakfast at 8, lunch at 12, and dinner at 5, plus snacks, if anybody wants them, in between and after dinner. So you could spend around six hours just eating.

The nursing home is understaffed, so the aides start bringing  people down to the dining room thirty minutes before the meal started in order for all of the people to be there when the meal officially began.

The aides are responsible, too, for bringing the platters of all people who don't want to socialize. One aide said to me, "The people eat in their rooms, if they are sick or don't want to socialize with 'old' people." I took offense at that remark because I am one of them, the old people, I mean. I don't know when it happened and I don't feel old. But numbers never lie. I am 66.

I got to the nursing home just before dinner. In the wheelchair, I saw an open spot in the table for four. One of was the little, old lady named Gert. I don't know the reason for her going to the nursing home. She died three days later and Cassey took her spot. Cassey, who was a year younger than I was, was a geriatric/psychiatric nurse who had a hip replacement. She was quiet and liked observing the other two. 

Maggy was an 91-year-old, bust-ass, no-holds-barred, obese lady who actually was comfortable and secure being obese. Maggy was a diabetic who passed out until somebody in her family had the sense to gain her admittance to the hospital. Then the doctors figured out what it was, but I never knew. And I didn't ask. She came her to rest.

And the fourth was Beatrice, 89, who said platitudes all day like "Where there's a will, there's a way" or "If it's meant to be, it will happen." Beatrice had a fall and she exhibited black-and-blue marks on every inch or two of her body. She was also a sentence finisher, like if you paused and were trying to finish the sentence, she would finish the sentence for you. Most times, she was wrong in the word that she selected. And that got the hairs on Maggy's neck to stand up at full attention.

"I don't like when you fill in the blanks," Maggy screamed.

"Well, the right word fits the shoe," Beatrice said, mixing up platitudes. Sometimes, when Beatrice got tired, she said them that way.

So that was the table. I sat with them for three weeks until Cassey's hip allowed her to be discharged. Cassey sent me an email when she arrived home, happy to be with her boys (aka cats) and her comfy, overly high bed which, as her email said, she accessed with a step stool she borrowed from her sister.  

Maggy passed out again, and Beatrice was still hooked to an IV bag for dehydration. So tomorrow, I was on my own to find new people at a different table.

That's the thing about nursing homes. I didn't think I'd have time for making really good friends because there's a fast turnover rate, akin to a revolving door. But I had enough sense that I wouldn't die trying either.