Mr. R and the nursing home

No surprise. During a recent visit, Mr. R said, “You need to write a column about the impact on people entering a nursing home.” He already knew. Back in the 1980s Mr. R urged us to think about nursing homes for our parents. “I don’t want to start an argument, I just want to open a discussion,” he said.
We listened, talked and forgot about it. Ultimately, only one of the four needed residential care in their waning days. Two others stayed at home under Hospice and the third passed during a hospitalization for his chronic illness.
No surprise when Mr. R. became a chaplain for Hospice. He spent his days visiting the terminally ill. He knew the ins and outs of their problems, the duties of the staff and the needs of the family.
The surprise and irony came after Mr. R fell a couple times and suffered other problems. Testing, probing and analysis ended with a diagnosis of ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. His body had begun to betray him as muscle responses slowed.
The diagnosis came about the time retirement should have meant many years surrounded by his children and grandchildren. His illness followed his wife’s diagnosis with a terminal blood disorder. Together they re-arranged their small home to accommodate their changing needs and abilities. As best they could, they took care of each other with help from their family.
Once a month they entered a nursing home to provide their children a week of respite care. The staff at the home took care of them, while their family caught up with errands, chores and rest.
Too soon, Mr. R attended his wife’s funeral in a rolling lounge chair. Shortly afterwards he moved into the nursing home to stay. The family sold his house and distributed most of his earthly goods. A few pictures and items moved with him into his new abode of one bed in one room of a nursing home.
We visited him recently. Propped up in the raised bed with pillows holding up his head, he admonished, “Write about all the things a person loses when they enter a nursing home: their dignity, their privacy, their independence,” We also heard an unspoken, “the loss of the physical health that mandated the need for the extra care.”
He went on to say, “There are gains from entering a home. For those living alone, the home provides companionship, social interaction, regular meals and a predictable medication regime.”
His comments faded and he changed the subject. “All I can move anymore are my fingers. I can lift them a little bit.” He slowly lifted a couple fingers off the bed. His arm and hand did not move.
It was not the outcome he anticipated 30 years ago when he began urging us to consider the benefits of the nursing home for our parents. He surely did not plan to be this young and in a home. From the beginning he has said, “We are on this journey together, and we are not going to be sad.”
So we visited him and we talked. When the conversation grew too serious, he said, “let’s talk about something less serious. What did you think about that election?”
We laughed and shared our observations. Mr. R may be confined to a bed, only able to call the nurse by blowing in a tube, but he remains as aware of the world as ever. That is one thing he has not lost – his enjoyment of life and the people he loves.