Wednesday, April 13, 2005

"I've visited the future, and it isn't pretty"

In NYT: Maureen Dowd, on aging, dementia, and nursing homes:
My mom fell and fractured her neck one night a couple of winters ago. She was sent to a nursing home to recuperate. It was the third circle of gloom. Residents sat around, zombie-like, or slowly maneuvered in wheelchairs or with walkers. I suddenly understood why all of my mom's friends who had gone into nursing homes had become listless and died soon after. The facility was depressing, with bad food and impersonal attendants who seemed inured to their surroundings.

It seemed like the sort of place people checked into but not out of. My mom's hazel eyes were filled with dread, so I bought a sleeping bag at the nearest R.E.I. and slept on the floor beside her bed for four weeks.

There were blizzards outside and lethargy inside. All through the night, Alzheimer's patients would moan: 'Help me! Why doesn't anyone come to help me?' They were unable to remember the last time an attendant stopped by. After a while, there didn't seem much point in getting dressed. I put on one of my mom's extra-large flannel robes and some slippers and started shuffling around the nursing home. I felt like one of those cursed women in Grimm's fairy tales who turn into crones in a blink. Soon the residents began acting as if I were one of them, just one with better mobility. They would call out for me to fix them tea in the microwave - 'Just Sweet 'N Low,' one woman ordered briskly.

One night an elderly woman asked if I would come into her room and dial her daughter's number for her. 'I haven't heard from her in so long,' she fretted. I called the number and left a message on the answering machine: 'Your mother misses you.'

As I hung up, the old woman looked up at me with big suspicious eyes. 'What are you doing in my room?' she demanded in a hostile voice. She had forgotten me already.

Most nights, I watched two sweet-looking old ladies sneak down the hall to purloin supplies at the nurses' station - cat burglars heisting Depends.

In my old life, I read glossy catalogs from Bliss Spa and Bergdorf's. Now I sat in the drab community room reading Dr. Leonard's 'America's Leading Discount Healthcare Catalogue,' which promotes the notion of senior superheroes with vision-enhancing Eagle Eyes sunglasses; Sonic Earz, to amplify sounds up to 60 feet away; and Frankie Avalon's Zero Pain roll-on pain reliever...
Click for Eugene, Oregon Forecast