Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Story of Us: Home Sour Home

For many years, my mother worked as a nurse’s aide in a local nursing home. It was not, by the way, a highly regarded one. I recall the familiar morning ritual of my mom recounting her war stories to my dad. Life on the nursing home frontier was never boring. My father, in turn, regaled my mother with tales from the dark side, aka the third-class mail center in the General Post Office on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan, where he plied his trade. Pop had the not especially enviable four-to-midnight shift, commuting from Kingsbridge in the Bronx via the subway—the Number 1 train—for a quarter of a century. Although the behind-closed-doors postal-employee antics were frequently the stuff of TV sitcoms, my father’s job really wasn't a barrel of laughs.

The nursing home experience was completely foreign to me as a youth. I could never have envisioned anyone in my life circle—and certainly not me—ending up in one for any reason at all. While growing up in the Bronx in the 1960s and 1970s, families—by and large—took care of their own come hell or high water. There were certainly a few nursing home candidates in the neighborhood—by today’s standards at least—who remained in their homes courtesy of family on the premises.

Fast forward to the here and now and I have been in the belly of the beast. Fortunately for me, I was merely visiting a close relation for four months running. And happily for the patient, she escaped the nursing home confines and has lived to tell. A lot of people there will not be so lucky. For those ill-fated souls: the nursing home is their Roach Motel—they’ve checked in but won’t check out. Well, not exactly. They’ll leave at some point in the future—but they’ll be carried out feet first.

Visiting this particular nursing home as often as I did was downright disturbing. For starters, I’m not a boy anymore. I am closer to the end than the beginning. The patients I observed in the place ran the gamut from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest types to the deathly ill with one foot in the grave. I couldn’t help but consider this diverse lot of men and women, who once upon a time functioned in the outside world. They had careers and raised families; they cooked meals and took trips. They were Everyman and Everywoman, the living embodiment of what is in store for many of us.

I looked upon permanent residency in that nursing home—or in any nursing home—as a fate worse than death. It is, though, not out of the realm of possibility I could one day end up in one—a destiny, too, beyond my control. This reality bite is why I'm not interested in longevity for longevity’s sake. Anyway, to keep my sanity in the nursing home milieu, I embraced my rather potent cryptic side while there. The guy in the room across the way, I thought, was a Burt Mustin clone. He shuffled along in his pajamas like an old geezer out of central casting. His roommate—on the other hand—was a textbook blowhard who once worked as a cook, I learned. He awaited with bated breath his breakfast, lunch, and dinner—and also offered culinary commentary on everything on the menu.

Strange, but the paper menus that accompanied patients’ meals rarely, if ever, matched what was on their trays. As for the fare itself: I’ve never seen anything so consistently disgusting and utterly bizarre. Vegetable lasagna served with vegetables; baked ziti served with mashed potatoes and a slice of bread; and the most god-awful-looking macaroni and cheese served with a side of stewed tomatoes. And how pray tell can one screw up chicken nuggets? Well, this nursing home had the uncanny knack for doing just that. The chicken nuggets were nauseatingly soggy. I discovered that the hard way by sampling one. I incorrectly assumed chicken nuggets were beyond messing up. I often wondered what the well-compensated nutritionist on the nursing home payroll actually did while on the job.

I’ll give the place its due in that it was very clean. Just a few seconds in its interior ensured that your clothes and hair would reek of disinfectant. I always changed my clothes and showered, too, when I arrived home from the home.I had little choice but to conclude that if the strong disinfectant stink—or whatever combination went into that distinct nursing home aroma—attached itself to hair and clothing with such alacrity, it likely wormed its way into the food chain with equal rapidity.

A footnote on that ultra-unique nursing home cuisine: I must say that some of the residents considered it akin to roast beef at the Ritz. Still, so much of it went to waste. A gander at the rounded up post-mealtime trays told you as much. In fact, the waste of just about everything there—just like in hospitals—was mind-boggling. It’s little wonder why we are poisoning our planet beyond repair.

The nurses and nurse’s aides there were mostly good—a dedicated enough bunch who just had too many patients to contend with and too little time on their hands. Like, for instance, a woman who was perpetually crying out, “Please, will somebody help me!” I thought she sounded an awful lot like the mysterious voice that frightened young Jimmy Olsen in a black-and-white Adventures of Superman episode called “The Haunted Lighthouse.” You must remember: “Help, I’m drowning!” Jimmy was visiting his aunt who lived on an island with a lighthouse. As things turned out, his aunt—whom he hadn’t seen in a while—was an impostor and the disconcerting shriek from the foggy ether was a parrot. Anyway, I subsequently learned this poor woman in the nursing home was riddled with cancer, in horrible pain, and had every reason to be desperately crying out for help. An aide later reported this once very sweet woman mercifully passed away.

A nursing home is just not a good place to be—as a patient and as a visitor, too. New Age disciples like to declare: Life is good! It’s not typically the case in a nursing home. The blaring TV sets alone were enough to drive me batty there. They nicely complemented my disinfectant cologne.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.