February 20, 2005
Today I took Grandma to see Grandpa in the nursing home. Grandpa doesn’t even know where he is or why he’s in there in the first place. He thinks he’s in a hotel or something. He was only supposed to be for rehab after his broken hip, but that was months ago and he was still in a wheelchair. He should have been up and walking around a long time ago. I had a feeling he probably sat in that wheelchair all day every day.
We found him in the dining room waiting for dinner to be served. He was slumped all the way down in his wheelchair looking absolutely miserable. He perked up almost imperceptibly when he saw us. While we were sitting with him he kept trying to pull himself up in his wheelchair but he was unable to. I went over to one of the nurses and asked her if she could help sit him all the way up because “it looks like he’s sliding out of the wheelchair,” I said.
She came over and looked at Grandpa and said, “he’s not sliding out of his wheelchair, what are you talking about?” No, his head is only level with the table. I just looked at her until she finally moved him up about an inch. While she was doing so Grandpa seemed to be in a lot of pain. I could tell by the look on his face that he was seeing stars. I wondered what was causing him so much pain.
When dinner finally came Grandpa was having trouble eating. For one, he still wasn’t sitting up properly and he couldn’t reach across the food tray all the way. He was having a lot of trouble just holding the fork. His speech was slurred and he was pretty lethargic too, probably due to whatever medication they have him on. Poor guy was pretty out of it. I finally had enough of watching him fumble around with his food and I came around the table and fed it to him myself. I was afraid that he would be embarrassed and frustrated and start yelling at me. Instead he just opened his mouth and let me slip the fork inside, much to my surprise and relief.
The nurse told us that he hadn’t been eating too well lately. Judging by the quality of food they served, I didn’t blame him. That night he had pork, spinach (yuck) and a mashed-up baked potato. The whole meal looked like it went through a stump grinder before they put it on the plate. Nobody else appeared to care for the food either. Other visitors were complaining about it, and they weren’t even eating it! One could only imagine what the residents thought of the food.
I fed him about half of what was on the plate, because by then he kept choking and coughing. I probably should have gotten him to eat the whole thing, but I didn’t want to be too pushy. After dinner I wheeled him down to the nurse’s station to be with the rest of the locals. I put him next to this woman who stared straight ahead and kept repeating, “I wanna go to bed now… I wanna go to bed now…” The woman next to her just looked at me and rolled her eyes as if to say, “Get a load of this one.”
It was heartbreaking when we left him. Every time we left he wanted to know why he wasn’t going with us. He said he was confused, and he looked absolutely depressed and miserable. As much as I hated the idea of having him back home, I hated the idea of seeing him in a place like that even more. He was so difficult to live with, but I’d be able to suck it up if he came back home.
It was such a sad situation. My grandparents had been married 64 years and they’d never been separated like that. Grandma was lucky if Dad took her to visit the nursing home more than once a week, and I was doing my best to pick up the slack. I’d be completely miserable too if I were Grandpa. I wished there was something I could do about the whole situation but it was all out of my hands.
When Grandma and I were going out the front door we bumped into one of the other visitors who had been sitting with her family at our table in the dining hall. She looked at us as we were coming out and said, “Do you need help?”
What the hell with? Getting into the car, I guess…? I just said, “No, we got it…thanks.” Nonetheless she stood there on the sidewalk watching like a hawk while I helped Grandma into the passenger seat. After I shut the door and walked around to my side the woman called out, “Don’t forget to put on her seat belt.”
I gritted my teeth and did my best not to give her a tart response – or any response at all. I did not appreciate being spoken to like a dumb teenager instead of someone who was 20 years old. And mind your own fucking business, lady. She was still standing there watching as I pulled away.
I was glad to get out of there, as always. I always felt so awkward and uncomfortable in nursing homes and the like. God bless anyone who can work with the elderly or disabled, especially on a daily basis. When I was away at school I joined the Circle K and worked with the Special Olympics and went to the local children’s home to spend time with the orphans. I’m not a people person as it is, but I forced myself to do those things because they were the right things to do and I did feel good afterwards, if not a bit drained. But I did not feel good about how Grandpa was doing in there.