Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, May 5, 2004


Page 7



A Nursing Home Visit Now Will Help You Avoid One Later




Before seniors sign up for Medicare, there ought to be a requirement that they visit three or four nursing homes, just to see what they’re really like.

Like those “Scared Straight” prison tours for teenagers, the nursing home tours would give seniors a glimpse of how their lives might end up if they make bad choices. The reformed seniors would live happier lives and the government would save billions in nursing home expenses.

We all know that nursing homes aren’t fun. But until you visit one, you can’t really appreciate how smelly, loud, chaotic, depressing and expensive they really are.

Trust me. I’ve been visiting one several times a week for the past two months.

A friend landed in a Sacramento facility to recuperate after being hospitalized for wounds on her legs.

My first visit wasn’t so bad. For a nursing home, it didn’t smell too bad, it seemed orderly, and the nurses were all friendly and helpful. A visit on this particular day wouldn’t have been enough to scare a person into exercising more, eating better and throwing away the cigarettes.

Follow-up visits would have done the trick, though. The nurses remained professional and helpful for the duration, but there were days when the dining room smelled so bad that it was difficult to tell if it was due to lousy Salisbury steak or hundreds of incontinent residents.

Most nights, visitors walking down the hallway would slalom through residents in wheelchairs, many with dazed expressions, asking passersby for help with problems that existed only in their heads. One of these dementia patients was an old woman who held a very realistic doll, cradling the “baby” in her arms like a new mother.

Then there were the sounds. Everywhere, sounds. The bells ring when nurses are called. The loudspeaker announces that dinner is served. The hammer pounds as pills are smashed into powder for those who can’t swallow. The television blares in the room next door. And for hours on end, the dementia patient down the hall yells—screeches—“Somebody help me! Somebody help me!”

There is little joy in a nursing home. Everywhere you turn, there are frail, skeletal seniors clinging to life. Many have no idea where they are. I overheard at least three people praying for God to “take me now.”

Ironically, one of the people praying for the Grim Reaper provided the most heartening moment in the home. She had been in tremendous pain from a hip replacement, but thankfully, her prayer went unanswered. She seemed to have recuperated nicely when she returned a few weeks later, smiling and cheerful, to pick up some personal belongings that had been left behind.

The other good news is that my 79-year-old friend, whose chances of checking out of the facility seemed very slim at times, is back home. We kept her nursing home I.D. bracelet as a not-so-subtle reminder of where a person can end up if she doesn’t eat right, exercise, stay mentally active or follow doctors’ orders. If that doesn’t do the trick, the copy of the final invoice ought to.

I know I’ll be eating more vegetables and doing more push-ups from now on, just in case.

Try it yourself. Visit some nursing homes this month and get scared straight. If you go now, while you can still leave on your own accord, you might be less likely to visit later in a gurney.

— Capitol News Service


Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company