caring for our own and having empathy for others

After spending 3 days in the messy web of health care for the elderly, I wonder how I could have maybe done it better.

My 78 year old mother with advance Alzheimer’s disease broke her hip a week ago and went in for surgery. It was awesome to see the way our family came together to get through this crisis. My 3 brothers and I took shifts during the seven days to work with my father to navigate through the maze of health care issues and decision making that had to happen. In some ways I felt as if we were doing strategic warfare, us against the health care professionals. I wonder why it had to be this way. Or is just my own issue with fear of the unknown, of trying to protect a vulnerable loved one, or/and frustration and pain of not being on control?

I was very irritated when my mother got transferred to the rehab facility from the hospital. I had tried to get her meds to be there before she arrived. I spoke with her assisted living home to get some meds to take over but the best I got was a list of what she had been taking there. I spoke with the admitting person at the rehab facility and also the hospital and no one would help with this issue. My mom arrived to rehab and looked very uncomfortable, though it is not exactly easy to tell her state since she would not speak, open her eyes, or respond to questions. Why wasn’t she able to have her medication for her condition and for pain? After about 3 hours a doctor arrived to agree that she needed pain meds and ordered them for her – “Duh!” Yet surprisingly, I felt compassion arise above my irritation, when the doctor told me she had to leave quickly because a raging fire in Reno was 5 minutes from her home!

A similar incident occurred when I tried to approach the nurse’s station at the rehab facility. Many nurses and assistants were milling about and not looking up to acknowledge me standing there. My mother’s nurse was visibly stressed out and was expressing confusion and frustration over the number of new rehab admissions coming in that afternoon. She looked at me and said, “Oh are you with the Smith family?” and of course I was not. She said, “oh I’m so confused, I’m getting them all mixed up.”

My reaction to this was to think that the place was completely incompetent and I did not want this woman to be taking care of mom. I wanted my mother out of this place! It is interesting how I really wanted the doctors and nurses to be super heroes and to be available to our beck and call and drop everything for my mother. Could I have handled this differently? Could I have had more empathy for this woman? After all have I not felt the same way at a job? Perhaps I could have offered some words of encouragement or sent her some calming energy?

The next morning my father and I went to tour 2 other rehab/skilled nursing facilities. We liked both of them better than the one my mother was currently at. They were smaller and calmer. We returned to see my mother in the evening, thinking we would move her when she was more physically settled to one of the other places. Yet as we walked through her wing everything seemed different – quieter, les chaotic, more together. Even the nurse from yesterday was more available and concerned about my mother. Perhaps they had gotten their shit together or/and we were calmer ourselves?

I mentioned to the nurse that yesterday must have been hellish with all the new people coming in and she smiled and said, “yes it was crazy.” We both were more humane and caring. Perhaps this is what we really need after all, some understanding and compassion and the ability to look into each others eyes to see our own reflection. 


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