I'm failing, and I know it. I feel it especially in the way my lungs get winded whenever I exert myself and in many other ways to numerous to name. I've been preparing for the end for some time now. But even as I reduce the inventory of my "things," I find myself buying some new gadget such as a pulse oximeter to help me check my oxygen level after exertion, or a metronome because I read somewhere that it might be helpful in improving my hesitant speech.
I need to stay alive for now. That's clear. I've known so many residents of this Life Plan retirement home (also known as a Continuing Care Retirement Community CCRC) who felt that they had lived too long, outlived their usefulness, outlived their family and friends, and had no reason to continue to live. But I'm not at that point. My children, grandchildren, step-children, and their children are all well and happy. My goddaughter is amazing! Productive citizens. I'm so proud of each and everyone of them! But it's not for them that I want to live. I know by now that the kids will be all right.
I have a task to do. Here's the situation: People who work in homes for the elderly have never been old themselves, and therefore have no idea of the problems that old people face. Yes, they think they know through observation, but that is only a partial understanding. Also, the workers go home at the end of the day and concern themselves with their own families and their needs, while assuming that the old folks will be okay until the workers return for their next shift of duty. And for the most part this is true.
But day by day, and throughout every night, we're getting older and more frail. Every one of us. We entered the retirement home happy to be a part of a wonderful community joining in activities that were fun and stimulating. What was implied was that medical care would be available if we should ever need it. Wellness nurses were usually available during the day by appointment, and in an emergency, registered nurses (RNs) could be called to come and help if a resident should fall down or otherwise need temporary assistance during the night.
I was an RN during my early career, and I know the limitations (legal and otherwise) under which RNs practice. We may assess, but not diagnose or treat medical conditions. We do not prescribe medications. We cannot bill Medicare for our services. These are tasks reserved for primary care physicians who see patients in their offices and/or specialist physicians to whom they refer.
Then comes the day when we can't drive anymore! How will we get to our appointments? If family isn't available, who will drive us? Life Plan retirement communities do not usually provide transportation for individual residents. Unless another resident who still drives is willing to take us, we're stuck.
A fellow resident of mine needed to take her husband to the doctor, but he was in the memory care unit. So she had to hire a caregiver to accompany them, rent a wheelchair, and order a taxi for both going to, and returning from, the appointment. Yes, she could afford this expensive trip once, but over and over again? We live on fixed incomes in a world where the cost of living is only going up.
My task is clear: As the chair of our Resident Health Care Committee, and having recruited knowledgeable residents, many of whom have health care backgrounds, I am going to try, with their help, to build a system of assistance for elderly people that truly addresses their needs as they grow older and more frail. We will begin first with where we are, and see where it goes.
Stay tuned. I will keep you updated.