Discarded and Disgraced

My grandmother needed to be placed in a long-term nursing facility a few years after my grandfather passed away. Family members decided the location of an average-quality center outweighed the benefits of a top-quality nursing home in a different city where regular visits were not possible. She was placed in a facility a few blocks from my uncle’s house in order for him to drop in unexpectedly to oversee the treatment that my grandmother received. Even still, this facility’s caregivers seemed oblivious to the needs of each individual even with constant visitors, which only decomposed the hope of a graceful ending of life. Disheartened by my visits to this forlorn facility, the vivid details of the nursing home, and the residents living there clung to me years after my grandmother’s death.

As soon as I walked in the nursing home, a feeling of despair came over me. Truly, I never imagined anything like this. Immediately, I had to place my hand over my nose as I tried not to show that it bothered me. The musty air that slapped me in the face reeked of sore muscle ointment, feces, and urine. Located at the entrance on a white pedestal, flowers donated by a local florist in hopes to bestow a spring-like atmosphere seemed to be a morbid, sick-humored funeral advertisement. I imagined the possible eerie slogan. "Loved one die? Call us!" At the same time, I could smell death haunting the people staring at me wanting one last conversation to remind them of days gone by.

Simultaneously, old, doddery voices, some soft and some loud, pierced the silence from every direction as I turned the corner to walk to my grandmother’s room. "Please take me home." "Who are you?" "What a cute little girl you have. Hi little girl…precious, precious little girl." In the distance I heard a feeble cry, "Someone help me! Help me, please!" Of course, I looked in the room as I passed by. All alone, the old, senile lady seemed to be screaming out intensely for help without an apparent reason. Up and down the hallways weak walkers stressfully worked as they tottered to make it to their destination. As some other mobile residents tried desperately to get nowhere, I heard the tiny pats of slippers lightly touching the ground as the wheelchairs crept inch by inch. Moans, groans, and soft whimpers pleaded for their youth again, or for God just to let them die.

Near the end of the hallway, fragile arms shook uncontrollably as one white-haired lady with sunken in cheekbones stretched out to reach for my hand. Putting her hand in mine, a nauseating taste disgorged from my stomach as I envisioned the possibility of accidentally tearing the paper that encased her brittle bones. Many residents acted incoherent to the gloomy cage that imprisoned their destiny. If I smiled or said hi, they steadily kept their gaze as if they tried to study a tiny, imaginary dot on the wall. Lost beyond the realms of reality, I wondered about their thoughts or if their minds were lucid enough to think at all. Perspiring from the warm temperature, I saw the thick, crocheted blankets that covered frail legs as the same time as a pale, thin-haired man asked why it the nurses kept it too cold in his room. Finally, I entered my grandmother’s room, and I temporarily left the gravely depressing world behind.

The dismal atmosphere of my visits kneaded my heart in knots. I wanted to alleviate the sadness that ate away at these abandoned souls. Unsuccessfully, I knew once I left, life for these bewildered individuals continued in the same fashion the same day after day until one by one, life ceased. I enjoyed the visits with my grandmother, and I felt honored that I held her hand as she took her last breath. However, the visions of the poorly managed nursing home, and the deteriorating, discarded life of the residents unmistakably continued to live deep within me.

© NursingJourney.com, 2004