Heart and Soul: Starting life in a nursing home

Illustration: 123rf.com

The mere idea of going into a nursing home can send shudders down a person’s spine.

Let me tell you, it all depends on your own attitude.

I had to move into one three months ago and, believe me, I am happy here. I am 88 and in almost perfect health but, due to certain circumstances, I voluntarily made this move. Once decided, I told myself, “If I am going to spend the rest of my life on earth in this home, I will make myself happy here.”

Of course I was nervous at first but took it one day at a time. My first resolve was to have a good rapport with the helpers.

All my adult life, I had primed myself to be like a chameleon who changes its colour according to the surrounding foliage. As an 18-year-old bride, I had adapted to life among my in-laws by studying their ways and characters.

Now I had this test of my prowess. I took up the gauntlet and, from day one, smiled and treated the helpers as friends. Remember the boomerang used by the aborigines in Australia? In life, like the boomerang, you get back what you give. I am always polite towards them, thus, the helpers – male and female – are my friends. I hardly ever use the bell supplied to me to summon them. I usually make my requests when they give me my food.

Of course, the food will never be like at your home but you have to accept the different menu and be thankful. There is a cook who comes in twice a day to prepare our food. He cooks at the premises.

I keep some biscuits, a flask of hot water and bottles of cool water, and use these to satisfy late-night hunger, as I go to bed nearer 11 o’clock. I’m happy with the cleanliness and the politeness with which the food is served – three full meals and tea-time snacks. Those who are unable to help themselves to the food are fed. Warm or cool water is served, as per our preference.

The floor is swept and mopped regularly, and bathrooms are kept spotlessly clean. Clothes are washed, folded and delivered to us. An electric heater with a shower is provided for one’s bath. We have to get our own toiletries and towels. A large cupboard contains all my belongings, and there is a bedside table with drawers too. There are fans and air-conditioning units in every room as well as in the sitting and dining rooms.

A doctor drops in once a week to check on us and a physiotherapist too is available. A nurse is here often keeping tabs on our usual medication. We are not permitted to keep medication but the helpers dole it out to us carefully. Those who need insulin injections too are not neglected. Our blood pressure and temperatures are checked daily by the helpers. Diapers are supplied to those who need them.

A tiled courtyard exists for my twice daily regimen of walking. The helpers organise regular group exercises or activities (like ball-throwing), elastic strip-pulling to strengthen the arms and cycle pedals to strengthen the legs. Besides this, the helpers bring out fun things for us like colouring books, a bubble presser to make the fingers work, and building blocks. They do their best to help ageing limbs and fingers.

There is a TV screen where we can sit in a group and watch movies. Some watch while others doze! Isn’t it natural for the elderly to nod off wherever they happen to be seated? My only regret is that most of the elderly at this home have no hobbies, hence they sit for hours watching the TV programmes.

As for myself, I do crossword puzzles, play Scrabble, chess, drafts and Solitaire via my handphone. My productive hobby is crochet lace work. As I complete a piece, I hand it out to one of the helpers, telling them that it is not a bribe to get special treatment but a show of gratitude for their kindness towards the inmates, some of whom really test their patience to the utmost.

Each morning, the helpers bathe those who need help, as there are several wheelchair users. Many need to be fed too, and later, have their clothes changed and then settled for the night.

During the day, the bells summon them so they rush, sometimes up the stairs, to see what help is needed. When they finally settle down for the night, one chap is left to hold the fort in case help is needed at night.

When any individual occasionally needs to be taken to a hospital, he is taken by the staff though, in some cases, the family members would come and take them. After each outing, due to the danger of the Covid contagion, he or she is kept secluded in a room, quarantined for three days. Occasionally, one of us is sent for our Covid booster shot.

Visitors have to make an appointment before coming, maximum two persons at a time, all wearing masks. We sit inside a grill door with a table before us and the long-awaited visitor sits outside, also masked. Anything they bring is handed over to the helper who cleans the item and later helps us sort it all out. A visitor once complained to her mother that it was like seeing me in prison! My reply was, “It depends on once’s perception. To me, it’s as if she was in prison!”

When I say that I am happy, it is the truth. Happiness comes from within us. Others cannot make you permanently happy; they can only do it for a while. I once read a quotation which is self-explanatory: “Don’t put the key to your happiness into someone else’s pocket!” (author unknown).

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Nursing home , elderly , caregiver , attitude , mindset


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