Who’s to blame?

Lately I’ve had a hard time figuring out how to react when I discover things that seem wrong to me at Mom’s memory care facility.  Since I’m an ultra-sensitive person to start with, I do realize that what seems wrong to me is probably way over the top for the staff.  That in mind, I do a lot of self-censoring and agonizing about which of my concerns to keep inside, and what to report, or at least comment out loud about, as tactfully as possible.

Finding one’s parent soaked in her own drool to the point where her entire shirt is soaking wet goes in the reporting category for me.  Same with finding her dinner in her lap, two hours after dinner, when she’s been wheeled back to her bedroom and placed in front of the TV for the evening.  These things aren’t common, but they’ve both happened more than once in the last couple months.

Crusty eyes and teeth completely and visibly caked with food are in the grey area for me, since she resists my efforts to do her eyes even on the best days ( a battle I won’t give up), and I know from personal experience that her teeth pack food like crazy and it takes a very long and tedious session to get them un-gunked.

What about leaving her sitting in front of a blank blue TV screen?  Or infomercials?

How about finding her pants are soaked, when I have no idea when it happened?  Forgetting to put her feet back on the footrests so her legs hang unsupported and lose their feeling?

And do I make judgments about the tired young gaggle of nursing students who work nights together at the Memory Care facility — all lovely, caring people when alone, but who tend to gather in a group, eat pizza, and study in the staff room together when they don’t know there are visitors like me present, leaving needy residents unattended?

I’ve been one of the most vocal family members, mainly because I’m one of the few who often intentionally schedules my visits during “off” times, choosing to see the worst of things and not worrying about visiting when I know the administrators are around and my mom has a “visible” standard of care.  Daytime care is universally the best in this world of assisted living.  What happens at night is much more inconsistent, and in some places, sketchy at best.

I remind myself that these tired youngsters are being paid next to nothing, have been asked the same question by certain residents more than 50 times, and are probably the best help that can be found when a corporate business wants the head honchos to be paid handsomely.  Does it make more sense to aim my feedback at them?

Sometimes when I approach or email the director of Mom’s facility, I remind her that I realize they all work hard there, but that I still feel concerned about XYZ.  I see her working over hours; I see her with mandatory weekends for family events, and I think I might feel her frustration with her position and with people like me who can’t let go and just be happy with our parents being well fed and generally not too neglected.  How much more can she work?  Do I expect her to give up her nights too?

If I think about it a lot, which I tend to do on the long drives, and insert some empathy into the picture, I’m not sure there’s anyone to “blame”, at least on the local level, where people will take some responsibility.  The corporate owners live in another state, as has become more common in these kinds of businesses.

The status of what we do with our elders as a culture and the options we have in this country can look pretty grim to me.  And then I start to look at myself again, wondering if I’m doing the right thing to trust Mom’s care to strangers who only have so many resources and staff to be spread around to 35 needy residents.  What am I thinking?

And if I were to bring her back home and give up a large part of my marriage and my quiltwork jobs that feed my passions of gardening and working with children, struggling to find good, reliable respite providers who felt good in my home, would I be in any less agony?  Just a different kind?

None of these questions or angst-filled sentiments are anything new to you caregivers or to this blog, I’m painfully aware.  Nevertheless, this is where I’m at.  Again.  Going around in the emotional caregiver loop, rather than feeling settled and knowing that I’m doing the best I can, which is sometimes my reality, but not very often.

Now sitting back and reflecting a bit after having written this gloomy post, it enters my mind that if my mother were in her right mind and saw all I was doing for her and how much I agonize about trying to make the right choices, I think she’d be pretty OK with what I’m doing, and maybe even horrified at the amount of emotional space she takes up.

She’d always told me she didn’t want to be a burden.  I don’t think of her that way at all, despite the lifestyle switch, but it’s good to remind myself that maybe my expectations for myself and for her care are much higher than what she would consider a fine effort.  Or at least it comforts me for a moment to think so right now.

Once again, I’m with all of you caregivers in spirit who don’t know what’s best, and aren’t sure you ever will….

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One Response to Who’s to blame?

  1. Noree says:

    Ah, Megan, my heart goes out to you. Thanks so much for your honesty. I especially appreciate that you try to separate your own discomfort from your mother’s. I have often thought, having spent a lot of time in hospitals and care facilities as a family member as well as for work, that some of what we see as suffering is not experienced as suffering by patients/residents. It is a constant challenge to sort out our projections and perceptions. I think it is also true that visitors sometimes see problems that staff and residents become enured to. So we walk this line, wanting an ideal of care, seeing the lack of resources, coming to grips with the inevitable collapse of these human bodies and how we do our best with that, and trying to remember, even when we ask for more-different-better care, that we can’t know or control most of what goes on. I like to work with this line from Kenneth Wapnick: “Be kind, and forgive yourself when you’re not.”

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