Guest Column: To live a few moments longer

by Mary Bryant*


I woke up in a fog unsure of where I was.  The lights were bright and I could hear people walking around and talking quietly. I couldn’t make out what they were saying.

My strength dissipating, my body sought sleep. My eyes closed sending me back into a dream like state.  Was I in an operating room? Had they performed the costly liver transplant that I needed?  Even with Medicare there would be many out of pocket expenses and years of expensive anti rejection drugs that would surely put me deeper in a “Black Hole” where only a shadow of light might escape the gravitational pull of mounting debt. I dreamt I was gasping for air or was it real?

After a number of struggling attempts I finally woke enough to realize I was in a hospital recovery room and had a titanium rod inserted in my femur, hip to knee.  Then memories of the fall in my garden came back and the neighbors who had gathered to help and the ambulance ride to the hospital and the excruciating pain.

After three days post surgery in a hospital lying flat on my back and drugged sufficiently I was moved to a rehabilitation center for 2-3 weeks of physical therapy and skilled nursing care.  I was totally out of control of making any decisions so my daughter and son took charge of my care.  I was transported to the rehab center in another ambulance. This was a private for profit facility that accepted my Medicare unless my money didn’t take care of it.

I tried to make my stay there as pleasant and positive as possible even comparing it to a cruise…meals provided, a gym and beauty shop and a room with a big window and cleaning service.  The ocean had to be imagined. I rationalized.

The nursing staff, both registered and technician appeared very over worked on 12 hour shifts.  The technicians did their best to see that basic needs were met including a shower every other day if time permitted.  The RN’s kept up with medications.  Physical and Occupational Therapists spent three one hour sessions a day with me.  They were awesome and overworked with circles around their eyes in the name of profit.

Still the fear I felt as I was wheeled into this institution was palpable.  I was on a lot of pain medication still so I was in and out of reality.  When lucid I could feel and smell and taste the depressive surroundings…the reality of the elderly,  the incompetent and incontinent and incurable with empty looks and hollow eyes doomed to a forever life here.  A life counted not by months or years but by when the next meal was to be served.

When I was on enough drugs it was easy to sleep my way through chunks of time but with horrible dreams and hallucinations.  Twice I was found on the floor in the middle of the night.  The staff believed that I fell out of bed.  I knew in some altered mental state that I was trying to escape.   Somehow the pain medications I was taking caused a bad reaction and since my liver wasn’t metabolizing them I went into severe psychosis.  I was sent back to the hospital for two days of detoxification.

After that back to the rehab center for another week of PT before being discharged.  I am now able to walk again but am still trying to clear the cobwebs from this nightmare out.

This particular chapter of old age ailments is thankfully behind me.  I am a little more than fearful of what lies ahead.  There should be a better way…a better way than dark brown double rooms with limited personal space.  A better way than spending all of your time in bed or wheeling your chair around the gloomy halls.  A better way for permanent residents who disappear into themselves when no one comes to visit. A better way than showering when someone has time to help.  A better way than waking up each day to the depressing sameness as the yesterdays spent here. A better way than watching for profit health care companies making fortunes off of our misfortunes. A better way than losing total control of the remaining future.

Is this the only country that treats the elderly as income and the only country that enjoys large profits from our aging and ailing population? There has to be a better way.

*A romantic traveler