Mark O’Brien: There’s a nursing home in your future

There are no fancy brochures for this nursing home, no limousines to ferry the residents to malls and concerts, no menus offering an array of choices.

It’s not a bad nursing home. It’s old but it’s clean, and the halls are full of staffers who mostly seem cheerful and helpful and attentive even though the patients are low-income folks with all sorts of problems. The residents have plenty of activities in the nursing home cafeteria and they usually can get a ride to Wal-Mart or the bingo game and sometimes even to the casinos in Biloxi, Miss.

In this nursing home, there are no single-bed separate rooms, no private nurses.

There are two, three, sometimes four patients to a room. That means two, three or four televisions making noise; two, three or four sets of smells and sounds; and two, three or four minds facing – or ignoring — the approach of death.

This is how it might be if you’re unable or unwilling to save enough money during your working days to afford a better sunset.

It’s a bit like Robert Frost’s description of home in The Death of The Hired Man, which teaches a lot about the value of kindness:

“Home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

Sharing a room at this nursing home is like a lottery. Maybe your roommate and you get along well, or maybe he sleeps all day, making strange, guttural noises. Or maybe he tells the same stories again and again. Or maybe your roommate is much younger, but he has a closed-head injury and can’t speak and there was no other place to put him.

Some residents get frequent visits from friends and relatives. Others, not so much.

That’s a reminder about the need to make lasting friendships and family relationships. Ask yourself, “Would this guy visit me in a nursing home? And how often? Would it be once a year to salve his conscience or often enough to take me for a ride and a meal that’s something besides nursing home food?”

I visit some people in this nursing home every week. Some might live for years, others for only a few weeks or months.

Every visit reminds me of the days when I and so many Baby Boomers scoffed at visions of nursing homes when we were younger. No, we assured ourselves, we’ll die of something else long before we get too old to take care of ourselves. Besides, who wants to think about aging and death when we’re young and invincible?

But life has a way of not working out the way we thought.

And now a whole generation of Baby Boomers is edging toward a slope of nursing homes, extended care, assisted living facilities and all the other diminishment that comes with getting old and sick.

Mark O’Brien is a writer who lives in Pensacola. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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