Today I went to visit Mom in the nursing home. She had her hospital gown bunched up above her stomach. I asked if she was hot. Instead, she said that her colostomy bag had leaked. There was dried feces caked to her gown. She had rolled it up so the feces would not be against her skin. I could see a smear of feces on the sheet next to her head. I also could see feces smears on the waistband of her diaper.
It’s hard to put on a happy face when you see your own mother suffering in her own excrement. Mom is aware enough to be embarrassed as well. There was little I could do, as there were no gloves around. I rang her nurses bell repeatedly.
Almost an hour passed before a harried nurse popped her head in. She changed my mom’s colostomy bag, but left the clean-up for an assistant to take care of.
While I stepped out of the room, I met two dementia patients who are on my mom’s wing. The nurse had just gotten through venting to us about how the one dementia patient was driving her crazy. “I was short to her, and I’m normally not like that. Then I go home and lie awake at night feeling bad about being rude to the patients,” the nurse sighed.
I certainly don’t blame the staff. They are extremely understaffed and work themselves to the bone. It’s easy to imagine having compassion burnout when a dementia patient comes up to the nurses’ station every five minutes asking the same question over and over.
Theresa is one of the dementia patients. She rolls around in a white walker all day, up and down the hallway. She wanders into other patient’s rooms, because she cannot remember which room is hers. I’ve seen her try desperately to open locked doors. Today she saw me and said, “Do you have a room here?”
I smiled and said I was just visiting.
She said, “It’s so hard to find a room around here, they are all empty!” With that, she took off down the hallway. I’ve been to the nursing home enough now to know which room she’s in, and I help guide her there if she asks. After my mom had finally been cleaned up (she had been like that all morning and now it was almost lunchtime), Theresa popped into my mom’s room.
“Have you been into that room over there?” Theresa pointed across the hallway. We shook our heads “no” and she continued: “Well, I went in there and set down on a stool and I got all wet.”
She turned around to show us and it was clear she had wet herself. I directed her back down the hallway towards a nurse who could change her.
But as I sit here and think about the day’s events, I can’t help but feel we are letting the elderly down. They deserve better than this.