Health care and heartbreak

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The night of June 5 of this year was a defining moment in my life and will be etched in my mind’s eye for all eternity. Having just arrived home from Ontario, I entered my mother’s room at the retirement centre where she was residing, and I saw Mom lying across her bed in a complete state of stupor and appearing rather fragmented like a lost soul merely existing.

Seeing my mother in such a state was nothing short of a heart-wrenching vision for me. She raised her head and looked into my eyes and in a weak voice mumbled, “I don’t believe you’re here with me. You’re an answer to my prayers.” By that time, the family had become aware that our mother had been prescribed antipsychotic medication by the centre’s attending physician for the past nine months.

Staggering list

Before leaving the retirement home that night, I requested a complete list of the medications that my mother was taking. When I saw the list, I was perplexed by all the medications she was being prescribed by the centre’s attending physician.

Most upsetting and shocking was the fact that the family was not even consulted prior to putting my mother, a 91-year-old at the time, on a potent antipsychotic with doses being steadily increased. In the days ahead, I requested that a number of the drugs be discontinued, especially the mind-altering psychotic drugs.

During my second week, Mom told me that she had been through an awful time the past number of months. She said, “I thought I was losing my mind and there was no way out. I really thought that I was going looney. It was an awful frightening experience. It was terrible. I’ll never forget it.”

In the weeks ahead I had to address many issues concerning

my mother’s general care. I found myself with my mother seven days a week for about 12 hours every day — a challenging and arduous journey for sure. But God’s grace helped us through. When I tactfully expressed my concerns to the retirement centre’s doctor regarding the drugs he was prescribing to my mother, he became quite arrogant and hostile.

I then knew that it would definitely be in Mom’s best interest to consult a more caring, competent doctor. She also had to consult a couple of specialists for particular ailments she had been living with the past year.

 As the weeks passed, a few residents even commented that Mom seemed to be doing much better and seemed more cognitively alert and pleasant than in recent months. Nevertheless, in the midst of all this my mother was assessed for requiring level 3 care, primarily as a result of her anxiety and related issues.

Troubling placement

Unfortunately, Eastern Health placement services ended up misplacing her on a wander-guard unit for the cognitively impaired.

Needless to say, being misplaced on such a unit was beyond stressful for my mother. My heart truly bled for her.

She was on this unit for two stress-filled, sleep-deprived months before recently getting placed on another unit which concerns me as well. Hence, my mother is what I consider to be in the “grey zone.”

Mom is able-bodied for a 92-year-old and has mild to moderate dementia. Nonetheless, she can engage in conversation and socially appropriate behaviour. Mom, however, now finds herself on a unit with many residents who unfortunately are physically disabled and quite cognitively impaired.

Mom, as well as a few other residents, would be much more contented if they were on a unit with proper care conducive to their particular needs. No doubt, this has been a disturbing experience for my mother as well as the other residents in the “grey zone,” all because of the particular chain of events that served to place them where they are and the apparent incompetence in the links of the chain. 

In addition, some of the significant and even crucial issues directly related to personal care, which I have closely observed within both 2nd and 3rd level care for seniors, definitely need be addressed. Many of these issues have a lot to do with common sense practices. For example, seeing toast or cookies being served to residents not on a side plate but being placed directly on a dirty table, burnt toast being served to residents, dirty underwear being placed in a resident’s walker basket following her shower, poor quality meals (i.e., bologna or hotdogs for supper). Specifically, as related to conditions in 3rd level care, having to go into a totally unacceptable dirty washroom, with fecal matter on the toilet seat and floor, or having personal items going missing were all things which I found to be totally unacceptable.

I also must mention that personal care workers, in general, seem to have some difficulty understanding what it means to rinse one’s mouth. My mother was prescribed steroid inhalers and she should have been rinsing her mouth, because not doing so can lead to sore, even bleeding, gums. However, I never once saw any of the workers have Mom rinse her mouth after giving her the inhalers. My mother’s gums did get sore and, when Mom changed doctors, he emphasized the importance of making sure that she rinsed her mouth.

When I expressed my concern to the personal care workers, they then simply had Mom swallow a mouthful of water after taking the inhalers as opposed to actually rinsing her mouth. I ended up taking the matter in my own hands and doing it the right way.

More to say

I truly could say much more, but I think you get the point. Is it really possible that such workers do not know any better?

That’s difficult to believe. Is management even aware of these goings-on? One thing that I know for certain is that when all is said and done, the seniors are the ones who become the victims and often times suffer in silence when under the care of those who do not genuinely care when it comes to doing a proper and effective job in caring for the elderly and tending to their specific needs. 

As the days turned into weeks and weeks into months, I realized that this journey was no longer just my mother’s story but it had also become my script.

Every bit of my mother’s pain had become my pain, on top of having to fight the good fight and be an advocate for her and tackle what seemed to be a brick wall at times.

Nevertheless, I know with certainty that things would have been much worse for Mom if I hadn’t been there to advocate for her the past months. I will say that my months of caring for Mom in itself was an honour.

I am thankful for the special moments we had together.

Sadly, I am physically and mentally drained from the stresses I’ve had to contend with within the system. I feel so broken, so fragmented, so weary and deeply scarred by, paradoxically enough, a health-care system — or, more specifically, by some of the individuals who supposedly work within the system or are in some way connected to the system.

Having to leave

After having spent so many months with my mother every single day for extended hours, I came back to Ontario a few days ago and it literally tore me apart to have to leave her entangled in a system that requires so much improvement, especially when it comes to acknowledging and understanding residents like my mother who are in that grey zone category, not properly placed and feeling stressed as a result.

Eastern Health placement services really need to be more sensitive to the critical importance of proper and appropriate placement of residents in long-term care facilities. I would take my mother out of the system altogether and take her with me if only she was more able and willing to come.                                                    

I now know from experience that to simply visit a loved one in a senior’s facility for an hour or two every now and again is in no way sufficient to capture the whole picture.

False impressions

One could easily be left with the impression that their loved one is in a very nice, or even a great, facility. Being in the confines of both 2nd and 3rd level care facilities and observing the goings-on for up to 12 hours a day, seven days a week, has provided me with more than adequate time to capture the entire picture.

As disheartened and disturbed as I am about this entire ordeal, I now have to dig deeply into the recesses of my being and ask God to help me to forgive all those who are in some way responsible for the chronic hellish mental/emotional state Mom has had to endure the past year while supposedly under their “care.”

More often than not, my spirit tells me to pray for all those who are in some way accountable for victimizing, through their incompetence, a helpless 92-year-old and not providing her with the proper care that she required and still requires.

I guess Mother Teresa said it so well when she said that, in the final analysis, it will be between them and God. 

On that note, I will try my best, from a distance, to continue to be an advocate for Mom while surrendering Mom, as well as myself, to God, as broken and scarred as I feel. 

God bless you and protect you, Mom.

Yvonne Lundrigan writes

from North York, Ont.

Geographic location: Eastern Health, Ontario, North York

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Comments

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Recent comments

  • Perplexed
    December 22, 2013 - 18:32

    If you are so concerned why not take care of her yourself!

    • david
      December 24, 2013 - 10:21

      Is you're so stupid, why do you insist on proving it?

  • ken kavanagh
    December 21, 2013 - 18:02

    For those of us who have loved ones in the system, the story of Yvonne and her Mom is no surprise. Since going public with the story of our mom in Escasoni, I have had numerous e-mails and telephone calls from people about a wide range od similar issues with their loved ones in both the public and private senior's care system. Besides the particular issue, one common theme is the condescending, dismissive and defensive response of the Health Authority (in our case, it was Eastern Health) and the government (Department of Health and Community Services). Clearly, the strategy was to deny the message and malign and attack the messenger. I think it is time to have a Public Inquiry into the whole public and private senior's long term care system in this Province. Despite the denials and the rare ‘mea culpa’ and given this government’s propensity to deny and hide real information, I think it is time for an independent, qualified and objective investigation of the real level of care that our loved ones are receiving in this system. Principles of democracy and accountability demand as much but, more importantly, the welfare and safety of some of the most vulnerable in our society demand such an action. Ken Kavanagh Bell Island

  • ken kavanagh
    December 21, 2013 - 18:00

    For those of us who have loved ones in the system, the story of Yvonne and her Mom is no surprise. Since going public with the story of our mom in Escasoni, I have had numerous e-mails and telephone calls from people about a wide range od similar issues with their loved ones in both the public and private senior's care system. Besides the particular issue, one common theme is the condescending, dismissive and defensive response of the Health Authority (in our case, it was Eastern Health) and the government (Department of Health and Community Services). Clearly, the strategy was to deny the message and malign and attack the messenger. I think it is time to have a Public Inquiry into the whole public and private senior's long term care system in this Province. Despite the denials and the rare ‘mea culpa’ and given this government’s propensity to deny and hide real information, I think it is time for an independent, qualified and objective investigation of the real level of care that our loved ones are receiving in this system. Principles of democracy and accountability demand as much but, more importantly, the welfare and safety of some of the most vulnerable in our society demand such an action. Ken Kavanagh Bell Island

  • ken kavanagh
    December 21, 2013 - 17:59

    For those of us who have loved ones in the system, the story of Yvonne and her Mom is no surprise. Since going public with the story of our mom in Escasoni, I have had numerous e-mails and telephone calls from people about a wide range od similar issues with their loved ones in both the public and private senior's care system. Besides the particular issue, one common theme is the condescending, dismissive and defensive response of the Health Authority (in our case, it was Eastern Health) and the government (Department of Health and Community Services). Clearly, the strategy was to deny the message and malign and attack the messenger. I think it is time to have a Public Inquiry into the whole public and private senior's long term care system in this Province. Despite the denials and the rare ‘mea culpa’ and given this government’s propensity to deny and hide real information, I think it is time for an independent, qualified and objective investigation of the real level of care that our loved ones are receiving in this system. Principles of democracy and accountability demand as much but, more importantly, the welfare and safety of some of the most vulnerable in our society demand such an action. Ken Kavanagh Bell Island

  • Bandit
    December 21, 2013 - 16:33

    So true in this society that once you have given most of your lifetime to contribute to society and even if you don't contribute. The minute you become a burden, without the money to provide for yourself, like the elderly and or the unborn, you become wasted units. Unless you are a baby Seal or an abused Animal, then you will see which way society will treat who better. I agree with the protection of animal rights. But where in the name of Humanity is human rights.