January 12, 2008

Somebody's Hero

I've written a few things on here about the plight of people in nursing homes, and other health facilities. Much of it had a sense of negativity about it, I know, but I was writing from my own experiences, occurring mostly during the long period of time that I cared for my invalid mother. She was incapacitated for several years, and although a very short period of time was spent in a nursing home, that is where she received the most negligent care.

Throughout her illness she received care from Home Health Care agencies, some of which were not good, but in reading this article, I was reminded of some of the very positive aspects of it all, too.

My mother had enough health insurance to assure that she had access to all that was needed in taking proper care of her. One of the benefits was that it paid for Home Health, which is the service mentioned in this article. To be honest, I must say that most of the workers who helped to care for my mother were like the one mentioned here. On the other hand--as I've mentioned in other articles-- there were those who had no business doing what they were doing, or not doing in many cases.

Involved in Home Health care are RNs (registered nurses,) LPNs (licensed practical nurses,) and aides. It is the aides who have the most "hands on" care, and some of them are wonderful, caring, individuals who are hard workers and take great pride in what they do. Consider yourself blessed if your loved one is assigned these workers. They do become like members of the family, and the family caregivers look forward to their visits, and the respite that they offer. They come in all sizes and all colors, and you learn to love and accept them just the way they are, just as they do with the families they serve.

It is true that many horrible events occurred in the care of my mother, and I still regret that she had to endure one moment of it, but as in everything there are the bad apples, and then there are the truly dedicated ones. I appreciate the ones who helped with the care of my mother, and they still hold a special place in my heart--they are my heroes. I know that the lady written about in the following article is somebody's hero, too!

Finding her purpose: A mother's inspiration lets a caregiver ease life's toughest pains
By Georgea KovanisDetroit Free Press

Mary Graham, left, uses a comb to do Mrs. Allen's hair at her Detroit, Mich., home. Graham is a home health care aide who cares for sick people and has a wonderful relationship with their families. Photo: Hugh Grannum/MCT
It's a little before 8 a.m. when Mary Graham pulls her 1988 silver Buick Regal onto a west side street and rolls to a stop in front of a still-sleepy bungalow that is home to nine people ranging in age from just over a year to 81, and a dog she doesn't trust.
Mary is here to see Mildred Allen, the woman who raised children and grandchildren in this little house, who watched her fortunes rise and fall here, and who has become so ill from diabetes and Alzheimer's that she will probably never leave — at least not alive.
"How are you today?" Mary asks, cheerfully, hopefully even, as she leans over the bed and tries to wake up Mrs. Allen.
Mary likes to think Mrs. Allen knows her, if not by name, at least by sight. She likes to think that Mrs. Allen looks forward to her twice-weekly, hour-long visits. That Mrs. Allen, who appears lost in a fog of sleep and confusion, knows more than she lets on.
"I don't want to lay there like that. That's no quality of life," Mrs. Allen's granddaughter said one day, as she and Mary were fixing the elderly woman's bed. Mary changed the subject, just in case Mrs. Allen understood.
Mary has lifted Mrs. Allen — she would never dream of calling her by her first name — out of the bed and into a wheelchair, and is rolling her toward the shower.
"Mom, mommy," Mrs. Allen moans.
"It's all right," Mary says.
It is difficult to know when or how or where a person will find his or her life's purpose, the thing that makes being alive about more than just getting out of bed in the morning.
But this is where 51-year-old Mary Graham found hers: bathing people who are too ill to take care of themselves and are too much for their families to handle, washing away the sour stink of sickness, leaving them feeling refreshed and renewed even though their flesh may be rotting from bed sores.
There is a great demand for people who do what Mary does, though it's not a job many people want — the intimacy can be as off-putting as the pay, $11.45 an hour. Which makes experts wonder and worry about who will care for our aging population, our grandparents, parents, even our sons and daughters. Nationwide, about 3 million people work as home health care aides, nursing assistants or personal care aides. By 2017, we'll need a million more. And by 2030, when all surviving baby boomers will be at least 65, we'll need an additional 3 million.
They are in and out of sick people's houses for as long as their doctors and nurses think is necessary and as long as their insurance companies are willing to pay.
Some recover. Others don't.
The majority of Mary's patients, including Mrs. Allen, linger somewhere in between, somewhere in the twilight — that vague time of day between sunset and nightfall when the moon and the sun both occupy the sky. They are alive, but not really living. Dying, but not ready to go.
They rely on Mary to give them back a little bit of the dignity they lost a long time ago.
She relies on them, too.
They are her ties to her own mother, a link to the past.

It's a sweltering hot afternoon in July 1979 and Mary is feeling ill. She wants to take a nap, but the phone is ringing.
It's Vanessa, a girl from her mother's neighborhood, calling from a pay phone — which is odd because the neighbors always use Mary's mother's phone. Vanessa says she and her grandmother are worried because they haven't seen Mary's mother, Glaydean Oliphant, all day.
She'd just gotten home from work when the phone rang. Now she is back in her car, driving the four or so miles to her mother's place to make sure everything is OK.
Mary opens the front door and is hit by a blast of stagnant air that makes her feel as if she is suffocating.
"Mama, Mama!" she yells.
Glaydean Oliphant is sitting on the couch with her orange cat at her side. Saliva is dripping from her mouth. She is wet with sweat. Her eyes are open, but she seems to be asleep.
Mary screams for a neighbor. "Call 9-1-1! There's something wrong with Mama!"
Sickness tests people.
It breaks some, causes them to walk away.
But it also makes some people stronger. It helps them see what's important, what they can't live without, who they can't live without. And, during the summer of 1979, that's what happened to Mary.
Mrs. Oliphant, 61, had a series of strokes that left her unable to walk, struggling to talk and generally confused.
Doctors suggest a nursing home, but that made Mary uncomfortable. The strokes changed her mother, but sending her somewhere would mean losing her altogether.
She knew the best place for her mother was at home with her.
She leaves her meter-reading job and becomes her mother's full-time caregiver. "I thought she was going to get better," Mary would say years later. "She didn't get better. She didn't get any worse. She was at a standstill."
One morning in November 1986, Mary's mother grabbed her daughter's nightgown and wouldn't let go.
"What is it?" Mary asked.
Her mother looked her straight in the eyes and said, "Thank you for everything."
A few minutes later, she dies.
One of Mrs. Oliphant's visiting nurses, impressed with the way Mary cared for her mother, suggests she pursue a career as a nursing aide.
And that is the job Mary has had for the past 20 years.
She likes old people, she likes to know how couples met, and she is always impressed when she meets a husband taking care of his wife, a husband who didn't run when things went bad. It is a commitment she never had from a man. And as for who might take care of her if anything happens, she says she hasn't thought about that. She says she doesn't expect anything bad to ever happen to her.
"Mary is my girl! Mary is the best!" says Henry Washington, who is 90, lives in Detroit and has sprained his ankle. He is happy to see Mary.
Patients tell Mary they want to die and she tells them she's pretty sure God has every single person here for a reason. If they start questioning that reason, or start questioning God, Mary will say, "I can't help you on that because I got to stand in front of him too, one day."
She believes in Heaven, which she hopes is like Hawaii. But even if it's not, she knows the hospice patient is better off now. He isn't suffering anymore.
Sometimes, she says, "I look at my patients and I say them a prayer. I say, 'I hope they see my mom."'

I have just one more thing to say about this article: "God Bless you, Mary Graham."


rockync said...

I believe we live to the second exactly the amount of time God intended us to. I believe there is worth to our life even if we are old, feeble and unable to communicate, we still have purpose. Sometimes I think that purpose is to give others the chance to find the best in themselves. As you have found, Jan by painful personal experience, some people prove they are better and others fail miserably. I hope that in your heart of hearts you know that your mother loved you and appreciated all your efforts and would never want you to feel guilt or remorse. No matter what she suffered in this life, I believe she has found glorious relief in the next life.
I love this story; it is a testament to the best of a person. God bless them all.

Jan said...

rockync..thanks, I appreciate your comments.

You're right about my mom..she was the sweetest, most precious thing in the world, who never had a mean word to say to, or about, anyone.

She was so appreciative of everything that anyone did for her, and as long as I knew her, and she was able, she did nothing but love everyone.

The ones who hurt her so terribly, were just under-trained and inept at what they were doing..the thing that they are to be blamed for, is that they hurt her, and then with the help of their superiors, they tried to cover it up, resulting in much pain and suffering, and after-effects which could not be undone.

She lived for two years afterwards, with a cast from hip to ankle, and died, finally, from MRSA.

She died in my arms, as I told her what a wonderful mother she was. My husband was there, holding her, too, and the emergency room doctor in attendance wept with us.

My only consolation is that I do believe there is a Heaven, and that she is there, and that I will see her again, someday.

sheoflittlebrain said...

Tremendously moving, Jan. Your Mom was lucky to have you.. I stayed with my Aunt, my Mom's sister when she died. She had good health insurance and health care workers came in. She loved one aid in particular, and always lit up when she arrived.
The morning she died, I sat by her bedside holding her hand and reading aloud from an inspirational book she had asked me to read to her. She had no children, and had always been a bit stiff when it came to huggy-feely contact, so I just held her hand. But I know she was afraid, and I will go to my grave regreting not crawling in bed with her, holding her and talking or singing to her.

Livey said...

Wow, this sums up why I do it exactly! Thanks for a wonderful post Jan!

rockync said...

She, you probably did exactly the right thing. She may not have been very demonstrative in this life, but if you believe in a heaven then you know the minute she left your presence her soul was enveloped in the hands of God.
Jan, I hate that your Mama had to suffer so from such negligence and malicious collusion. Someday, they will also be old and frail. I wonder what they'll be thinking of if they end up in the care of people just like themselves?

Jan said...

She..I have come to the conclusion that no matter what we do, how good, or right it was, we all have the feeling that it was never enough.

I agree with rockync that you probably did just the right thing, and what comfort you gave to her, in reading the inspirational book that she loved!

I was so blessed to have the wonderful mother that I had, and your aunt was, too, having a niece who cared enough to show love and compassion in her final hours.

It has always been my contention, that no one should ever have to cry alone, or to die alone.

Thank you so much for your comments.

Jan said...

Livey..I think what you do is a wonderful thing, and I know that you have been a great help, and have broght much comfort, to those trusted into your care.

I think that one who has suffered, can truly understand the suffering of others.

Jan said...

"Someday, they will also be old and frail. I wonder what they'll be thinking of if they end up in the care of people just like themselves?"

rockync..you know, as much as I still grieve over what happened to my mother at their hands, I don't wish it on them, or anyone else, and it has always been my prayer that they learned from the experience, and never allowed it to happen again.

I must say, though, that at the time, my husband was ready to take the place apart...he loved his 'Mama Sarah' as much as she loved him. :)

Yehudi01 said...

Beautiful post, Jan. We sure don't give our elders enough honor or respect in our society. One only needs to travel to societies and cultures much older than ours here in the US to see how the elderly should be treated. You're awesome, Jan! Keep it up!

rockync said...

Jan, I know you would never wish ill on others, even ones such as these, but I'm am definitely not as nice as you because I hope one day they understand the meaning of "what goes around, comes around." I guess I don't mean that if any one of them learned from this and actually flet remorse and it changed their lives, but the others who just went on without another thought about it, well...

Jan said...

yehudi..thank you for the kind words.

It's true that our society does not honor our elderly as some other cultures do, but it was not always so.

It would be nice to think that our society had not gone backward when it comes to such things, but I'm afraid that now, many people have no self-respect, so how can they respect others?

I am always glad when I hear that someone is doing something positive in the lives of these poor people, and they deserve so much appreciation.

Jan said...

rockync..I understood what you were saying, and I didn't think for a moment that you wished ill toward anyone...after all, you are in the profession, and I know for a certainty that your heart is always in the right place.

I hope they learned from their mistakes, and I think that those in authority there did more harm than the ones who actually hurt her. I really hope that they learned from theirs, because their responsibility is so much greater!

sue said...

Beautiful post. I admire YOU, too, for all you did for your mom. Not everyone can do that.

Jan said...

Sue..thanks. I'm just glad that I could do it, and that I had a husband who was unselfish, and loving enough to make it possible.

k said...

It's the ones in authority there who always made me the angriest, Jan. That part is absolutely inexcusable. It's corrupt.

You are more forgiving of that episode than I am. It's hard for me to think about, and I didn't even know your mother.

Perhaps part of it is because of what happened to my grandmother Helen in her own facility. It was an exceptionally good one. But when she fell and broke her hip, they told her - for hours and hours - that there was nothing wrong with her, just sit up straight...

It makes me see red, still, to this day.

Then when they finally called me, and I got her to the ER, it was way busy. Another patient, a *matriarch of the family* type, was there with her grown sons - 2 or 3 of them, and a couple of their wives.

She kept saying how she had chest pain - meaning, she was prioritized for triage - but she didn't want to "waste her time" having tests done.

We all watched the woman's behavior, and the reactions of her family. It was all sort of...rote, something they'd played out before, over and over. It seemed abundantly clear to everyone around, except for her own family, that she was there for the sole purpose of being a drama queen.

She had a mighty fine time for an hour or so, then they all left and went to dinner, having refused tests and treatment. Because, as she'd said off and on throughout, she really didn't have much chest pain after all. And said she was hungry, and tired of all the commotion in the ER. She'd had her fun, scared her sons, made them prove how worried they were for her, so she was satisfied. She suddenly forgot how she'd loudly said she'd report the hospital and all the staff if they didn't take her chest pain Very Seriously.

In the meantime, my grandmother lay on a stretcher in a crowded hallway just outside the ER doors. Her foot was turned totally sideways like people do when their hip is broken. She was clenching her teeth in pain and sometimes she couldn't help but scream. The hours she'd spent being told to just suck it up and sit up straight didn't help. She couldn't communicate well because of a previous stroke, but I could always understand her.

She needed to go to the bathroom, and the nurses and aides were all busy with the Drama Queen, who required the entire staff's presence to explain why she was Very Important and Should Do Those Tests. I asked several staff for help, and they couldn't do anything - not even a bedpan in public - because Helen needed to be xrayed before they dared to move her, and all the techs were occupied with the Drama Queen.

No pain meds. No xrays or doctor. Nothing. Nothing but me holding her hand and trying not to cry as we waited and waited and waited.

She finally was told by a nurse to soil herself. She had to do that, and was totally humiliated. She was a very tough and brave woman, but she started crying then. Hopelessly.

I started giving the Drama Queen some serious looks at that point. I think she got the message, because she suddenly wound up her big show.

Or maybe she'd overheard me objecting to all this. See, I had to raise my voice. Just a little. But when I do, it can carry pretty well.

I hope she heard every word I said about letting someone suffer like that, unattended, because another patient can't make up their fool mind to be treated or LEAVE.

You see? I can't keep my anger at that selfishness under control, Jan. I'm trying. I've been trying for a long, long time. But I wish that woman ill, and her idiotic enabling grown children too. I want her simply to experience what my grandmother Helen did. That's all.

But I think it's not the best thing for me to feel like that. It turns around and bites me, it hurts me back.

So when I see how well you handle what happened with your mother, I pay attention.

And listen to things like, "I have come to the conclusion that no matter what we do, how good, or right it was, we all have the feeling that it was never enough."

It helps.

Jan said...

k..I can understand your anger at how your grandmother was treated. Things like that are inexcusable, but,unfortunately,it happens more than most people realize.

We're all different, k, and all trying to deal with what life hands us the best that we can, and it isn't easy by any means.

My mom was sick for such a long time, that I saw more that my share of bad things, and I'm not talking about the things that happened to my mom, neccessarily..most of the time she was treated with much care and kindness..but I saw way too much during the short time that she was in the nursing home, which as I've said before, looked like a four star hotel, so no matter how careful you think you've been, it still happens.

Btw..once, when we were still living in Florida, we waited with my mom in the ER for eight hours..due to triage procedures, I'm sure..she was only burning up with fever, and hadn't come by ambulance with chest pains...don't get me started!