Here’s a little story, and I swear it is all true. For all that my neighbor Wilson has a checkered past and is somewhat overbearing at times, he is the eldest son and often proclaimed favorite of his mom. Mary is 85 and until very recently, was in total control of her world. Age is a funny thing. A fall, a moment, an hour of not remembering something. The world takes on fuzzy edges.
A system worked for Mary to stay in her home of 60 years. Wilson brought her breakfast every morning, the Home Health Aid showed up to help her get the middle of her day organized, meals-on-wheels stopped by and one of Wilson’s siblings came by in the early evening to help her get settled for the night. There was attention but no intrusion on her dignity. The problem arose with Lillian.
Lillian and Mary have been friends, cohorts and loyal supporters of each other for many years. Lillian still drives. Lillian has a lot of money but not many friends or family. Lillian reported Mary as an elder abuse case to the state. She claimed Mary was left alone too long during the day. Lillian is a trouble-maker.
Mary, recipient of two master’s degrees in nursing, neighbors are two of Wilson’s siblings. One of those siblings is a director of nursing at a nearby hospital. There is no lack of understanding of the medical profession and the bureaucracy.
With Mary in the rehab center from a fall, and this allegation of abuse, the family was in limbo. They devised a plan to wire Mary’s house with cameras. With real-time streaming of the video, the family can continue to offer a safe environment that is her home. The System, however, has determined that before Mary can be released to her children, each family member must go through an extensive background check, physical and psychological profiles. As Wilson said, when he attempted to untangle the web, “They treat me like a criminal for wanting to take care of my Mom.”
During one family meeting with a social worker, Wilson was questioned how quickly he could respond if she called out or fell. He replied that he was always twenty minutes or less away, but that his siblings live right next door. The social worker indicated he couldn’t respond quickly enough to qualify as a caregiver, to which he rightly replied, “Look lady. I just sat with my mother while she waited twenty minutes for a nurse to take her to the bathroom and there seem to be a lot of them at that front desk. I don’t see as twenty minutes is too long for you guys to respond.”
What he didn’t tell them was that earlier, his mom had complained she was scared. She said there was a man in her bed. Wilson asked, quite mildly, if the man was bothering her. She thought a moment and said, no. “Then don’t worry about him, Ma. Just ignore him and he’ll go away.” Later, when waiting for the nurse to take her to the bathroom., Wilson finally gave up and helped her across the room. She burst back out from the toilet saying, “There’s a man in there!” Bored with her hallucinations at this point, Wilson responded, “Ma, you’ve got to stop saying that, they’ll think you’re crazy!”
“No, come look!” Wilson opened the door and sure enough, it was a shared bathroom and the adjoining door was open. A man lay in a hospital bed glaring at them.
There is no doubt in my mind that abuses have occurred. There is a system in place for a reason. But when did caring for our families become so complicated?